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The Scripture Blog

Warning Against Discrimination

In James 2, we read that Christians are not to show favoritism. The example given is showing favoritism between the rich and poor. But it is only an example. It seems clear that the injunction against favoritism is much broader than one dealing with wealth and poverty.

“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” Period. Then the example: “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4, NIV)

I dare say that few of us attend a church that has members or even visitors who wear filthy clothes. That may say something not so flattering about today’s churches. I also dare say that if one with filthy clothes wanders in our churches, at least some of us would feel awkward or uncomfortable. That may say something not so flattering about the members of today’s churches.

In expounding on the rich-poor example, James reminds us that it is the rich who make life difficult sometimes, and he gives us a jolt about the poor: “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5) I’m not sure we saw that coming.

James expands his teaching beyond rich and poor when he writes: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin….” (James 2:8-9) In the parable of the Good Samaritan (told by Jesus, don’t forget), we learn that our neighbor is everyone else. In this parable, the dichotomy of favoritism is not between rich and poor but between different religions and ethnicities

So, suppose the person attending one of our churches isn’t poor, but Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, African American, Asian American, Latino, Native American, atheist, gay. Should we show favoritism? Should we discriminate? Not according to James and Jesus. Everyone is our neighbor, and we should love our neighbor. James wasn’t writing about and Jesus wasn’t talking about salvation. They were teaching about favoritism, discrimination, hospitality, friendliness, kindness, generosity, courtesy.

And James is writing about one more thing: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12-13)

One more time: “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Given what Jesus said about judgment in his Sermon on the Mount, I believe that he would fully agree with James’ teaching about judgment.

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