The Underlying Cause of the Secret Sin of Prejudice and Partiality
We’ve been looking at the scenario described in James 2:1-13 and what I’m calling the secret sin of prejudice and partiality. As we continue it may be helpful to look more closely at how James portrays them. Continue reading . . .
We’ve been looking at the scenario described in James 2:1-13 and what I’m calling the secret sin of prejudice and partiality. As we continue it may be helpful to look more closely at how James portrays them.
These people in James 2 are probably actual individuals and not merely hypothetical. They are undoubtedly visitors or newcomers because they are portrayed as needing to be told where to sit.
The phrase “wearing a gold ring” literally means “gold-fingered” and is used only here in the NT. He means someone who has multiple gold rings, which in the first century was typically a sign of the aristocracy and great wealth. Again, he isn’t saying it’s wrong to wear expensive jewelry or that if someone does we should ignore them when they walk in or escort them to the back of the auditorium. His point is that we must be careful not to let those with gold rings and expensive garments blind us to the needs of those who are less well off. Simply put, bling counts for nothing in the kingdom of God!
The phrase “pay attention to” in v. 3 means that you give special consideration to or look with admiration upon a person solely because of their external appearance. The converse is equally true: if you look away from or with disdain upon those who come to your service wearing what may perhaps be the only shirt or dress or pair of jeans they own, in both cases you have “become judges with evil thoughts” (v. 4b).
In 18th century New England they often violated James’ counsel in amazing ways. In the church of Jonathan Edwards in Northampton, Massachusetts, seating was not first come first served but was assigned on the basis of such things as age, gender, social and military rank, and community service. When they constructed a new building in 1737 they assigned the best seats based on a man’s estate, that is, his income and property holdings. The wealthier citizens were given preferential seating while the poor were relegated to sitting in the gallery and back pews. I should point out that Jonathan Edwards was adamantly opposed to such arrangements but was outvoted.
So why are people inclined to behave in this way? What is going on beneath the surface that inclines our hearts to prejudice and to giving preferential treatment to people for the wrong reasons?
One reason people treat poor people poorly is because they know that they are unable to be of service to us materially and socially. In fact, the only thing they might do is embarrass us in the presence of others whose respect we so deeply cherish. Conversely, we exalt and praise and pamper the rich in order to ingratiate ourselves to them so that we might profit from their influence and power.
I once heard someone say that greatness in a man or woman is seen or measured in the sacrifice and love and generosity they display towards those who are in no position to do them any personal good whatsoever. In other words, the good man or woman is the one who goes to great lengths to bless those who are in no position to be of benefit to them in the least.
So why, then, do we cater to the rich and powerful and ignore the poor and weak? Greed and pride! And why do greed and pride prevail in our hearts? Unbelief! Unbelief in the transitory nature of riches and power; unbelief in the tenuous nature of reputation and fame; unbelief in the ultimate superiority of spiritual wealth to material wealth. At its core, the secret sin of prejudice and partiality is due to the failure or refusal to believe that when we have Jesus Christ we have all that is needed for joy and peace and value in life.