Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man 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 2:2-4
Have you ever done that? James saw it happening in the church of God. He gives a perfect example of prejudice and of preferential treatment. A good seat for the rich man! Have you ever heard someone say in regard to someone else, "Wouldn't he make a wonderful Christian?" or "Wouldn't she make a wonderful Christian?" We're thinking, That's a person who's got what it takes, or She's got prestige, or He has position. We're thinking that if such a person came to Christ, he'd bring all his wealth and prestige to the church to us. We'd be as prestigious as he is. He could make things happen for us. So Christians go ahead and target such a person, giving him the best seat and special treatment. That's preferential treatment, operating only on the basis of external, material considerations. It overlooks the fact that we claim to be holding to the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, His gospel of love that looks on the inside of a person─not the outside.
Imagine the situation that may have prompted James's words above. You've got a small group of believers, and James is the leader of this little church. It's made up mostly of poor people─some of them slaves─and very few wealthy or influential people at all. One day, to their delight, someone very wealthy, very influential, and very powerful comes in. Of course, the people say, "Wow! That's great! Double the offering overnight." They become very deferential to him, fawning over him and looking after him, ushering him to the best seat. But they discover a shabby, little man in the seat, so they try to get him out of there because they don't want the influential man to see the shabby, little man lest he won't come back.
What's going on is a perfect example of prejudice. The believers are pre-judging both men on purely external and material criteria. They are not showing any interest in the internal realities of the people or in the spiritual realities of the people, and they don't seem to have any idea that the Lord is the Lord of both, that Jesus is the Savior of both, and that Christ came for both. They have committed prejudice in the church of Jesus Christ.
When we run into problems, it's easy to get sidetracked from the problems by a person. Then instead of addressing the problems, we attack the person. This had probably happened among the believers to whom James was writing. They had perhaps failed to address the problems. They had found the person they identified with the problem. They had attacked that person, and then they had decided that a whole lot of people who belonged to his group were all the same. That's how prejudice often works. Love and prejudice never go together.
Questions to consider
What type of person might feel uncomfortable in your church, and why? What can you do toward eliminating such prejudice in love?
Texts in this article are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
From the book Living Love by Stuart and Jill Briscoe, Harold Shaw, Wheaton, Illinois, 1993