Book of James Lesson Four
by Dr. Michael Cochran
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BOOK OF JAMES BIBLE STUDY
LESSON # 4 - (James 2: 1-7, NIV)
TITLE: WARNING AGAINST PREJUDICE
DR. MICHAEL COCHRAN
APPLICATION: If I show favoritism to the rich and do not receive the poor, I sin against God and my neighbor.
In the Graeco-Roman society, which James was a member, the rich oppressed the poor as a matter of course. The distribution of wealth was so unequal and the opportunities to create wealth so limited that there was little upward mobility. The rich tended to stay rich and the poor stayed poor. And often the rich stayed rich by oppressing the poor.
An evangelical Christian is usually concerned about an individual relationship with God and about the great commission to bear witness to the Gospel in order to change individual lives. But what about the correlation of faith to the complex economic, political, and cultural problems of society? Should a person also be drawing implications from the Bible that have special pertinence to the social issues of the day?
Throughout this study we will continue to be reminded that we ought to have a nature concern for the weak and oppressed of this world. As God has loved us, we must love others with prejudice or discrimination.
JAMES 2: 1-4
1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3 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," 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
“Favoritism” could be paraphrased to read “partiality to certain people.” We are, of course, to respect everyone; but we are not to show favoritism to anyone based on wealth, fame, position, or power.
Because preference or favoritism to the wealthy or influential strikes at the heart of the Gospel, to show favoritism on the basis of earthly criteria is effectively to deny that all humans are equal before God. Christ has died for the sins of all humankind; any who receive Him will be saved, regardless of social position, wealth, or any other purely human criteria.
It is also worth noting that Jesus is designated “our glorious Lord.” Jesus was the one who manifested the presence and majesty of God. In the light of His surpassing glory all distinctions between the rich and the poor are of little significance.
James then proceeds to illustrate what he means by describing a scene---probably a firsthand observation of a worship service in the apostolic era—in which a rich man was favored over a poor man. The hidden feelings of the worshipers surfaced, and partiality inconsistent with true Christian discipleship was displayed. We can almost sense James's contempt as he repeats the phrases he has overheard: “Here's a good seat for you”; “You stand there”; and “Sit on the floor by my feet.”
There is a historical note in verse 2 that adds another element besides that of wealth to the discrimination James is decrying. The rich man is wearing a gold ring and “fine clothes” or, perhaps a white toga. During this period of time in the Roman Empire, a gold ring indicated that a man was a senator or a Roman nobleman. And the white toga was often worn by those running for political office and thus seeking supporters. In addition to wealth, then, the situation James describes is probably rife with the desire for political favor and power. How inappropriate for the church to align itself with a political party and become embroiled in the politics of the Empire to the detriment of the life of the Kingdom.
JAMES 2: 5-7
5 Listen, my dear brothers: 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? 6 But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?
God has called to Himself a people “rich in faith” to be heirs of an eternal promise. But, says James, “You have insulted the poor.” We usually think of the rich, rather than the poor, as capable of being insulted; but the writer has already declared in 1:9 that it is the person in humble circumstances who ought to take pride in his high position. James denounces the rich because they so often use their wealth and influence for cruel, selfish ends. The poor he praises, because, having little or nothing in this world, they often turn their attention to the spiritual. Admittedly, this does not have to be so, but realistically, riches and power tend to corrupt. James was here observing a general rule, not enunciating a new doctrine. William Barclay said: “It is not riches that James is condemning. It is the conduct of riches without sympathy.”
Prejudice seems to be a fact of human nature. It is universal, cross-cultural, and has run through all ages. Patterns of hatred, discrimination, and persecution exist wherever different people and cultures mingle together.
Prejudice is such a profound, complex thing that it is hard to find all the reasons for its existence. One of the most common sources of prejudice can be fear---fear of the unknown, the strange, fear for one's livelihood, one's safety; even fear of losing one's corporate identity.
The flip side of that is the feeling of superiority that usually accompanies discrimination!
How do we as Christians relate to prejudice? There are several key doctrines that point to the answer. The first is the doctrine of the fatherhood of God; God is the Father of us all equally, in that He created us as humans and sustains us all equally. The second is the universality of sin---“all have sinned.” No person or group is exempt. The third is the universal availability of salvation through Jesus Christ---“whosoever believeth on him.” Based on this foundation, Paul is bold to state, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
QUESTIONS TO PONDER:
1. How can we be alert to an attitude of favoritism?
2. Can you think of situations when favoritism might have been shown to you? At that time,
did you think of how favoritism shown to you might be affecting someone else?
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