Monday, November 2, 2009

James Chapter 2 (Part 1)

In this entry I would like to join a thought that came out of my reading of the first half of James chapter 2 and some thoughts from a recent study of Colossians. It will probably help to know the context of how I have come to these conclusions and so I give you the short version below.

Middle class Don and Karen move to poorer urban setting in 1998. We meet many other middle class people who have a heart for the poor. We are confronted over and over again with the obvious differences between us and our poor neighbors. The most obvious differences were money, education, mental health and physical health. We were the transplants and they were the people who were from the neighborhood. A "we/they" vocabulary naturally evolved and with it the desire not to have this "we/they" division.

I have lived here for 11 years and I still am not able to strike these distinctions from my mind and have only minimally been able to strike them from my speech.

Enter the New Testament where in Christ (Colossians 3:11) there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. From God's perspective class does not matter. What matters is whether we are in Christ.

Just a few verses later (Colossians 4:9-12) Paul says the following:

He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.

Paul obviously is making quite a few distinctions here. Even Jesus says "the poor you will always have with you." (Matthew 26:11)

So now we get to the second chapter of James.

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby 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? 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? 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? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? 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 and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.
What I get from the James passage is that we are not to show favoritism. I don't think it is possible to get rid of distinctions. They are in your face. They are what they are. We are not all equal. We all have varying degrees of intelligence, beauty, abilities, health, etc. I think the question is, how are we going to act in spite of these distinctions/differences.

As someone who has been wrestling with this for over a decade, I welcome your responses.


  1. I don't really "struggle" with this myself. I know there are those who imagine that if we see a "we/they" distinction at all that this must indicate some kind of personal "prejudice", or "bias" against others who aren't "like" us. I don't buy the accusations.

    What’s at stake here, it is suggested by some, is to be “Christ-like” to everyone. Consequently we’re not to use “we/they” language. It would be Un-Christ-like. Remember when Jesus referred to the Gentiles as “dogs” (He was quite Jewish), in Matthew 15:26? Was He only kidding, or perhaps just trying to draw out the response He wanted from those present? I wonder how the Canaanite woman felt when He said that? How did His fellow Jews feel about the “dog” reference? Could the Jewish listeners have snickered a bit?

    No! I’m not advocating that we use some derogatory common slang to refer to our neighbor, who happens to have very little education and decidedly less than our self. On the contrary! We are to treat all people everywhere with non-condescending love! That “they” are who “they” are and “we” are who “we” are is likely just a matter of Providence. There are a great many people who have a great deal more than I do and a good deal more to offer others than I have. “They” are who “they” are and “I” am who “I” am. That is reality and I refuse to feel like a bigot for thinking and talking so.

  2. I agree with you, Don. It's all about context. I'm a "they" in many circles and a "we" in many circles. I think the point is that in the eyes of God no one is better than anyone else. Which goes to your Providence comment, I think.