Snobbery, favoritism, and prejudice are fruits of the sinful nature that have been with us since the fall. Therefore, James joins Jesus and other Biblical writers in pointing out these everyday sins, which need to be pruned from the lives of God’s children.
Listen to James’ counsel: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” James saw signs of this sin in the Jerusalem church where he served as leader.
Another quotation from our text says this: “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?”
Two thousand years ago, what a person wore caught the eye of society. Class distinction is nothing new, but it has no place in God’s relationship with people. Does He not create faith in the poor as well as the rich? Has he not promised the same blessings to the common person as to the elite? James does not want us to forget that. Therefore, he reminds us that snobbery and prejudices are some twigs that must be pruned from our thinking as children of God. In fact, he gets emotional and writes, “If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”
With these words of admonition, let us look at our prejudices.
I was raised in a day when much snobbery came out of wealth. We used the crude term, “Looking down their noses at other people.” The more affluent you were, the more prestigious a role you had in society. At least that is the way we believed it to be. These affluent people were the leaders who sat in the financial institutions and made decisions that affected the ordinary person’s paycheck. When these rich people arrived at the church doors, they expected to receive the same elevated treatment as they did it in the bank or other places. I am, of course, describing life in the days of the depression. It is my feeling there is less of this happening in our day, but maybe not.
I do know this kind of thinking found its way into my brain early in life. On my paper route, I had two families with different financial statements. One was a successful businessman. He drove a big, shiny Buick and lived in a large white house. They had people who cared for their lawn and shrubbery, and a woman who did much of the housework. The rich man’s paper had to be placed in a particular place, and he always had to receive a dry paper. Others might have gotten a little wet because of the snow or rain.
The other customer worked on the WPA force. These people were unemployed until the government developed a program that would at least put food on the table and give them shelter. They received $26.00 every two weeks. They did not have many luxuries, but one family to which I refer did splurge and allowed itself a newspaper. However, there were times when they did not have the 18 cents for the paper, and they pleaded that I continue delivering it to them. I never had the heart to cancel their subscription. However, I was not too concerned whether or not the paper was in a particular place or in the best condition.
All this business of distinguishing between the rich and the poor I learned by the time I was fourteen years old. Favoritism! What a terrible way to live, as if one person is better than another because he is rich and the other poor. Wealth seems to have a way of making people important. James saw this to be true in Jerusalem. We see it still true in our culture.
There is also class distinction depending on the work you do in your community. I will not forget one Sunday when we received new members into the congregation. One was the superintendent of our public schools. It was the first time in the history of our congregation that this influential citizen would be a part of our church. Following the service a longtime member greeted me and said, “Isn’t it delightful to have our superintendent as a member of the congregation!” I agreed with her acknowledgment that he was a person of great influence in our community and would be wonderful addition to the membership of the congregation.
As she walked off, I called her back and asked, “Did you know another new member is a custodian at one of our junior high school buildings? He can influence the kids too.” The woman was pleased they were new members, but it was evident she was not quite as enthusiastic about the custodian’s membership as she was about the superintendent of schools joining our church. Interesting, isn’t it?
When we uncover some of these more accepted sins of favoritism and snobbishness, we see the need of pruning in our spiritual life. We also see our need for a Savior who will forgive our sins.
The Bible teaches clearly that, in God’s eyes, the human being is precious and important, not because of what he or she has accomplished, but because of who they are. All are created in God’s image. All are equal in His eyes. “God shows no favoritism,” Paul writes.
The world has a different understanding of the human being. In the world’s view, importance and worth are based on human accomplishment, the color of the skin, the family background, or the financial worth. God’s view and the world’s view of the human being clash. It is amazing to see how we, who are Christians, so often join unbelievers in accepting the world’s view of the importance of people.
Are you prejudice free? Some people claim to have no prejudices. If you are one of the people who feel this way about yourself, it might be well for you to ask this question: Am I sure I do not feel some people are just a bit more important than others?
I remember a person in my boyhood congregation who would often ask the new people who became a part of the flock if they were Danish. Denmark was her native land. The Danes had built the church, and it was her unconscious conviction Danes had a special place among the membership.
Are we guilty of:
• Building prejudices?
• Showing favoritism?
• Being snobbish?
If so, it is only Jesus Christ who can empower us to gain the victory over these sins. Remember Jesus’ picture of God’s kingdom: Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. Every branch that bears fruit He prunes so it will be more fruitful. On the branch there is a twig of snobbishness. It must be removed if we are going to be the kind of children God wants us to be. Amen.