My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old 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?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: 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 dishonoured 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 blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing right. 9 But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as law-breakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a law-breaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Faith and deeds
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Favouritism in South African has a long and tragic history. Right from the very beginning when Jan van Riebeeck established a European settlement in what is now Cape Town, favouritism has been a major problem and cause of loss and dignity. Though van Riebeeck and Co were the foreigners and ‘guests’ of the local population, they soon dominated. The Khoisan (actually the Khoikhoi and San) were the indigenous population, nomads who lived off the land. Soon the settlers laid claim to land and fenced off their land, effectively driving out the Khoisan. Some even persecuted the Khoisan. From 1779-1879 the settlers in the Eastern Cape fought a number of wars against the Xhosa who moved south to the Kei River and beyond. The bottom line is that the White settlers used their power, superior technology and weapons to dominate the other ethnic groups and made laws to suit and enrich themselves at the expense of the native peoples. This, as we know, culminated in apartheid, an extensive legally enforced favouritism that enriched whites and impoverished blacks and Coloureds. Despite the new South Africa, we all are still suffering the consequences.
James is emphatic: believers in Jesus ‘must not show favouritism’! Do not show favouritism to the rich man who comes to church and discriminate against the poor man. James’ condemnation is devastating: ‘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 dishonoured 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 blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?’ (verse 5-7) To show favouritism is to go against God!
As Christians in South Africa, probably all of us have discriminated against other ethnic groups. Not only must we confess our sins but make amends by making at least one friend across the colour line to understand how they live, to appreciate their hopes, fears and struggles, and to pray together. In that way God will begin to change us and help us to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive me when I have been guilty of discrimination, when I have shown favouritism to those who don’t look like me, to someone at work, to a servant, to a foreigner or even to one of my children. Help me to love and get to know people who are of another culture, who may be richer or poorer than me, less educated, or mentally or physically challenged.
And Lord, help us to work for a new South Africa where we lift up the poor, the unskilled and the poorly educated. Help me to use my gifts, skills, education, privilege and wealth to make a difference for good in our land. And above all give me a love of the gospel and a love for lost men, women and children. Give me Spirit-enabled boldness to share the gospel with them and to see many come to know Jesus.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.