Today’s Reading: James 2
In It Worked for Me, former Secretary of State Colin Powell tells a story about a time he slipped out of his office and past the secret service agents and snuck down to the building’s parking garage. He explains the set-up:
“The garage is run by contract employees, most of them immigrants making only a few dollars above minimum wage. The garage is too small for all the White House cars. The challenge every morning is to pack them all in. The attendants’ system is to stack cars one behind the other, so densely packed that there’s no room to maneuver. Since number three can’t get out until number one and two have left, the evening rush hour is chaos if the lead cars don’t exit the garage on time. Inevitably a lot of impatient people have to stand around waiting their turn. The attendants had never seen a Secretary wandering around the garage before; they thought I was lost. They asked if I needed help getting back “home.””
He told them that he wasn’t lost, but was just there to look around and chat. They seemed pleased. As they talked, Powell asked them, “When the cars come in every morning, how do you decide who ends up first to get out, and who ends up second and third?”
The attendants looked at each other with knowing looks and smiled. Then they explained their system. “When you drive in, if you lower the window, look out, smile, and you know our name, or you say ‘Good morning, how are you?’ or something like that, you’re number one to get out. But if you just look straight ahead and don’t show that you even see us or that we are doing something for you, well, you are likely to be one of the last to get out.”
Guess whose car was always first to get out? Colin Powell’s!
Today’s chapter talks about the importance of how to treat people for who they are and not what they possess. That was the challenge for this new church that James was addressing. It was parking-garage talk to the people, spoken like a secretary of state:
Listen to it.
“My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?
“Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God.” (James 2:1-5, MSG)
Then a few verses down, James gives a name for this type of rule: the royal rule or royal law. Why is it royal? Because it was given by a King:
“You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” But if you play up to these so-called important people, you go against the Rule and stand convicted by it. You can’t pick and choose in these things, specializing in keeping one or two things in God’s law and ignoring others.” (Verses 8-10, MSG)
James starts off this chapter speaking to two words that are incompatible: faith and favoritism. Faith in Christ and prejudice toward people are contradictory. If there is no passion for Jesus, then there will be no compassion for people. The word favoritism in this verse is made up of two Greek words, which means to receive the face.
You receive someone based upon what you see (color, jewelry, clothing). This word is found in only three other places in the New Testament, and in every place, God is the subject and it tells us that God is not into judging people by their face. God shows no partiality or does not look at faces but hearts. Let’s look at the three other passages:
• “For the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2:9-11, NIV)
• “You know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:9, NIV)
• “If you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites.” (Colossians 3:25, NIV)
And then we come to James 2:1 and are told to do the same thing God does: don’t judge people by the outward appearance: “My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” (NLT).
Then James tells a story with two different people showing up at a church meeting. One is rich and one is homeless. James warns the Christians about evaluating the externals and coming to a wrong conclusion. He said when we do that we become nearsighted and don’t see anything beneath the surface. Our criteria are flawed. The usher in James 2 does that and gives preferential seating to the rich and general-admission seating to the poor. One gets box seats, the other gets the floor.
If there is to be one place where there is to be no distinction or prejudice, it should be the house of God. Prejudice is inconsistent with God’s method of seeing people. God does not look at a person’s wallet or skin and say, “I want that person in My family.” He does not look at the face, whether that face has Lancôme cream on it or is covered in dirt and grime.
Secretary of State Powell had more to his story. This is how it finished:
“Show more kindness than seems necessary, because the person needs it more than you will ever know. Don’t just show kindness in passing or to be courteous. Show it in depth, show it with passion, and expect nothing in return. Kindness is not just about being nice; it’s about recognizing another human being who deserves care and respect.”
Colin Powell sounds a lot like James 2.