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? James 2:1-4 (TM)
Believers in the first century were radically changing the social landscape around them. In a culture of entrenched class systems, slavery, and broad socio-economic differences, the early Christians acted on the command to "love one another" without regard to social status. While deep seated cultural prejudice did not just disappear, the believers put their faith into action and rattled the Roman world. Believers were such a threat to long-held prejudices, they were instigating such a radical cultural shift, that it brought intense persecution down upon them.
And what was this radical act which shook Roman culture to the core?
They had meals together. Romans and Jews, slaves and slave masters, rich nobles and penniless beggars would sit together at the same table and have a meal followed by the Lord’s Supper. It was the first and only time that all classes and people from every socio-economic level were placed on the same level. We are all sinners saved by grace. Jesus died once for all. It threatened long-held prejudices and when you threaten people’s prejudices they tend to react in violent ways.
That’s what James is addressing in this chapter. Believers struggled to act on their faith, to give up their prejudices, and to change the way they treated each other. The church leaders were struggling to get believers to break down the walls between class, creed, race and economics. They were urging believers to act out their faith and love each other as Jesus loved each of us and all of us.
Is it really any different today? I read today’s chapter and I ask myself how I respond to people who are much different than me. Am I willing to admit my own prejudices? Am I willing to turn my faith in to action and tear down those walls in my own spirit?