By Pastor Glenn Pease
Arturo Tosconini became famous in the world of music because of the power of prejudice. He was a young cellist with a touring opera company from Italy. In June of 1886 they were in the greatest opera house in Rio de Janerio in Brazil. The house was packed with shouting people, but what they were shouting was, "Italians go home!" They had expected the opera to sweep Brazil like an army, but they were like an army only in the sense that they started a fight.
The conductor of the company was the only Brazilian, and all the rest were Italians. They had no respect for each other, and when they got to Brazil a battle broke out. It got into the papers, and the people came to take the conductors side against the company of Italians. The conductor refused to conduct, and when the assistant conductor came to the podium the crowd shouted until he left the stage. He tried to explain to the crowd, but they just shouted him deaf.
The tour manger was beside himself. If the opera did not go on, the company would go broke, and may have been stranded in Brazil. One of the singers approached him and suggested he let Tosconini try. "He knows the opera, and he could conduct it," he said, but the manager resisted. He said, "Tosconini is not old enough to conduct a village band! He is a boy, a beardless bambino! They would laugh him out or Rio." "Perhaps," answered the singer, "But what have you got to lose?" He was right, and so as foolish as it seemed, he called Tosconini out of the pit and told him he was going to direct the opera. He was flabbergasted, and he did not even protest as they put on the conductors tailcoat several sizes to big for his 17 years old frame. He shoved the baton into his hand, and pushed him toward the podium.
The crowd roared again, but silence fell on the auditorium when they saw it was a mere scrawny kid. He looked more like a comedian than a conductor. He mounted the podium and slammed shut the score of the opera. He had memorized it completely. The crowd was puzzled and curious. He turned toward the orchestra, the baton shot into the air, and they exploded with the opening bars of the opera. Because of their desperate situation the musicians played as never before. When the curtain came down the crowd applauded, and stood stomping their feet. They would not let Tosconini leave as he stood there trembling and soaked in perspiration. An unknown cellist became famous in one night.
Here was a case where the evil of prejudice became the power that led to good for Tosconini, but in the vast majority of cases prejudice is a destructive power. If Tosconini had not been brilliant, there would have been only hatred between the Brazilians and Italians. He was the mediator that brought good out of an evil situation. James is striving to be that mediator between the different classes of Christians of his day.
Psychologists tell us that all of us have our in-groups, and out-groups. All of belong to certain categories, and there are others outside of those categories, and so all of us are in a position to be prejudiced against out-groups. You have the rich-poor, the intellectual-ignorant, the black-white, the believer-unbeliever, and endless others. Jesus was a victim of the power of prejudice. He was the Son of a carpenter, and so the religious leaders considered him one of the out-group. He did not belong to the leadership class, and so miracles or no miracles, they crucified Him. Evidence makes no difference when prejudice has infiltrated the soul.
Dr. Gordon W. Allport, professor of psychology at Harvard, and past president of The American Psychological Association, says that prejudice can become a mental disease that makes people paranoid. This is when a person is so controlled by a false idea that no amount of evidence can change their mind. He gives the example of a woman who thought she was dead. The doctor was going to try and show her by logical demonstration that she was wrong. He said, "Do dead people bleed?" She said, "No." The doctor then said, "If I prick your skin will you bleed?" "No, because I am dead." So he did prick her skin, and when she saw the blood she said in surprise, "Oh, dead people do bleed don't they?" This is an exaggerated example, but it indicates the extent to which a false idea can become a major power in a persons life. That is why James is so concerned to warn his brothers in Christ of the danger of respecting persons.
James makes it clear that prejudice is a form of discrimination that has no place in the Christian life. The way to prevent prejudice from having power in our lives is to prevent it from gaining entrance into our thinking. This means we must fully recognize how inconsistent it is with the Christian life. James points out 3 ways in which it is inconsistent.
I. IT IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE GLORY OF CHRIST. v. 1-4.
The Phillips translation has it, "Don't ever attempt, my brothers, to combine snobbery with faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." Jesus was the express image of the glory of God. Paul in I Cor. 2:8 said the rulers of this age would not have crucified the Lord of glory had they understood. James wants to focus their minds on the fact that their faith is in the Lord of glory so they can see how inconsistent it is to respect persons on the basis of any earthly glory like rings and clothes.
James is suggesting to them the folly of being dazzled by the gleam of gold in the light of the glory of God in the person of His Son. It would have no glory at all but for Him without whom nothing was made that is made. Any glory this world has comes from the Lord of glory, and anyone who walks in the light of Christ's glory ought not to be led by the flickering lights of any earthly glory. These people had no excuse, for the Old Testament taught also that God is no respecter of persons, but people often know something, and do not see that what they are doing is contrary to what they know. So James gives an example. If two strangers come into your assembly, and one is obviously rich, and the other is obviously poor, and you are very kind and pleasant to the rich person, and a snob to the poor person-that is a sin. It is inconsistent with the glory of Christ who died for all men, and so all are of equal worth to Him. Equality is one of the basic truths of Christianity, for that is the only place in which it is really true.
Men are not equal in any other way except in the sight of God. Men are not born equal; they have no equal capacity in mind or body; and there is no social or economic equality. The only place where men are equal is before God. They have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but they are all welcome to repent and return to fellowship with God. If a diamond driller or a ditch digger come to Christ as Savior, the angels in heaven rejoice equally over both. You can come to God in overalls as well as in a tuxedo. James says that when Christians on earth do not have this equality thinking concerning all men it shows that they are out of the will of God. "If there is no class distinction in the heart of God, how can it be right in the church of God?"
James says that they have become judges with evil thoughts, and they are revealing that they have not kept themselves unspotted from the world, for this is the way the world acts. They treat people according to how they can gain from them, and not as persons in themselves. The power of prejudice is so subtle along this line that only as we keep our eyes focused on the Lord of glory can we escape it. Put yourself in the place of this usher standing at the door when the two men appear. One with a very expensive suit and diamond tie clasp. He is well groomed, but the other is obviously in a suit from good will, and the tie you would never think of wearing. If you are not thinking with the mind of Christ you will have a tendency to discriminate, and treat the one far better than the other based on their appearance. God looks not on the outward appearance, but on the heart. James says it is evil to think less of a man because of his financial status.
Contrary to the famous saying, it is not clothes that makes the man, but it is Christ that makes the man. It is not gold, but grace. It is not jewelry but Jesus. It may well be that the one without wealth is far more worthy before God in character and conduct. That is why we are to act toward both as equals. I have not had a broad enough experience to judge, but the late A. W. Tozer wrote in an editorial, "Let a man appear in a local Christian fellowship, and let him be one whose fame is sounded abroad, whose presence will add something to him that entertains him, and immediately a score of homes will be thrown open and every eager hospitality will be extended to him. But the obscure and the unknown must be content to sit on the fringes of the Christian circle and not once be invited into any home." This perilous power of prejudice is still with us, and to escape it we must recognize how inconsistent it is with the glory of Jesus Christ. Secondly,
II. IT IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE CHOICE OF GOD. vv. 5-7.
One of the biggest mistakes the Christian world made was when they let the communist take the credit for being for the masses of poor people in the world. Christianity from the start has been good news to the poor. What hope had they if this life is all there is? Their life would often seem to be only a useless struggle for existence. But the Gospel of salvation in Christ, when they received it, made them rich in faith and hope, for they shall reign with Christ forever and ever.
In the very first sermon Jesus preached in the synagogue at Nazareth He read from Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor." (Luke 4:18). When John sent disciples to Jesus to ask if He was the Messiah, Jesus said, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind received their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them." (Luke 7:22). The church began with common people, and it has always been most effective and most pure when controlled by the common people. If the leadership of the church is put into the hands of a few outstanding, gifted, and wealthy people, it tends to lead to corruption. Like democracy, the church must be of the people by the people, and for the people. It was the common people who heard Jesus gladly. Lincoln said, "God must have loved common people, He made so many of them."
James says that God choose the common people to be heirs of the kingdom. From the very first there have been outstanding rich people in the kingdom of God. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were among the first. But generally speaking the rich classes have opposed Christianity. James indicates in verses 6-7 that it was the rich that oppressed them in that day, and they blasphemed the name of Christ. It is known from history that the wealthy Sadducees were the greatest persecutors of the early church. They were the ones who commissioned Saul to go to Damascus to bring Christians bound to Jerusalem. It could be that this is one of the reasons why Christians favored the rich in order to stay on their good side and avoid persecution.
James, however, makes it clear that such action is inconsistent with God's choice. He chose the poor, and if you turn around and dishonor the poor you are out of God's will. God has a purpose in His choice of the poor of the world, and it is sin to oppose that purpose. Paul tells us what that purpose is in I Cor. 1:26-29, "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one can boast before Him."
Someone has said, "Prejudice is a great time saver. It enables one to form an opinion without getting the facts." That is just the case when discrimination is made on the basis of appearance and position. The facts of history are that God has chosen the poor, the common, and the average person, to be the main force of His kingdom so that men cannot boast and say what they have done for God. Studies have proven that the work of the church, and of missions, and of tract and radio evangelism, and host of other Christian ministries have been primarily supported by the common people, and not by the rich. That is why it is completely inconsistent with the choice of God to be prejudiced toward people because they are not of the rich class. Someone wrote,
The face we meet in ordinary duty
Might be glorified if we could see the soul,
And the plainest folk be radiant with beauty
If our eyes just once could only read the whole.
The third point we want to look at is-
III. IT IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE LAW OF LOVE. vv. 8-11.
James deals with an excuse that someone might use to justify their respect for the rich man. They might say, "Yes I gave him the best seat, and I was kind to him, but not because I had a selfish motive, and was trying to gain anything. I was just obeying the royal law of love and doing to him as I would want others to do to me. I was loving my neighbor as myself." This is fine James said if that is the case, for you do well. But if you respect persons you commit sin. If you really are keeping the law of love, you cannot keep it just for the rich, and then not keep it for the poor, for the law applies to all. If you keep the whole law but offend in one point you are guilty of all. If you love everyone according to the law of love except the one person you have a prejudice for, you have broken the whole law. Your treatment of that poor man was sin, even though you may have loved everyone else in the church.
In verse 10 James is trying to clear up a dangerous misconception that Christians might have that they use to defend their prejudice. It is foolish he is saying to think that you can have exceptions to the law of love. The only persons you have a right to leave out are those whom God leaves out, and He loves all. You cannot love almost all neighbors and think you have kept the law of love. That law is like a chain, and if you break it at any point, you break the whole law.
Imagine a captain of a fortress during enemy attack guarding three walls and leaving the fourth unguarded. Do you think that when the enemy comes over that fourth wall that they will take only one forth of the fort? No! They will take it all because of this break through at one point. When you hurt a man in the arm, it is foolish to say you did not hurt the man but only his arm, for he is a unity, and when you hurt one point of him you hurt the whole of him. All it takes is one slip of the pen to ruin the whole sheet, and all it takes is one blot to ruin the appearance of the whole sheet. James is saying that all it takes is one act of prejudice to break the law of love. Any act of discrimination in inconsistent with the law of love. You cannot justify yourself on a part time obedience to God's laws, for part time obedience is the same as disobedience. God demands consistency.
God so loved the world, not just a few,
The wise, and great, the noble, and the true,
Or those of favored class or race or hue-
God loved the world, Do you?
Prejudice is not natural, it has to be learned, and so it is prejudice in parents that is passed on to children. Christians who have prejudice toward just one type of person may feel they are good Christians, but this one are of failure makes them lawbreakers, and sinners out of the will of God. It is not good enough to be almost free of prejudice. You must be free completely from its power to be Christlike, and consistent with the law of love.
Billy Graham in his book Secret Of Happiness says, "The greatest social evil in the world today is prejudice which is often times based upon our own ignorance. I seriously doubt if we would be prejudice against anyone if we had all the facts in hand. We are quick to judge and prone to denounce that which we do not understand or know or experience." The result is, anyone who is different is usually an object of our prejudice. The Christian is no different than anyone else at this point, and can only become different by strong self-discipline with an openness to the Holy Spirit who will help us be consistent in keeping the law of love.
Prejudice by its very nature is a pre-judgment. We already have convictions about certain type people before we even know them. This means we have believed things about them without any evidence because we want it to be true of them, for that justifies how we feel. About 80% of Americans have an appreciable degree of prejudice claims Gordon W. Allport. He defines prejudice as "An assertive or hostile attitude toward a person who belongs to a group, simply because he belongs to that group, and is therefore presumed to have the objectionable qualities ascribed to that group." One of the reasons it is so hard to overcome prejudice is because we refuse to admit that we have it. Dr. W. L. Northridge in Disorders Of The Emotional and Spiritual Life says that prejudice is one of the gravest sins of the Christian life. It leads to intolerance, hatred, and to persecution, plus all kinds of blindness and misunderstanding. It is no second rate sin.
Jesus worked hard at exalting the underdog, which in His day was the Samaritans. He made a Samaritan the hero of His story while the priest and Levite were made the bad guys. It was the Samaritan woman at the well who was converted and brought many to Jesus. The only leper out of ten to come back and thank Jesus for healing was a Samaritan. Jesus fought prejudice that divided men. He made it and evil that has no legitimate place in the life of anyone who follows Him.
Religious people are not always known for their tolerance. Sometimes the strongest prejudice is caused by religious convictions. The Jews felt proud of their pure heritage, and of their hatred of the impure mixture of the Samaritans. They were thoroughly convinced that God felt the same as they did. The Samaritans also hated the Jews, and in Bible times each made raids across the border to kill each other. There was much anger between these peoples, and that is why James and John wanted Jesus to burn out the Samaritans because they would not grant them a place to stay. When the Jews got angry at Jesus they expressed it by calling Him the worst name they could think of. In John 8:48 we read, "The Jews answered Him, are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?"
In the history of our own country the church was the strong hold for segregation. Numerous books and sermons of Christians justified prejudice as the will of God. All through history Christians have been terribly prejudiced against the Jews, holding them responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. The point is, there is no escape from the reality of Christian prejudice. It is an established part of history, and there is plenty of reasons to believe that Christians are prejudiced to the same degree as the rest of the nation. Only those who will see how inconsistent it is with the law of love will escape from the power of this great sin.