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Living like kings

James’ discussion in the first part of chapter two shouldn’t be regarded as an isolated incident. He’s not simply against the seating practices in a synagogue somewhere (v. 2-3) --- he’s against them showing favoritism in any fashion (v. 1). In fact, we don’t know that v. 2-3 is anything more than a hypothetical situation that teachers and preachers often employ for illustrative purposes since v. 2 begins with "Suppose." (That said, the likelihood that something like this was a problem somewhere among the dispersed Jewish people he addresses seems pretty good, especially when you consider the rich-poor theme that is so prevalent – 1:9-11, 5:1-6). Still, I think we miss the larger picture if we see James taking on partiality for any other reason other than its potential to clog the arteries of love (2:8-9).

And this is what seems to be lacking in most approaches to prejudice and discrimination --- they miss the larger picture. They usually hammer relentlessly away on half a dozen issues as if correctness in these areas would eliminate the problem of bias altogether.  It seems to me the real difficulty is that the problem is consistently under-defined and underdeveloped. Prejudice (in the relational sense), is simply putting limits on who we’re going to love. It could be racial in nature (how the Jews viewed Samaritans), it might be gender based (the woman caught in adultery being taken to Jesus and not the man), but it can also be a thousand other things! Here are a few other ways that discrimination can slither into our thinking (you can add your own):

  • assumptions we make about people who are divorced,
  • assumptions we make about people who are single,
  • assumptions we make about people w/no children or many children,
  • assumptions we make about people who are quiet,
  • assumptions we make about people who are loud . . .
Well, you get the idea. Discrimination doesn't have to be blatant.  In fact, it not only exists but it thrives in its subtler forms.  Michael Gerson speaks of "the soft bigotry of low expectations."  To ignore these manifestations (and our potential for getting caught up in them), while focusing on a just a few issues of the times may be culturally correct but it is spiritually nearsighted.  It's like ordering the deluxe burger, super-sizing the fries, and getting a diet soft drink because you're trying to watch your calories!   
If prejudice can creep in through so many avenues, how can we fight it?  Should we just ignore everything we see in the name of love?
I don't think so.  The solution isn’t to be blind to obvious realities, it is to try to be discerning without being discriminating. A good example of this is how we’ve been taught not to say (and think) of someone as a disabled person but as a person with a disability. What’s the difference? The first tends to label them while the second sees them as a person first without ignoring plain truth.

James would have us to understand that the primary identity of anyone is that they are loved by God and to be loved by us (v. 8).  To approach life in this light is to practice the royal law. Barclay suggests James might mean the law of the King or the king of all laws (this seems more likely --- Matthew 22:34ff). He then suggests a third meaning --- the royal law is the law that allows us to live like kings! Though that’s probably more of an application of the text than an interpretation of it, I think it’s a truth worth telling. We’re never more like our King than when we live by this rule. We’re never more like what God intended for us to be (see Genesis 1:26ff), when we live after His image. 

Let’s live like kings!
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