Recognizing and Overcoming Prejudice, Part 2

We may pride ourselves in not being racially prejudiced or class conscious, but we saw last week that there are many subtle ways in which we violate James admonition not to be partial. And actually, sometimes what we are blind to is not even subtle. We get on someone's case for something that we have just done ourselves. I read a cartoon that gave one example. A woman is being congratulated because her two children have just recently gotten married. And the neighbor says, "What kind of boy did your daughter marry?" "Oh, he's wonderful," gushed the mother. "He makes her sleep late, wants her to go to the beauty parlor every day, won't let her cook, and insists upon taking her out to dinner every night." "That's nice," said the neighbor, "And your son? What kind of girl did he marry?" The mother sighed, "Oh, I'm not so happy there. She's lazy. Sleeps late every morning, spends all her time at the beauty parlor, won't cook, and makes them take all their meals out." Both girls did exactly the same thing, but one is seen in a positive light, and the other negatively. And I think that is a good description of human nature. We tend to be blind to our own faults and the faults of those that we are not at the present upset with (or at least we are willing to overlook those faults), yet we tend to see nothing but faults in those that we are mad at. We are so focused on the problems, that we can't see the enormous blessings. Prejudice can take on all kinds of camoflouge looks. I am not going to go over all of the prejudices that I stomped on last week. Instead, I want to dive straight into James remedies for prejudice.

How To Overcome Prejudice

Dealing With Your Motives (see v. 4)

Don't Judge Another's Motives (v. 8)

The first thing James touches on is motives. The NASB of verse 4 says, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, [and here's the key phrase] and become judges with evil motives? Another version says, "do you not make improper distinctions among yourselves and prove to be critics with evil motives." Another has the last phrase, "you are guided by wrong motives." And many times we don't even know what our motives are. But our motives affect our thinking and behavior. James says that where there is prejudice, there are evil motives. They go hand in hand. Where you have one you are going to have the other.

Now there are three danger areas that I want to look at with respect to motives. The first is that we can become prejudiced against other people because we misjudge their motives; we are trying to read their hearts rather than their words and actions. The second is that we fail to examine our own motives. We become blind to the fact that we have evil motives. And the third is that we cave in to peer pressure when others question our motives, even though our motives may be good. And a lot of prejudice is due to this caving in to what others think. So let's look at each of those three:

Verse 8 rules out judging other peoples motives. It's a call to agape love. James says that we must fulfill the Scripture to "love your neighbor as yourself." And why don't you turn to the Scripture that he quotes. It is Leviticus 19:18. And just as a side note (let me make a rabbit trail here) - as we look at this passage it will give you another tiny glimpse at apostolic hermeneutics (or method of interpretation). An entire system of hermeneutics can be developed from the Bible - just from the way Jesus and the apostles quote and apply the Old Testament. Most Christians impose a hermeneutics on the Scripture rather than studying how the apostles interpreted the Bible. We won't get into it this morning, but I just want you to notice that James does not quote this passage out of context. Context is king in hermeneutics. There is nothing wrong with proof texting, so long as you don't take the proof out of context. When James proof texts (and we will see that this point is especially critical next time when we look at the question of judtification by works), he does it in a way that is sensitive to the context and intent of the Old Testament passage. The verse that he quotes from Leviticus gives love as the solution to all varieties of prejudice. But it is a love that affects the heart, the mind and the strength. And we will be applying it to the motives, thinking and actions.

Let's look at the context. Leviticus 19:18 is what James is quoting, but lets start looking at verse 9. I'm not going to read the verses, you just follow along and skim read the verses as I summarize them. Ready? Verses 9-10 deal with gleaning laws and command Israelites to allow the poor to glean. So just as James 2 is dealing with the poor, this passage is. Then Leviticus deals with stealing and falsehood in verses 11-12. And we saw last week how the labels we put on people; painting them with a broad brush is a form of falsehood, and certainly prejudice steals opportunity and dignity from people. But the very act of outward theft is a form of prejudice. Verse 13 tells us that we should deal fairly with employees. Discrimination in the work place is very common. Verse 14 condemns those who make fun of and make life difficult for the handicapped. Verse 15 deals with discrimination in the courts. Can you see how James is drawing from an Old Testament context of prejudice? Verse 16 deals with gossip which is always a form of prejudice. It makes distinctions in the body. We'll come back to verse 17 in a moment, but verse 18 says, You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, [and then he contrasts this long list of prohibitions with a "but"] but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Why is love the antidote to prejudice? Because agape love is not quick to judge things to be sin: Paul says that agape love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love does not impugn the motives of people. That does not mean that love is blind. Don't make that mistake. Paul says that love rejoices in the truth. There are certain things that Scripture demands that we discriminate against. It is not a loving thing to let a homosexual, or a racist or an abortionist to continue in their lifestyle. That is not judging motives; that's not prejudice. That is merely agreeing with God's word when it condemns clearly defined actions, words and behavior. And we can't even minister to such people, or win such people to Christ without such discrimination. So we are not talking about naivite. But love does not read the motives. Love always acts in one of two ways when it is confronted with apparent sin. And you probably know them by heart. The first principle is that love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). And the emphasis is on a multitude. If you are not covering over a multitude of sins, then you need to adjust your love. None of us has arrived, and during that growing process love recognizes that and is patient. It puts up with a lot. But the second principle is dealt with in Matthew 5 and Matthew 18. There are times when another person's actions have become so destructive to us, or to him, his family or the church, that you can't wait for gradual growth. The loving thing to do is to confront the person and help them to overcome their sin. And it's sometimes hard to know what the balance is between covering over sin and confronting sin. Certainly it is the multitude of sins that are covered over.

But Leviticus 19:17 deals with the confrontation of sin. You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. If there is something that is making you hate your neighbor, why does he not just have you keep it to yourself? Well, there are several reasons. Number 1, because you are sinning if you let hate and bitterness creep into your heart. We are always going to have enemies, but on our part we are to love our enemies. But number 2, if you love the person you will want him to stop destroying his life with that sin. And number 3, you may have totally misunderstood the situation. You have perhaps had times in your life when you got bent out of shape that somebody did something, and then you come to find out it wasn't him after all and you were glad you confronted the situation. Confronting the person gives him opportunity to clear up the apparent problem.

And I want you to turn back to James 2 with that in mind. That is the context that James is quoting from and in verse 8 he deals with the possibility of misreading another person's motives. It's hard enough to understand our own motives let alone somebody elses.

Look at verse 8: If you really fulfill the law [in otherwords in giving the rich man that seat "if you really fulfill the law] according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you do well. One commentator explained the Greek this way: "In a sense the word really is the key. "In spite of all outward circumstances," James says, "I realize your concern for the rich man may be genuine." Your actions toward him may well be an instance of fulfilling the royal (preeminent) law of love. If so, your outward actions toward the unbelieving rich man are good: "you do well."" And other commentators pointed out the same thought. One commentator said,

Indeed, James implies that identical actions may be taken from very different (even opposite) motves. It is conceivably possible that in order to fulfill the royal law of love - because your motive is love - you might show special concern to a rich man, escorting him to a good seat, just as (at another time) you might do the same for a poor man. In other words, your obvious concern for him may not flow from motives of advantage at all, but, let us say, from a desire for him to hear the Gospel and be saved. If you knew the rich man was hard of hearing, this would be a thoughtful act on your part. But, to others, who did not know that fact, it might look like an act of favoritism. This would be a natural assumption because such things are usually done out of evil motives. But no one has the right to assume anything about another's motives. James important point, then, is that all that glitters is not pyrite. There is some gold in the world after all!

That's the point of verse 8. So James didn't want them to now become so preoccupied with the poor that they fail to love the rich as themselves. This is a subtle point here, but a person who is seeking to fight prejudice, can be prejudiced himself by juding other people's motives. For example, and I have seen this happen: a person who is the subject of racism can call everyone who disagrees with him a racist; or everyone from the other race a racist. He can become prejudiced while accusing everyone else of prejudice. Or here's another example. Because of the things we see in politics or in the military, we can debunk all patriotism and heroism as being motivated by personal gain. "Oh, the guy just did it because he wants a promotion!" We can become very cynical. And we fall into the very trap of prejudice that we are seeking to avoid. One of my coworkers in a hospital in Canada was a Chinese man, and he spoke of the terrible racism of the Germans during World War II. When he found out that I was German he came up to my face and with obvious hatred and trembling called me a Jew killer. He hated the racism of Hitler, but without realizing it he had become a racist against Germans. Now that's an extreme, but I think it illustrates the point.

James here talks about agape love as being the fruit of the Spirit that avoids all prejudice because it is action oriented. It either covers a multitude of sins with a servant's heart, or it confronts sin with a servant's heart, but it refuses to read the heart. When it comes to motives it believes all things, hopes all things whether dealing with the rich or poor, with the loveable or the unloveable. We must make it a cardinal rule of life that you will never judge another person's heart or motives. The only thing God has authorized us to deal with are the outward actions and words of a person, not the motives. I've been guilty of judging motives and I have heard some of you judge people's motives as well. So let's keep this point in mind.

Do Judge Your Own Motives (v. 4)

The next step is to evaluate our own motives. We read in verse 4 that the problem was evil motives. So if you were convicted last week of prejudice, then ask God to search your heart and help you to understand why you are motivated to be prejudiced. Is it pride or peer pressure? Is it fear? Some people are prejudiced because of insecurities. I talked with the Chinese man at great length and finally won his friendship, but his prejudice was because he had been terribly hurt by Germans. The word "Catholic" conjures up hurtful memories in some people's minds because they had been persecuted as children by Roman Catholics. Some won't give a person the time of day because of misinformation, or fear, or pride. Whatever the motivation might be, it needs to be repented of and dealt with.

Do Good Regardless Of What Others Think (v. 8)

And then, finally, back to verse 8: we need to do good regardless of what others might think of us. If you gave that rich man his seat out of a motivation of love, then continue on - "you do well." Don't stop ministry because others misinterpret your motives and say that you are doing wrong.

And that is a very helpful point. Sociologists tell us that a great deal of prejudice is due to peer pressure. We need to learn to fear God more than man. Now I have probably gone way over time on motives. But if you can understand your motives, you have made huge strides in overcoming why you are prejudiced and can help to reverse that. But James actually spends most of his time on thinking and actions, so let's go there.

Dealing With Your Thinking

Put Your Prejudice Into Perspective

How does God treat that person? (v. 5)

James gives several steps to help us change our thinking. In verse 5 James wants you to think about how God would treat the person you are prejudiced against. Verse 5: Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? Now He is not saying that God has rejected the rich or that rich people cannot be rich in faith. In fact, he will later say that Abraham (an enormously wealthy person) was indeed rich in faith as well. What he is saying is that God has also accepted the poor believer and so should we. He is countering a current Jewish notion that if you were poor it was because of your sin; because God had cursed you. Secondly he is saying that there are more than finances to judge success by. When we begin to appreciate people for their inward character, the outward becomes less important. And so James is saying, "Don't just dwell on the outward. Get your mind in gear about where this person's character is at."

And whatever area that we have problems with, we need to examine how God would treat that person. If we treat the repentant prostitute as a second class citizen, then we need to overcome that by meditating on those Scriptures which describe how Christ ministered to prostitutes. I think I mentioned last week that I have been in churches where people who have been converted from a homosexual lifestyle have been shunned. Well people with such prejudice need to meditate on passages like 1 Corinthians 6:11 which speaks of the victory given to former homosexuals who are now heirs of grace with the rest of the body. If there are people groups that we can't stand, then we need to ask God to give us a love like He had when He loved those who rejected Him. Memorize and meditate on Scriptures that will help you to think God's thoughts after Him. You can't get rid of bad thinking without replacing those thoughts with the opposite. Your mind cannot function like a vacuum. It will keep sucking those prejudices back until they are replaced with God's thoughts through meditation.

How does the world treat that person? (vv. 6-7)

Then look next at how the world treats that person. Verses 6-7 say, But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? He is saying that if riches itself is a criteria for acceptance, why is it primarily rich people who have been persecuting you in the last couple years. Convert such people yes, but don't covet their favor. And yet Christians to this day covet the favor of the very world that is going to hate them. For example, Christian scientists try to curry the favor of the evolutionists by compromising on Genesis 1-11. Does it help? No. The Hugh Rosses reject literal six day creation and discriminate and then reason that we need to make CHristians look reasonable to the world. But the world doesn't respect Day-Agers anymore than they do six day creationists. This is one of the major hindrances to witness. We don't want the world to think we are weird or different from them. We don't like to be the butt of their prejudices. But God wants them to see that we are different. If the world is not prejudiced against Christians, it is probably because we are too like the world. And so he says, think about how the world treats that person and how the world treats you. Does it make sense?

Am I acting like God or the world?

Third, ask yourself if you are acting like God or like the world? Verse 8 says, If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, you do well. Our behavior must be governed by Scripture, not by cultural norms or the way the world handles things.

Remind Yourself Of The Implications Of Salvation

We are saved by faith alone (v. 1)

Last week I dealt with the first two points under 2. We need to remind ourselves that prejudice is utterly inconsistent with both faith and love. Verse 1 says, My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory with partiality. Don't hold prejudice and faith in the same hand. They are incompatible. If there was prejudice with God, the Lord of glory would have stayed in glory and consigned us to hell. And being holy, He had the right to do that. But He came down from glory and loved people who were far more different from him than anybody could be from us. To show prejudice of any sort is to mock the sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf.

We are saved unto loving service (vv. 8-9)

But verses 8-9 indicate that it is not only a contradiction to faith, but also to love - to the life of service that we have been called to. If we have been genuinely born again, there must be some evidence of agape love in our lives. We are commanded here, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Agape love is a call to service to others. Marc Moss told me one time that you can tell if you have a servant's heart by how you react when people begin treating you like a servant. Do you get bent out of shape when people treat you like a servant? You might be tempted to distance yourself from them. But James says, "Start meditating on the royal law of love. Start realizing that Christianity is a call to die to ourselves and to be servants to others." You know whether you have a servant's heart when people begin to treat you like servants.

Remember that none of us is perfect (vv. 9-13)

Third, remember that none of us is perfect. In verses 10-11 James proves that we are all sinners, and we are all in the same boat. Verse 10 says, For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. When we are tempted to think that our sins are not as bad as another person's sins, we need to remember that the commandments are so linked and interconnected, that we have all broken all the commandments. It gives you perspective. It gives you appreciation for God's mercy to you.

Father disciplines us with the same standard that we treat others (vv. 12-13; see Matt. 5:7; 18:34-35)

Another thing to remember is that God disciplines us with the same standard that we judge others by. If you're not motivated by the carrot, James seeks to motivate with the stick. Verse 12: So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. That is such a flat out contradiction to so much of modern evangelical thinking that it deserves a bit more comment. Many believe that a Christian can never be judged once he is justified. But James is quite clear that Christians can continue to be judged by the law, and such judgment is not in contradiction to liberty. The law that judges us is the very definition of liberty. When the train jumps off the tracks and becomes mired in the sand, it can't accuse the tracks for its bondage. It can't complain when the tracks say, "If you want to have liberty, remain on me. You deserve your bondage because you keep jumping the tracks." The tracks provide liberty, and that very liberty judges anything that is off the tracks. But notice that the language gets even stronger. Verse 13 says, For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. So we are not only judged, but we will be punished if we have this condemning attitude of prejudice.

What James is saying is that when we fail to have a love that covers over a multitude of sins in our neighbor, God won't extend such mercy to us. Let me explain. God doesn't discipline us for every sin we ever commit. That is clear, or we would be toast. There is gradual growth in our sanctification, and over time God keeps showing us new sins we need to work on. It is only at the point of rebellion against His guidance that He disciplines, and so Jeremiah can declare It is because of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. When you begin to realize that God's mercy is new to you every day; every single morning and that's why you haven't been wiped off the face pf the map; when you begin to realize that He has not even punished you as you deserve, it will help you to be merciful to others.

And the flip side is also true. When you realize that God can step up His discipline in your life when you are not merciful to others, that can be a good motivator. If you won't have mercy on those who are weird and who are different than you, then just watch as God has no mercy on you.

And by the way, Jesus said exactly the same thing. With what judgment you judge, you will be judged. Turn to Matthew 18. This point needs to be emphasized because there are many evangelicals who have a distorted view of grace that makes them think that they are off the hook for sin. We may be off the hook before the Judge of the Universe, but as children, God still cares about us and we still face discipline. Verse 21: Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." His basic point is, don't even bother to keep track. And then Jesus gives the parable of the two servants. One servant was in debt to the master to the tune of millions of dollars. He begged the master to have patience with him and he would pay. The master forgave the debt. But the forgiven servant, who represents us, went out and threw another servant into jail for failing to pay 100 denarii (which is 1/100,000^th^ of what he had been forgiven. It wasn't very much. Look at verses 32-35. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?" And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses. He is not talking about unbelievers suffering in hell here. He is talking about brothers who have God as a heavenly Father. This was in answer to Peter's question of what would happen if he didn't forgive his brother.

And if you have been going through torture in your relationships, in your feelings, in your finances and in other areas, you may want to ask yourself if you have been bitter, unforgiving and prejudiced. Jesus told His disciples. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses. He said, "If you don't get over your bitterness, you are going to be handed over to the torturers and be miserable. James tells the believers in that church, So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. (vv. 12-13). That's a stick, rather than a carrot. But it is a good motivator to help us to overcome prejudice.

Dealing With Your Actions

Begin Loving (Serving) That Person As Faithfully As You Want To Be Loved (Served) (v. 8)

So we have looked at changing our motives and we have looked secondly at changing our thinking. Let's look last at dealing with our actions. And before I deal with our actions I want to point out that you can't separate any of these three. Our motives affect our ability to think clearly and they obviously affect our actions. When you are bitter against someone for something they have done, even if the action you are upset about is only 1% of that person, our tendency is to be so focused on what is wrong that we are consumed by it, and we fail to see all the blessings that we have. Likewise, when we change our thinking it works backwards and affects our motives and works forwards and affects our actions. But there are times when we just obey in faith without understanding fully why we should obey, and that obedience of faith changes our thinking and our motives. There is an interplay. There are many verses that demonstrate this inter-relationship. Let me read you one: John 7:17 says, If anyone chooses to do God's will [there's the action], he will know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. There obedience leads to more knowledge. The heart affects our actions, but our actions can have an effect upon our heart as well. If you work on all three of these levels, you will have definite progress.

And James gives three sure-fire actions designed to weaken the prejudices that are within you. The first one is seen in verse 8, and that is that we need to love and serve others as faithfully as we have been wanting to be served. Start getting involved in ministries to those who tend to get neglected by others. The very act of ministering will transform you. And frequently God only answers our prayers for sanctification at the point of action – when we stick our feet in the Jordan. When was the man with the withered hand healed? It wasn't when he theoretically believed he could be healed. Jesus commanded him to stretch forth his hand. He could have said, "Lord, that's impossible! I can't stretch it forth. You need to heal it first." If he had said that, it wouldn't have been healed. It was in the act of doing the impossible that God grace took over and the healing occurred. There is an interplay between faith and works (which is the next section).

But Look at 1:27. He has already anticipated it. Even though this chapter begins a new subject, it is thematically connected to chapter 1. The last verse of chapter 1 says, Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. Those are the kinds of ministries we tend to avoid, and 2:1 gives one of the reasons why we tend to avoid such ministries – because we are prejudiced. So to break our prejudice, we need to deliberately make ourselves uncomfortable by doing actions of non-prejudice – hanging around people we were prejudiced against, talking to them, visiting them, ministering to them. Look too at 2:14-26. In that whole section he goes into a discussion of faith producing good works. For example, in verses 15-17 he says, If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. If we are going to deal with the heart problem of prejudice, we need to begin to schedule outward acts of service. God won't change the heart in a theoretical void. He will change it in the context of ministry, as He did with Corrie Ten Boom.

Verse 8 - we need to begin fulfilling the royal law of loving your neighbor as yourself. A sure fire way to weaken self-serving prejudice is to deliberately get involved in ministries that are neglected and from which you will get little or no fame or reward.

Regularly Confess Your Sins. This will humble you! (vv. 9-13)

A second action that is terribly hurtful to prejudice is to confess our sins to one another. He's going to harp on that big time in chapter 5. Chapter 5:16 says, Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another. But it's hinted at already here. Here in verses 9-13 he makes it clear that we all have plenty of sins to confess to God. Don't put on a façade; don't pretend to be perfect. If you are not confessing your trespasses to one another, you are implying that your life is quite different from what James describes. You might be treating certain types of sin as unforgivable and you wouldn't want to associate with people who had sinned in such a way. But James says, For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. So don't get holier than thou. Instead, be willing to humble yourself by confessing your sins to one another.

Every Time You Get Frustrated With The Person, Remind Yourself That You Are Called To Conquer With Mercy (vv. 12-13)

And then the final action he calls us to is to conquer with mercy. As Paul words it, don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Or as James words it, Mercy triumphs over judgment. Certainly there are plenty of reasons we could give as to why we have a right to be prejudiced against certain people. Some people are just tough to love, but prejudice will just make things worse. Prejudice will eschalate tensions. The only thing that will conquer is to show mercy to those who don't deserve it because mercy in its very meaning is the withholding of the bad things and chewing outs and judgments that this person really deserve. Sure that person deserves to be kicked out, but mercy can conquer him. Sure that person is weird in the way he looks, eats, dresses or talks, but perhaps with mercy and love he can change from a social nerd into a fellow servant. And obviously we need to realize that we are all nerds when compared to God. Sure that neighbor is an idolatrous Catholic, but perhaps with mercy and love we can conquer for the name of Jesus.

I want to end simply by reading the last verses of Romans 12. That is also a passage dealing with divisions in the body, and beginning at verse 14 Paul says,

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. "Therefore, if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirst, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

That is our calling in James 2: to overcome evil with good. There is plenty of evil out there. There is plenty to be prejudiced against. But Christ tells us to die to self, to take up the cloak of love and accept the calling of servant. There is no room for prejudice with those three. Amen.

Recognizing and Overcoming Prejudice, Part 2 is part of the James series published on December 14, 2003

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