James 2:3

Sunday, 30 June 2019

…and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” James 2:3

The Greek word translated as “pay attention” gives the sense of a favorable viewing and showing preference. In comes this guy with a gold ring and shining clothes, and he is immediately regarded in a favorable light, even without knowing a thing about him. He could be an arrogant, controlling, manipulating person, but he is given high regard simply because of his fancy duds. And so you say to him, “You sit here in a good place.”

The Greek more closely reads, “You sit here, honorably.” He is so seated simply because of his external appearance. This spot is what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 23 –

“But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues.” Matthew 23:5,6

The person is given high regard based only on the fact that he looks good. On the other hand, in walks the poor guy in the stinky, filthy clothes. Without knowing a thing about him, you make a value judgment. He might be the nicest guy in town. He might be humble, caring, selfless, and honorable in all he does. But, because of his disgusting external appearance, you say to him, “You stand there.”

He isn’t even given a seat to sit on. But maybe he has been working all night, and that is why his clothes are filthy. Without even knowing his circumstances, he is made to stand through the meeting. This, while the other guy slept all night and had time to put on his nice clothes, eat a big breakfast, and then take a donkey-cab to the synagogue without being overworked in the slightest.

Or, you might – fortunately – have a wee little room left for the poor guy to sit, and so you say, “Sit here at my footstool.” The Greek reads more closely, “You sit here under my footstool.” How nice of you. You are elevated and have a footstool, and this poor guy sits not on your footstool, but in a position which is directly on the floor at a lower level than where your filthy feet are. He gets to look at your dirty feet, despite his beautiful nature, simply because he is wearing dirty clothes. However, the other guy, a real “jerk” by every sense of the word, sits honorably.

Life application: Once we find out who a person is, if we are caring of such things as good morals and an honorable character, the externals don’t matter to us. But our first impressions often guide us to want to be closer to those who are more presentable externally.

Without knowing anything else about people, we will naturally incline towards those who present themselves in a clean and orderly way. This is because we can make value judgments based on externals. However, taking these value judgments and acting on them alone can lead us to showing inappropriate favoritism. Let each of us be careful in how we evaluate others. Instead of jumping to snappy decisions based on externals alone, let us look deeper and try to determine the true quality and character of the inner man.

Lord God, help us to be people of character by being people who do not show favoritism towards others simply because of their external appearances. Fine clothes and gold jewelry don’t make a person more respectable or honest. And dirty clothes doesn’t mean a person has bad character. Help us, Lord, to look deeper than externals when we meet people along life’s highway. Amen.

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