Ethics: Race and Prejudice (Part 2)

In an ideal world, justice would be blind. People should be judged by the content of their character, and not the color of their skin, or the fatness of their wallet. Joseph Addison said, “Justice discards party, friendship, kindred, and is always, therefore, represented as blind.” The Law of Moses instructed such blind justice (Exodus 23:3; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; 16:19; 27:19; Proverbs 24:23). The New Covenant teaches us “The Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12), and that we are not to be “judges with evil thoughts” (James 2:4, cf. Deuteronomy 1:17; Leviticus 19:15).

However, life is not always ideal. Economic prejudism does exist. It exists for a variety of reasons: (1) Sometimes it exists due to a feeling of superiority. (2) Sometimes there is a belief that all poor people are poor due to their own faults, or their lack of right standing with God. It is thought that if they were right with God, they wouldn’t be poor. (3) Sometimes there is a belief that the rich are all crooks, or that they have unfairly enriched themselves at other’s expense.

Bible

James 2:1-4, “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 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,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (cf. Deuteronomy 1:17; Leviticus 19:15). Economic prejudice is nothing new. Guy Woods commented on James 2:1 “‛Hold not’ is me echete, present active imperative of echo, with the negative; i.e., quit having the habit of holding the faith in such fashion” (A Commentary on the Epistle of James, p. 106).

(1) Many despise the poor. The Proverbs say: “The poor man is hated even by his own neighbors, But the rich has many friends… Wealth makes many friends, But the poor is separated from his friends… All the brothers of the poor hate him; How much more do his friends go from him! He may pursue them with words, yet they abandon him” (Proverbs 14:20; 19:4; 19:7 cf. Job 19:13; 42:11).

Some have made the error of equating all poverty and misfortune with personal foolishness or sinfulness (Job 8:5-7; 11:13-20; John 9:1-2; Acts 28:3-4). Such thinking is still common today. It is true that sometimes (even many times) the poor are poor due to their own choices. Some common causes of poverty are: (a) laziness (Proverbs 10:4-5; 19:15; 24:30-34; 28:19); (b) wastefulness (Proverbs 12:27; 21:17; 23:20-21 cf. the Prodigal son of Luke 15); (c) improper use of credit (Proverbs 22:7; 6:1-5). (d) lack of preparation for the future (Proverbs 6:6-11). However, poverty is not always the result of such.  Some other causes of poverty include: (a) health issues (cf. Job; Acts 3:1-3); (b) natural disaster (cf. Job); (c) evil men, thieves (cf. Job); (d) evil corrupt government; (f) persecution (cf. Revelation 2:9). Clearly, there are biblical examples of the spiritually righteous being in material poverty [Job; Lazarus (of The rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16), the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:9)].

(2) Others despise the rich. This is nothing new. The Law of Moses instructed, “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor… You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute” (Leviticus 19:15; Exodus 23:3).

Some have made the error of concluding that all rich are dishonest and evil beings. It is true that some rich do cheat, oppress, and run roughshod over others (Proverbs 22:16; 30:14; James 2:6; 5:4 cf. Leviticus 19:13 cf. Deuteronomy 24:15). It is true that some rich use their wealth to wrongfully influence, and pervert judgment (Exodus 23:6 cf. Deuteronomy 16:19 cf. Amos 5:12). However, the Bible does speak of some who were materially rich and spiritually righteous [(Job (Job 1:3); Abraham (Genesis 13:2); Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57)]. Wealth itself is not condemned. The rich are instructed, “Not to be haughty, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God” and to “do good … be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-18). We should thank God for the rich who so behave.

Some have a flawed understanding of economics. They assume that one man’s increase necessarily means another man’s loss. This simply isn’t so. Thomas Sowell has illustrated, “individuals who stand in the relationship of employer and employee, or landlord and tenant, would never have entered into such relationship in the first place unless both sides expected to become better off than they would have been if they had not entered into those relationships. In other words, it is not zero-sum activity” (Basic Economics, p. 421). The idea of turning a profit is not viewed in the Bible as something sinful (Proverbs 31:16, 18, 24; Matthew 25:14-30; Acts 18:3, you don’t think that they sold the tents for the exact same amount as the materials cost that went into the tents, do you?)

Remember

1. Look at the individual, and don’t generalize all into a class stereotype. Not all poor are sinful bums, or prodigals. Not all rich are rapists of society. “Do not judge according to appearance but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

2. Remember the words, “Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in the faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5).

3. Let us strive to be rid of envy (1 Peter 2:1), such thinking is not from above (James 3:14-15). Politicians often play upon class envy. Let us be careful not to be demagogued.

4. If one is right with God, one is rich indeed (James 2:5).

5. The righteous should not be envious of the wicked who are materially rich (Psalm 37:1-2; 73:3, 17; Proverbs 3:31-33; 23:17-18; 24:1, 19-20 cf. Luke 16:19-26). We need to understand their end (Psalm 73:17).

6. “The rich and the poor have this in common, the Lord is the maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
This entry was posted in Ethics, Money, Race, Textual study, Wealth and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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