Possibly the most practical and therefore challenging NT passage is in James. Often seen as Paul's antithesis, the two are not theological foes, but are stylistically different. Remember that James was heavily involved with the Jewish believers while Paul went out to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, notice the complementarity of their epistolary themes.
Though he does not specifically address race or the doctrine of reconciliation, James gives crucial imperatives about church life and practice in a diverse community of fallen people. As in Acts, James’ epistle tells us that social problems existed in the early church, precisely because the church “was the only place in the ancient world where social distinctions [were not supposed to] exist.” Clearly this church needed to be exhorted in how to manifest that reality in their conduct, namely through godly impartiality.
The concept of impartiality is central to biblical discussions of both reconciliation and power. In Scripture, impartiality is much more than cold tolerance. In James, the discussion of impartiality is inextricably linked with the proper use of power and of the “royal law” to love one’s neighbor (Jas. 2:8). Lipp believes that the “unity of power and love is a basic NT theme,” and that “the impartial turning of God’s love to us is an expression of his specifically divine power (note Mt. 20:1-15).” The Hebrew and Christian scriptures “unite in condemning that partiality of judgment and favoritism of treatment which comes of giving undue weight to a man’s social standing, wealth or worldly influence,” to which we could fairly add race, kinship and familiarity.
In addition, these themes are emphasized in an extended passage on “faith that works” for good reason. William Barclay gives historical context for James’s admonitions here: a first-century struggle between traditional Jewish piety, which emphasized practical help and active emotional involvement in the plight of others, and Greek Stoicism.
It is somewhat painful to see a bit of mainstream American Christianity’s reflection in the mirror of Barclay’s description of the Stoic: “The aim of life was serenity. … For the Stoic blessedness meant being wrapped up in his own philosophic detachment and calm.” When Christians, especially those not of minority races, hear of the ills and struggles of the black or Hispanic communities, they may indeed feel compassion. But Barclay, along with James, warns, “There is nothing more dangerous than the repeated experiencing of a fine emotion with no attempt to put it into action”; every time we do, we “become less likely ever to take action.”
Those who do possess power, and yet do not offer spiritual and physical partnership to those who do not, are the equivalent of the first-century Christian saying to his coatless brother, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” (Jas. 2:16).