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My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.
2 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,
3 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,”
4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
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?
6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?
7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well;
9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
We live in a world that is riddled with sin, and one of the ways that sin manifests itself is within the issue of partiality. The news actually seems to be full of the idea of partiality (or favoritism) these days, but how it addresses the issue and where it assumes the problem comes from are completely debased from Scripture. We may hear terms relative to racial privilege (by the way, not original to me, but there’s only one race, the human race) or inequality (now the bigger term is “equity”), but rather than chase things down a political rabbit hole, we’d be far better off to understand what is Scriptural. Christians, if not careful, easily go down paths of politics and so forth, but the answer has never been in fine-tuning our ability to weed out what is wrong as much as becoming grounded in what is right. Counterfeit currency has often been taught to be identified not by falsifications, but rather on what is genuine; what is false quickly is detected by being honed in on what is true.
In James’ day, the issue that he addressed was that of partiality being shown within the church. It is a matter of dispute as to what scenario James is referring to, but some scholars believe that he is talking about two people being judged by the church in a matter. This passage has often been portrayed as a worship service and the treatment of people within it, but in all likelihood is probably more parallel to other texts such as 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. The first couple verses say this:
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” (1 Cor. 6:1-2)
Please keep in mind that this was never advocating that the legal system be bypassed where laws had been broken. Many of the things a church may address may very well be sinful and wrong, yet not technically against the law. The early church was family in ways we often do not understand in American culture; to follow Christ meant cultural ostracization, potentially losing jobs, safety, etc. Christian community was perhaps the only community many of the early church believers had once they had decided to follow Christ.
Even in the earliest part of the church, “there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellinists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1). We could also see something similiar in Philippians 4:2-3 where it says, “I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.” It says in 1 Timothy 5:19-20, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” Notice that there is a common thread throughout the New Testament, which is the judging and discerning in matters within the church and the authoritative nature of those decisions.
So, back to our passage: “do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ…with partiality.” This is the primary command of this portion of the text, which is followed by the reasoning behind not only the command but also the illustration of the failure. “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?” James is pointing out the problem by showing us the differences in the people’s responses and the pride that fuels such a response. The rich were treated with honor whereas the poor were treated with contempt. James highlights the externals of both the rich and the poor and that on such a flimsy basis, people are showing partiality (this will be contrasted later with the character of these individuals versus their outer attire).
James’ audience are supposedly followers of Jesus who believe in grace (unmerited favor), but the favor that they give is “merited,” even though it hasn’t been earned from them at all. The term for “evil” refers to morally worthless thoughts, the judges using morally worthless thoughts as their guide rather than faith. Why would they do that? Treating the rich with favoritism has the p
otential advantage of return, whereas treating the poor with favoritism may have little if any social return. It’s no wonder that these verses fall on the heels of the last verses of James 1, which speaks of true religion (God-fearing) as looking out for orphans and widows and keeping one’s self unspotted from the world. Looking out for orphans and widows would have only been an act of love, not an act with return in
mind. It would probably have cost far more to help these neglected groups than to not help them, and this steps into Chapter Two’s words on partiality.
James reminds the recipients of his letter with these words in vv. 5-7: “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? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?” Does poverty make a person favored in the sight of God? No, it doesn’t, because salvation is not based upon what we had or didn’t have in this life, but only based upon faith in Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Poor people, though, can often only rest in the richness of faith (trusting God for needs) when they go without and the greatest hope of a poor believer is a rich inheritance in Heaven. There is poverty in America, but there is often massive poverty in third world countries and many believers in those countries may go without much at all until glory. Some people will follow Christ and die in poverty or oppression, hunger and thirst. I do not say that to belittle their lot, but to be reminded that following Jesus does not mean that life will be easy, and in fact it may be very hard even until the end.
The value of a person comes from God’s love for them and His design of them, not from their knowledge, achievements, finances, popularity or power. When we forget why God values people and run on pride-based valuations of others, we will judge some better than others, to be sure. In the Gospel, though, all are equal in their destiny and God’s love and sacrifice for them. He makes us each different and diverse based upon His determinations, not our worth and despite our backgrounds and experiences, we are each offered the very same Gospel with the same benefits.
Additionally, James reminds the people that the rich actually caused them a great deal of problems, such as “dragging them” into courts and blaspheming Christ. They did not act in a godly fashion or evidence faith in their behavior, but they had received favorable treatment for their social status. Losing sight of the blessings of God in exchange for the short-term benefits of human esteem will always be a challenge we must fight against in this life. We all want to be treated well and nobody ever really took well to being treated poorly, did they?
The last part of today’s passage says this to us: “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” Take note that James speaks with royal terms here: a noble name and a royal law. Christians are children of the King of the universe, God Himself. We were saved by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ. Every believer is part of the heavenly royal family. Unity cannot be attained nor partiality eschewed unless hearts are united to Christ by faith and living in submission to His authority. Sin is the problem and if we don’t label it as such, we will only seek social reformation rather than soul regeneration.
Partiality throws us back into carnal ways of judging others, and it is a transgression; it is a sin. The only way to properly deal with partiality is to place ourselves under the authority of the Gospel, to believe every day the truth that people are saved by grace rather than works or merits, and that God sent His Son Jesus Christ to the cross with a love for humanity. In Christ, we are all equally loved by our Father, brothers and sisters in the Lord. Praise God that He loves people like you and me enough to not only save us but also sanctify us and prepare us for an eternal home with Him in Heaven.
Thank you for your time and consideration of God’s word today!
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.