Exposition James 2: 1-13 (Why partiality at all levels is wrong)
When I read this passage in James I am reminded of an old Johnny Paycheck song that my dad use to listen to. The song is called the Outlaw’s Prayer. It talks about how he was held over in a town and decided to take a walk. He heard the sound of a church choir and decided to go into the church. When he entered, a man met him and asked him to leave because he wasn’t dressed appropriately for the church.
The problem is, the song is based on a common sentiment shared by allot of people who wonder into churches. They are met with condescending looks, sneers, and even people who move away from them. Sometimes this is because of their uncleanliness, sometimes their race, and sometimes because of their obvious financial or social condition.
Unfortunately, this problem seems to have been around since the 1st Century church. James takes a good amount of time to let us know, that not only is this unacceptable, but it is sinful and is detrimental to the unity of the church and the cause of Christ.
(v1) My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.
James warns us that we should have no partiality in who we accept into the local church, with respect to the person based on anything, other than the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. Anyone who enters the assembly seeking the Lord should be treated as unique and important as they are seen in the eyes of Christ. Christ after all died for all. The Spirit said in Revelation 22:17 “And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” Salvation is not just for the rich or the socially important.
(v2) For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;
The word assemble literally means the synagogue, though not indicating a Jewish synagogue, but the meeting place of the church. The reference to the gold ring was a common symbol of status at the time, it was common place for influential people to wear several rings to show their wealth and importance. James is drawing an example of one of the ways people receive favor and places of honor based on appearances or social status. The same way that if a nicely dressed man or woman entered a restaurant and receives the attention of the host, and the wait staff, so that they can gain a better tip.
(v3) And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool.
Leviticus 19.15 commands us, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgement: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor. “ We are not to look at the outward appearances of one another, but at Christ’s righteousness in us all, those who believe. This is unjust judgement based on false motives and assumes that earthly statues determines certain privileges.
Galatians 3.28 tells us “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” God is not respecter or persons. (Deut 10.17; ) “For there is no respect of persons with God.” (Romans 2.11) God does not care how important you think you are, nor how important you think someone else is. Giving someone an honored place in worship and ignoring someone else because of their appearance is ungodly behavior.
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and by such all need to have his grace. He is not impressed with how nice we dress, or how many cars we have. We should not care either. Skin color, financial or social status should not matter, those who are believers are family and should be treated that way. Those who are not are in danger of hell fire and need to be earnestly sought after no matter what their status or condition. It is a matter or life and death. Drawing such distinctions in the church causes divisions in the church, and causes some to stumble.
(v4) Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
When we judge others based on their wealth, race, or social status we put ourselves in danger of judgment. Only God can judge the true motives of a man, or his stature. We bring ourselves into condemnation, assuming the role of God to judge who is right with God or who is not. Showing partiality to the rich, or the color of skin is wrong in many ways and shows a flawed value system, thus meaning your judgements are based on evil thoughts.
(v5) Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
Jesus opened his ministry in Luke 4.18 by quoting the prophet Isaiah in saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set them at liberty them that are bruised,” It the lowly in the earth were who Jesus himself said He came for, why would we as His disciples minister to anyone, but who needed to hear the gospel?
(v6) But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgement seats?
In showing favoritism to the rich and oppressing the poor we miss the mark. We embolden those who oppress us, and neglect those who need our assistance the most. This is sin, James 4:17 says, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Neglecting the widows, or the orphans, or the poor… is SIN.
(v7) Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
The rich and the prideful and well educated, mock believers in Jesus, and talk ill of the church. They work to get laws passed and sue churches and Christian employees because their deeds are evil and to not want them brought to light. I am not saying everyone who has money is inherently worse than someone who does not. I am saying that it is wise not to place to much importance on the fact that someone has money, and assume that they are more important than someone else because they are financially endowed.
(v8) If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well:
Here James is referring to the second of the two great commandments given by Jesus in Matthew 22.39 where Jesus says the 2nd greatest commandment is similar to the 1st. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” We should love our neighbors “selfishly”. When we want something, nothing stops us from doing whatever is necessary for us to get it. That is the same way we should love others, so that we put their needs above our own.
(v9) But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
By failing to obey the love of Christ, we put ourselves in sin. Our motivation to others should be from our hearts, to share the love of Christ. From out of the heart comes sins, and blasphemies, and all manner of evil doings. So by showing partiality or racism, we are living in sin, and forgetting the grace in Jesus Christ.
(10) For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
It does not matter how small a sin you thing you commit, all sin is punishable by death. You can keep all the laws of the land that you want, but if you speed, you are still in violation of the law and will be punished. It is the same precept, it only takes one broken law to become a criminal, it doesn’t matter if it is a felony or a misdemeanor, you are still a criminal. So with spiritual law, if you keep every statute, every dot, and every line, if you miss one letter, you still violated the law. So by showing partiality, you have broken the whole commandment of God.
(v11) For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also , Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou are become a transgressor of the law.
(v12) So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
As disobedience to the law brings death, so can obedience to God’s grace bring liberty from the law. We should live in the grace that has been afforded to us. By living in the grace that has been freely given to us without regard to our race, riches, social status, or even our nationality, we are free to treat other in the same manner. We are responsible to treat others with the grace that has been shown to us out of gratitude.
(v13) For he shall have judgement without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgement.
Jesus told a story in Matthew 18 about a servant who had been forgiven a lot of debt by his master. However, the servant did not show compassion to another servant that owed him money. The master then hearing of this cast the 1st servant into prison and demanded he pay all that he owed, because he was unforgiving of the 2nd servant. We should do well to read this scripture closely, and examine our hearts.
Jesus also told his disciples, that when you come to the altar and if you have a grudge against your brother, to leave your gift at the altar and go and make amends with your brother. Once you have made things right with your brother, then come back and offer your gift at the altar.
It seems clear that there is a cause and effect here in relation to how we judge others and how we show our love and gratitude towards Jesus for saving us from the meaningless lives we had before we know him, and the importance of knowing that we did not deserve His love and grace. Take a look around the next time you are in church.
Make an effort to see who is visiting. Show a genuine interest in them, they might be there just to meet Jesus for the first time, or to ask Him for forgiveness for being away so long. They may be looking for an excuse to just point a finger and walk back out… don’t give them the excuse. You just might be the harvester the Lord uses to bless their life.