|This study © 2000 by David Humpal
Showing No Partiality to Others
Next weekend, we will be celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King. His dream of equality was based on his faith in the character of God. Today in the political arena we see an African-American candidate for president, Alan Keyes, and we see another African-American mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate, Colin Powell. We see a presidential candidate soaring to popularity, George W. Bush, because he is a candidate that can relate to the needs of Hispanic voters. We have not arrived there yet, but certainly we are becoming a nation that strives at least in word, if not deed, to accept all people.
We find this same impartiality toward others taught in the New Testament 2000 years ago. MacDonald comments, "Favoritism is utterly foreign to the example of the Lord or to the teachings of the NT. There is no place in Christianity for snobbishness or discrimination."
Here in this section in James we will examine what it really means to show no partiality to others.
My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.
James makes a link between showing no partiality and our faith. If we truly believe that Jesus is the "Lord of glory," then we understand that all people are equal before God. We may have been raised with prejudices against some people because of their ethnicity, their economic condition, or their social position, or we may even have developed these views from years of negative encounters with others. But this cannot be the view of those who "hold the faith."
Our faith makes us realize that we are all equally unworthy before God. So once we start showing preference for some people over others, we are simply revealing that we have forgotten our own defects and short-comings. Thank God he has elevated us into his divine family. But letís never forget that it had nothing to do with our merit, but had everything to do with Godís mercy.
Whitney Moore Young, Jr., former head of the Urban League, wrote, "No race has a monopoly on vice or virtue, and the worth of an individual is not related to the color of his skin. ... Together, blacks and whites can move our country beyond racism and create for the benefit of all of us an open society, one that assures freedom, justice, and full equality for all."
For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "Have a seat here, please," while you say to the poor man, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet."
James was writing this to the churches 2000 years ago, but he could just as easily have been writing it to the churches of today. It is unfortunate, but we tend to treat people better if they present themselves well - if they are well-dressed, or good-looking, if they are intelligent or have an engaging personality. Especially, our American culture wants to honor those who have been "successful" financially.
A few decades ago the rich, the famous, and the trend-setters called themselves the "beautiful people." It was such a clichť that at the height of their popularity the Beatles wrote a sardonic song about themselves with these words, "Isnít it nice to be one of the beautiful people." But have things changed that much since then?
Notice in verse 3 how the two different kinds of people were treated in Jamesí time. The person wearing nice clothes and fine jewelry was asked to sit in a place of honor. The man dressed in shabby clothing was asked to sit in a corner. Our treatment of others today may not be as apparent, but the question is, is it just as preferential?
Have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
The problem, as James points out here, is that the early church was judging others by their outward appearance. James calls this judging "evil thoughts."
The Believerís Bible Commentary remarks about evil thoughts, "Probably the most glaring example of it in the church today is the discrimination shown against people of other races and colors. ... It is admitted that there are enormous social problems in the whole area of racial relations. But the Christian must be true to divine principles. His obligation is to give practical expression to the truth that all believers are one in Christ Jesus."
To what group of people do you harbor "evil thoughts"? Or what outward appearance causes you to judge someone before you have a chance to get to know them? Jamesí argument is that we shouldnít make such distinctions among ourselves. It was true 2000 years ago, and it is still true today.
Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?
Although at all periods of Christianity, it is true that there have been some Christians who were wealthy and famous, the vast majority of Christians have always seemed to be simpler people from the poorer segments of society. Paul noticed this in 1 Corinthians 1:26-28 when he wrote, "For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are."
It is one of those age-old truths that when a person is not distracted by possessions, it is easier to have faith and look to God. So James is reminding his readers what they already know - those who are poor in the world are often the ones rich in faith. We are a very money-conscious society today. God has blessed this nation with abundance, but we need to be careful that we donít become so distracted by possessions that we lose sight of God.
But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme that honorable name which was invoked over you?
James seems to have been the first social engineer. He saw examples of injustice and used some extreme examples to make his point. Almost all social and welfare programs began from faith communities. It is only in the past few decades that the government has become involved in these issues. Before then, it was the church that assumed the responsibility for caring for those who were needy or abandoned. Thatís because when we experience Godís love, we gain a divine compassion for others.
James is not here referring to the many Christians of wealth in the early church such as Barnabas, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimethea, or Lydia of Thyatira. He is speaking of the worldly people of wealth who had no regard for God. They were so bad that they were oppressing innocent people and blaspheming Christís name.
Jamesí point is that if you defer to a person who enters your service solely because of their appearance of wealth, you may be honoring one of these oppressors without knowing it, and dishonoring the poor who are being oppressed. I donít believe that James is advocating that the rich should be treated with contempt. Rather, he is saying we need to treat all people with the same impartiality.
If you really fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well.
This verse shows us where he was going with his argument. In order to fulfill the royal law, we need to love our neighbor as ourselves, whether they are rich or poor, whether they are educated or uneducated, whether they are attractive or homely, whether they wear nice clothes or shabby clothes.
James is quoting Leviticus 19:18, "You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." This is the same verse that Jesus quoted on several occasions. Moses wrote these words in Leviticus. People needed to love their neighbor in Mosesí day, and 1500 years later they still needed to love their neighbor in Jesusí day and in Jamesí day. In our day, another 2000 years later, we still need to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Hereís a poem I ran across titled, "Love Thy Neighbor."
Let me be a little kinder;
Let me be, when I am weary,
Let me be a little braver
Let me be a little meeker,
But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
James is brutally honest to his readers. He simply tells them if they show partiality, they are committing sin. He is actually referring to Deuteronomy 1:17 which says, "You shall not be partial in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike; you shall not be afraid of the face of man, for the judgment is God's; and the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it."
God wants us to be impartial to all people. Let us learn to be that way especially in the house of God. Whoever enters these doors of the sanctuary, no matter what their race, or ethnic background, no matter what their economic condition or their social position, no matter what their intellect or their ignorance, no matter what their beauty or their ugliness, and no matter what kind of clothes they are wearing or car they are driving or house they are living in, let us welcome all equally into Godís house.
Let us love them all the same. Let us treat them all impartially and non-judgementally. Let us allow the love that God has placed in our heart flow out from us to everyone who comes to our church. Most people want to experience Godís love because they first saw that love in someone else. Let us be that someone else, and let our church be the one to teach and practice Christís love.
This study on James 2:1-9 © 2000 by David Humpal, all rights reserved.
MacDonald: Believerís Bible Commentary, New Testament volume, pg. 1040 © 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Young: Beyond Racism, Building an Open Society quoted in Bartlettís Familiar Quotations pg. 901 © 1980, Little, Brown and Company
Believerís Bible Commentary, New Testament volume, pg. 1041 © 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Love Thy Neighbor, author unknown quoted in The Complete Speakerís Sourcebook pg. 173 © 1996, Zondervan Publishing House