Most of our interactions are normally with people who look like us socio-economically. Few of us are willing to get out of our way to interact especially with those we perceive inferior to us. We go further and commit the sin of only treating with honor those that are superior to us, with a secret motive of earning a right standing with them.
I never really gave thought to James 2 until an ongoing series of studies in a group. I somehow didn’t realize that showing partiality is sinful as shown in this chapter. This really, is an exhortation for us to check our hearts closely to see whether there exists the sin of partiality manifested in how we treat others.
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,”have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my beloved brothers, 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? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
James 2: 1-7
This is not hard to envision especially in our African culture. During events we have toilets assigned to ‘wageni wa Nairobi’ (visitors from Nairobi) that cannot be used by the shabby, not-so-good looking village chap even if he was almost peeing on himself. We have also witnessed mommy and daddy pastors (also ‘prophets’) who walk on red carpets. They also sit on specially designed comfy chairs during worship services while everyone else sits on the common plastic chairs. Not only are they treated specially, they are also esteemed above other church congregants. One would easily break a leg running to serve them.
James, writing to the Christians who were in dispersion at the time, instructs them to show no partiality as they hold to the faith in Jesus. They are not to treat the man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing differently from the one in shabby clothing when both come to their assembly. If they do, they are creating distinctions among themselves and being judges with evil thoughts.
We can pause here and think of all the ways we show partiality in our different contexts. We esteem those who are rich materially with a secret motive of earning their favor, we despise those who don’t appear very gifted and hold in high regard those with exemplary gifting, and we treat with contempt the man who does not match up to our standards socio-economically. We are masters in creating distinctions and judging like the world. James asks, “… have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?“
When God is choosing His own, He does not consider wisdom or riches as the world would. James states that God has chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom. Paul in 1 Cor 1:26 asks the Corinthian church to consider this – not many of them were wise according to worldly standards, or powerful or of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish, weak, low and despised, even things that are not… So that no human being might boast in the presence of God. This observation begs the question – if God doesn’t show partiality in saving people, who are we to show partiality in our interactions?
Even as we consider this sin in light of our interactions, we can pause here and rejoice in God, that he creates no distinctions in choosing His people. He is not a judge with evil motives! That we are forgiven, redeemed and promised eternal life is reason enough to rejoice in Him. He also continues to forgive our sins, when we repent, even this that we are currently examining. Praise His name!
Not only does God forgive our sins and show no partiality but He is also just. In case you have been despised or judged with evil motives because you are not rich, gifted or do not match up to the standards, you can rest in the knowledge and assurance that God is just and shows no partiality!
In conclusion, our basis for interaction as believers is the faith that we hold to in the Lord Jesus, the Lord of glory. Faith in Jesus Christ our Lord qualifies every believer for close fellowship with one another since we are part of the family of Christ. We are all partakers to this faith by the qualification of the mercy that has been shown to us through Christ and not any of the outward and worldly advantages that some hold above the others.