James 2:2-4 - The Sin of Partiality Exemplified
Review: The transforming power of the Gospel is exhibited in the life of a genuine believer, who is called to show no partiality.
- James provides an example, given in James 2:1-4, through which we can understand the kind of partiality that believers should not exercise. A comparison is made between the rich and the poor, and the tendency to favor one over the other. Note the account that Jesus gives about the rich man and Lazarus. Clearly, the rich man was condemned not because of his wealth, nor was Lazarus saved on account of his poverty. Note also the account of the poor widow who is described by Jesus as having given more than those who gave out of their abundance. Finally, note Luke 18:18-27, where the rich young ruler asked Christ about how to inherit eternal life. Christ exposed the heart of the rich young ruler, who treasured material wealth above God.
- A closer look at James’ example: During the “assembly” (“ecclesia” is not the word used here but one which refers to a gathering, as in a synagogue), a man “wearing a gold ring” enters in. This phrase in biblical times would mean not just one finger with a ring but fingers loaded with rings, for in the Jewish attire, a ring is an indispensable part. Only a few, however, can afford a pure, gold ring, let alone many rings. This man is also dressed in “fine clothing.” The root word used for this phrase is found also in Luke 23:11 and Acts 10:30, which indicate that this man’s clothing is a bright or shining garment. Now, then, we see the stark contrast against the poor man who also enters the assembly. This poor man is described as dressed in “shabby clothing” or “dirty clothes.” The root word used here actually indicates “filthy” clothing.
- A closer look at James’ emphasis: He does not address or judge the rich man for wearing fine clothes, nor the poor man for coming in with filthy clothes. James’ emphasis is on the response of the church in giving special attention to the rich man, giving him a good seat; and, not giving honor to the poor man, having him stand afar off or “sit on the ground.” In other words, the two guests are treated with partiality, on the basis of their economic status.
The Rebuke: “Doesn’t this discrimation show that your judgements are guided by evil motives?” (2:4 NLT). The attitude displayed in James’ example is not consistent with how Christians should behave. Showing partiality is like having a mind that is divided or living by a double standard. Let no believer think or behave like the world in giving preference to the rich! When we give high regard to people on the basis of their material wealth, and look down upon others who are poor, then we fail to live out a life that is consistent with the Gospel of Christ.
Prayer: May we see each person as one who is made in God’s image, fallen because of Adam’s sin but offered reconciliation through Christ who died, was buried, and rose again. Jesus came to seek and save the lost; and, he has commissioned his followers to proclaim and live out the truth entrusted to us in his Word. May we be faithful followers of Christ, loving God with all our hearts, mind, and strength; and, loving others as ourselves.