Text: James 2:1-13
James addresses a problem he saw in the early church and one that still rots relationships today––the sin of partiality. Partiality is a sneaky sin that James exposes with the Gospel. Because Jesus is the Lord of glory who gives glory, then don’t show or seek the false glory from partiality.
The Lord of Glory (1-4)
The command is this: don’t show partiality (vs. 1). Partiality is your treatment or attitude toward someone based on the wrong value you place on them. By wrong value, I mean the value assigned by the world’s judgment and not by God’s judgment. James gives an example in verses 2-3. Suppose two men come into the church meeting, one is a swanky guy with nice threads and blinged out with jewelry and the other is poor man in stained clothes. If the greeting team shows special treatment to the rich guy while ignoring or insulting the poor man, they’ve shown partiality.
James says this is inconsistent with the faith you hold in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory (vs. 1). Your playing favorites and your faith in Jesus are not compatible. This is because they are competing sources of glory––glory from the Lord and glory from man. As a Christian, Jesus is your glory—all the glory you need.
What’s so bad about partiality then? Partiality attempts to replace or supplement God’s standard of judgment with another standard that man creates. God’s standard says sinners are accepted because of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Partiality looks to add something for that guy to be accepted by you. You look to the clothing, the hair style, the personal hygiene, the car, the different church, or any external criteria, and then, based on that additional standard, make a judgement on the value of that person and so make “distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts” (vs. 4).
The Poor Made Rich (5-7)
James lists a couple reasons why partiality is contrary to the Gospel. God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom (vs. 5). Jesus wasn’t a spiritual snob so you can’t be one. If Jesus valued the poor enough to die for them, then you need to value them enough to talk to, eat with, encourage, love. “But you have dishonored the poor man…and don’t you realize what these rich guys do you?” (vs. 6-7) Those with wealth and power and position are the ones who harass Christians. They oppress you, drag you to court, and blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called. And you want to buddy up to these guys?
The Lord and His Royal Law (8-11)
James reinforces his charge by appealing to the royal law. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is quoted from Leviticus 19:18. The royal law is based on the character of the Lord. God says, “I am the Lord, therefore love your neighbor as your yourself.” In the first verses, James says to not show favoritism among Christians, and now he expands this beyond the bounds of brothers. You are to love your neighbor. We need to think in the categories God uses instead of the labels we slap on people. This is because your judgments often justify your actions. If you label the people down your street as “the druggies,” then you justify staying safely behind the curtains judging away. But if they are “your neighbors,” then what should you do? You love them, which fulfills the royal law.
You can’t pick and choose the laws you want to keep (or break). The law is like a large plate of glass. If there’s a single hole or crack anywhere in the glass, then the whole plate is broken (vs. 11).
Judgment of Mercy (12-13)
James concludes, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty” (vs. 12). Remember what law this is? This is the law of liberty, the perfect law of James 1:25. You will still be judged, but you will be judged in mercy. You will be judged as one already assured of the verdict that you are free. So live in the liberty of this law which says “Do not show partiality.” Those who make distinctions, acting as judges, ought to remember that they themselves will also be judged. The standard you have applied to others will be applied to you. Has your judgement of others been harsh? Then you will be judged harshly. Have you been merciful? Then look for mercy. The final statement is good news. For those who hold their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, mercy triumphs over judgment.