Summary: James teaches us that showing partiality or favoritism is actually a sin and spells out how we can more easily avoid falling into this temptation.
This passage begins a new section in James. There are certain temptations and trials that are constantly confronting us. One of the strongest is that of showing partiality or favoritism, of discriminating against people.
READ James 2:1. So, here we have the charge against showing partiality. What does it mean to show partiality? It means to favor some people over others or to pay special attention to a person because of their wealth, social standing, looks, popularity and things like that. But note that the charge is given to believers. It points the charge to brothers, to those who have faith in our Lord.
Of all the people on earth, the very people who should not show partiality are believers. The reason is clearly stated in verse 1. Everyone who is in the church is a brother—everyone stands on equal ground before the Lord Jesus Christ. Wealth, status, social standing, looks, position—nothing matters except all men coming to Jesus and worshiping Him. We all come to Him on an equal footing; no one is higher or more acceptable than anyone else.
We know that Jesus left the glory of heaven and came to this corruptible world to save all men. All believers should do just what Jesus did, humble themselves and reach out to bring all men to Jesus so that they might be saved. That means reaching out to the poor and lowly as well as to the rich and high. Is this verse saying that we should shun the rich and wealthy? No, not at all.
READ verses 4-7. Now we are given 5 things that are wrong with showing partiality and favoritism.
1. Showing partiality sets one up as the judge of men. Who has the right to judge men? Only God. So, to show partiality makes one as God. Only God Himself can determine who He will accept and not accept. That’s not ours to decide.
2. Showing partiality reveals evil thoughts (v.4). The person who shows partiality focuses on mundane and changeable things, things such as clothes, cars, house, and all the other outward things that change and waste away. Those thoughts are corrupt because they focus on corruptible things and totally neglect the PERSON. That says that the material things are more important than the person. Of course, that’s foolishness. Yet it’s exactly how most people behave, because most people show partiality.
Think about it. A young man comes in our doors on a Sunday morning and he is dressed in a fine suit and tie. How do you feel about approaching him? He will probably get more handshakes than the preacher.
Next scenario, a homeless man with dirty clothes and messed up hair and scroungy beard comes in the door. How likely are you to approach him as compared to the first guy? You see what I mean.
Believers are never to show partiality, not to a single soul. We are to look at the person himself. What matters is his life, his health and soul, his body and spirit. What matters is that he be saved and come to know the love, joy, and peace, that only Christ can bring. But the only way he can do this is for believers to stop discriminating against him and begin to love him and win him to Christ. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:4, “Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others.”
3. Showing partiality discriminates against the poor and humble (v.5). This verse is not saying that God doesn’t love and care for the rich and high. He does, but He also cares and loves the poor and humble. And history shows that God has chosen the poor and humble to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom. In fact, they have been the very ones who have found so much hope in the gospel and have turned to it in great numbers. They are not to be discriminated against. Believers are not to shun them nor shut them out of the church.
4. Showing partiality shows a disgraceful attitude (v.6a). It dishonors, humiliates, shames, disgraces, and insults the poor and lowly person. Just think of the hurt and pain within the heart of the person who is publicly discriminated against. Think of the pain and hurt when he sees us shun him. No believer is to ever make a person feel unwelcome or of little value.
5. Showing partiality shows foolish behavior (v.6b). Two things are said about the rich that need to be heeded:
a. The rich and high usually oppress the poor and they readily grab what they can, using the very laws of the land to do it. The idea is that they use the law unjustly in order to protect and increase their wealth and power.