Summary: 5th message in James series. james’ warning against partiality or favoritism. We are subject to a higher law.
A brilliant medical doctor discovered the use of blood plasma that resulted in saving thousands of lives in World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam War. At Pearl Harbor, for example, 96% of those who received plasma, survived. After World War II Charles Drew was named director of the National Blood Bank Program, and devoted himself to teaching doctors at Howard University Medical School.
On April 1, 1950, while driving some young doctors to a conference he was involved in an automobile accident in Burlington, N.C. He was rushed to a hospital where his life could have been saved by plasma. But Dr. Drew was denied admission to the hospital because his skin was black. He died on the way to another hospital 26 miles away.
The blot of racial bias stains the pages of our national history. Unfortunately, church history is stained with prejudice also. The bigotry has too often been expressed because of race, but it takes other forms as well. There is the subtle prejudice of younger people toward the elderly. Often adults are prejudiced toward teens. Doctrinal divisions over questions not fundamental to the faith have created intolerance. Charismania on one hand and charisphobia on the other have prejudiced dear Christians against one another.
Even musical preferences are often treated not as mere differences of opinion but as means of testing genuine faith. (If you sing this style or type of music you’re OK, the other style and you’re a heretic). Warren Wiersbe says, “Most church members consider themselves experts in the area of music, and they do not hesitate to tell the pastor or the minister of music exactly which music is right and which is wrong. Of course, ‘what is right’ is music they personally enjoy; ‘what is wrong’ is music they do not enjoy. It is as simple as that” [Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship (Nashville: Nelson Books, 1986), 137]. One lady couldn’t stand the music that blared from the next apartment. One day she yelled, “If you don’t turn that stereo down, I’ll go insane!” “Too late,” came the reply, “I turned it off an hour ago.”
We all have our personal preferences from the people we’d like to associate with, to the music we like to hear. But James sounds a warning concerning partiality as chapter 2 begins, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism” (v. 1).
I. THE PROBLEM OF PARTIALITY v. 1
The word translated “favoritism” comes from two words—”to receive” and “face.” “To receive by face” is to evaluate a person on the basis of surface characteristics. James warns, “Don’t just look at a person’s face, or outward appearance. Don’t be biased in your judgment by clothing, wealth, or position!”
The reason is simple: such favoritism obviously runs counter to the character of Christ. Though He was “glorious” He humbled Himself to identify with the poor and the oppressed to whom He promised the kingdom. His mission was announced at the beginning of His ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed...” (Luke 4:18). Prejudice based on physical appearance, social status or race is inconsistent with faith in the One who came to break down the barriers of nationality, race, sexism and religion.
II. THE PROBLEM ILLUSTRATED vv. 2-4
James offers a graphic illustration of the problem. Two men come into a Christian gathering (“meeting” is literally sunagoge or synagogue). One is lavishly attired in elegant clothes and fine jewelry. The other is poorly clad in “shabby clothes.” The contrast in the clothing spotlights the fact that they were using the inaccurate measure of outward appearance to determine personal worth in this assembly.
The usher quickly assessed the situation and the rich man was offered a choice seat. The poor man is rudely told, “Stand there,” or as Phillips paraphrases, “if you must sit, sit on the floor.” How sad that a Christian would say: “Sit at my feet”. This means that the poor man is not only treated as inferior to the rich man, but even worse than the Christian who should have welcomed him. Instead of honoring Christ, the rich man was respected while the poor man was despised.
The symbol for Justice is always a blindfolded lady holding scales in her hand. Unable to see anyone because of the blindfold she is able to serve the cause of justice impartially. God does not allow Lady Justice to peek. He is no respecter of persons. With Him there is no partiality. He expects us to make equitable judgments also or we are guilty of injustice. The attitude James opposed was plainly contrary to the Word of God. Leviticus 19:15 says, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”