My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 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, 3 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,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 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? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.James 2:1-13
James brackets this passage with two very powerful statements of principle: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” and, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” The first is more of a commandment, “Don’t do this” while the second is more a statement of Kingdom principle. The first tells us how to behave, the second tells us the consequence of our behavior.
James is renowned for what an old preacher used to say, “He quit preachin’ and went to meddlin’.” The question is, do we favor wealthier people over poorer people in the body of Christ? If we do, James tells us that it is sin that we do, we are transgressors. That, of course, demands repentance. And, I am pretty sure that most of us are guilty of this sin at least on occasion. And, some of us all the time.
Jesus was asked what is the great commandment. His response was:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”Matthew 22:37-40
James picks up on the “second” and calls it the royal law, love your neighbor as yourself. This is how we are to love the poor man. If instead, we favor the rich over the poor, we sin against this law of loving our neighbor as ourselves. We are then said to be judges with evil thoughts.
So, why do we fall into this sin so easily? It really not hard to figure. Who has the power to grant favors? The rich man. Who can introduce us to influential people? The rich man. Who can give the largest offerings to support church ministry? The rich man. Who can invite us to lunch at the finest restaurants? The rich man. Who will have the most political sway? The rich man. What does the poor man have to offer? Maybe nothing in terms of this world system. But that is the problem, isn’t it? We are asking, what’s in it for me. We look at what he has to offer instead of how we can love him as a human created in the image of God, a neighbor whom we are commanded to love.
The truth is, he may have a lot more to offer us in a relationship than the rich man. He may be able to offer us more humility, although being poor doesn’t guarantee humility just as wealth doesn’t guarantee arrogance. And humility is one of the most desirable characteristics we can have.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.James 4:10
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.1 Peter 5:6
But this is still looking at the relationship for what it offers us. That is the wrong way to look at human beings. The bottom line is that we are commanded to love our neighbors (which means really anyone we run into on the way through life) as ourselves because they are fellow human beings created in the image of God. They are of equal value to the rich man. Jesus died just as dead for a poor man as he did for a rich man.
I have an opinion based partly on Scripture and partly on observation in life that it is the poor man who is more prone to respond most heartily to the gospel.
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?James 2:5
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,Luke 4:18-19
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
James also puts the rich man in a different light. This is the light that the American politically progressive people see the rich man (even though many of them are indeed rich men). “Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?” The rich are the ones who have power in culture and can mistreat those not in the “one-percenter” category. James does point out that it isn’t always desirable to relate to the rich man. He just may take advantage of you and hurt you. That doesn’t usually happen when you relate to a poor man.
James indicates that the antidote to partiality is mercy. I don’t think we usually think of mercy in this way, but James juxtaposes mercy to partiality. And, the bad news for us is that if we do not live a life of mercy, that is, without partiality, we will be in a pile of hurt come judgment time. Because judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. When it comes to that day, I want to find an abundance of mercy. I can assure myself of that if I honor the poor man the same as the rich man as one created in the image and likeness of God and a fellow-heir of new life in Christ.
Mercy triumphs over judgment. Another way to translate that is that mercy rejoices over judgment.
Do we treat all of our brothers and sisters in Christ with the same honor? Do we honor Christ with our love for all of our neighbors? Do we just maybe need to repent a little here and there? We won’t be able to honestly answer this without taking a little time to meditate on our conduct and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our hearts and our actions.
Father, help us all to not hold our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory with partiality.