Judging by external appearance is at the heart of James 2:1-13. But James is not concerned with whether we are nice to people or not. James is raising a more profound question: Are your actions consistent with the what you say you believe?
- In chapter 1 James said to consider it joy when we face trials because trials test our faith. The process of testing our faith brings us to maturity and makes us into the kind of people we should be.
- In chapter 2, James begins to apply that principle.
1My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3and 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,” 4have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, 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? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? – James 2:1-7
- This is the same theme James raised in chapter 1. People are treating the rich well and the poor badly.
- Notice the “IF-THEN” construction in James 2:2; James 2:3 and James 2:4.
- In James 2:4, he asks a rhetorical question that grammatically expects an affirmative answer. In James 2:6-7, he switches to reality.
- The rich have the power to help you or ruin you. The poor can do nothing for you and may need your time, energy and resources.
- The question James is raising is: how are you looking at the world? Does the gospel change your thinking or not?
- There is a single command in this section: James 2:1: “show no partiality” or “do not show favoritism”. The word means to treat people in different ways based on external factors, like outward appearance.
- James 2:5-6 explains why partiality is forbidden.
- Why treat the rich unbeliever as the better man? In reality he is much worse off. If he has no faith, he has nothing.
- Who is it that has proved to be your sister and who has proved to be your enemy? In this particular situation the poor have proven faithful. The rich have proven unfaithful.
- James is not saying that poverty is a virtue in and of itself.
- Neither is James saying that rich people cannot have faith.
- It is tempting to butter up to the rich because the rich man can oppress me and make my life miserable. But the rich man can do nothing to me that God is not involved in.
- No partiality means no partiality. There are many ways we can show favoritism. James picks on wealth and poverty because his readers were facing that trial
8If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11For 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. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. – James 2:8-13
- James is quoting from Leviticus 19:13-18 which explains the flow of thought.
- James is anticipating an objection from his readers that they are okay because they are keeping the law.
- James answers that objection by saying, you have to keep the whole law not just part of it.
- You’re saying you’re in the right because you are keeping law A, but you can’t justify your behavior by keeping law A. You can only justify your behavior if you are keeping ALL the laws A-Z.
- “Royal law” like the golden rule = mosaic law; summed up by love your neighbor as yourself.
- “Law of liberty” = gospel, the message that we will be saved by the blood of Christ.
- You object that you are keeping the law because you’re loving your rich neighbor as yourself. But I say you’re failing to keep the law because you are not loving your poor neighbor the same way. What should you do? You should live as one who believes the gospel. You should live as one who as received mercy you did not deserve and show that mercy to others — all of them, rich or poor. No partiality.
- James is not telling us now go and do something to prove you’re a Christian. James is concerned with the underlying attitude of living out the faith you claim to believe.