The Sin of Partiality | James 2:1-13

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  • The Sin of Partiality | James 2:1-13
  • James 1:26-27 contrasts true and false religion. Verse 26 describes false religion: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” Verse 27 summarizes true religion: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

    James 2:1-13 shows that these statements about true and false religion are not theoretical. The church practices one of the other whenever we assemble. Verse 1 states the point: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” The key term is “partiality.” The NASB and NIV translate it “favoritism.” The KJV translates it “respect of persons.” The Greek word means “to receive the face.”

    • It is to judge based on looks, race, wealth, rank, or status.
    • It is to lift up or put down based on money, power, or status. 

    Verse 1 issues a cease-and-desist order: “Stop showing partiality.” Why? Verse 1 answers: “As you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” This refers to what Jude 3 calls “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” To hold the faith is to let go of favoritism. There is no place for partiality in the church. Romans 2:11 says, “God shows no partiality.” Neither should those who follow our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Verse 1 calls Christ “the Lord of glory.” James calls his older brother divine glory in human flesh. Like the Shekinah, by which God revealed himself to Israel, Jesus is the glory of God. Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” Compared to Christ, personal, human, or worldly glory is nothing. When Christ is glorified, there is no place for partiality in the church. How can we overcome the sin of partiality?  

    Accept God’s Prohibition against Partiality. 

    Verse 1 asserts there is partiality in the church. Verses 2-4 rebuke it with a practical illustration and a personal application.

    A Powerful Illustration. Verses 2-3 Imagine what happens when two guests show up and are seated.

    Two Guests Show Up. A sharp-dressed man arrives wearing “a gold ring.” This “gold-fingered” man wore many massive rings that displayed his wealth. He also wore “fine clothing” that sparkled or glittered. Luke 23:11 says Herod’s soldiers put splendid clothing on Jesus to mock him. Acts 20:30 says the angel that appeared to Peter wore bright clothing.

    Likewise, the sharp-dressed man wore “fine clothing.” A shabbily dressed man also arrived. His clothes were old, plain, and filthy. These dirty clothes were what he wore to work. He did not change clothes because he had nothing else to wear. He came as he was.

    Two Guests Are Seated. Verse 3 states the problem. The sharp-dressed was given a good seat. The shabbily dressed man was seated in the back or on the floor. The problem is not that the rich man was rich, dressed immodestly, or was given a good seat. The problem is that the poor man was treated differently. James condemns the church for treating the rich man better than the poor man based on external appearance. 

    Charles Wright & the 103rd Street Band sang: “It’s not what you look like when you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s what you’re doing when you’re doing what you look like you’re doing. Express yourself.”

    A Personal Application. Verse 4 asks, “Have you not them made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” “Made distinctions” refers to attitudes or actions that divide the church into “haves” and “have nots.” In so doing, we “become judges with evil thoughts.” Matthew 7:1 says, “Judge not that you be not judged.” Yet John 7:24 says, “Do not judge by appearance, but judge with right judgment.” If you judge, you should judge by a righteous standard. Partiality judges with evil thoughts, reasoning, and opinions. 

    The world rewards and celebrates success. It does not define success in moral, ethical, or spiritual terms. The culture deems one successful based on physical appearance, material possessions, academic degrees, career accomplishments, and social prominence. Sinful, foolish, and worldly people care more about how one looks than how one lives. Like a snake, the spirit of the age slithers into the church. We may not seat the rich in the front and the poor in the back. However, we have subtle ways of judging people based on age, ancestry, appearance, achievement, and affluence. The word of God says to each of us, “Stop it!”

    Adopt God’s Perspective Toward Partiality. 

    Verses 5-7 challenge us to adopt God’s perspective toward partiality by juxtaposing how the Lord and the rich treat the poor. 

    How The Lord Treats The Poor. Ephesians 1:4 says God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” James 1:5 gives a behind-the-scenes look at divine election: “Listen, by 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 promised to those who love him?”The poor are not automatically saved or have an inside track to salvation. Verse 5 says you must “love him” to be saved. Do you love God? The point of verse 5 is this: God is on the side of the poor in the world. The world mistreats the poor. God has made them rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom of God. Luke 6:20 says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

    How the Rich Treat the Poor. Matthew 19:23 says, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” The poor man was more likely to be converted. Verse 6 says, “But you have dishonored the poor man.” But the church was more concerned about the one who could help the church than the one the church could help. Because the church dishonored the poor man, he left the church with a false estimation of Christ and Christianity. Verse 6 asks, “Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?” Rich people oppress the poor personally and legally. John Calvin said, “Why honor your executioners?”

    Verse 7 also asks, “Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?”Verse 1 refers to “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” Here he is called “the honorable name.” Those who are called by the honorable name should not dishonor the poor.

    Avoid God’s Punishment for Partiality. 

    How can we avoid God’s punishment for partiality? 

    1. The Royal Law

                Verse 8 says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.” The law of love is the supreme ethic of the Christian faith. The emphasis here is on the sovereign authority of the LawgiverIt is the law of the King. Verse 8 quotes Leviticus 19:18Matthew 22:39 calls this the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Some see two commands here: love your neighbor and love yourself. They claim you cannot love others until you love yourself. There is only one command here. It assumes you are in a love triangle with memyself, and I. If you love others the way you love yourself, “you are doing well.” Philippians 2:3-4 says: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.” 

    • The Divine Standard 

                To view partiality from God’s perspective is to see it as a real sin and a big sin

    Partiality is a Real Sin. Verse 9 says, “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” Showing partiality is not about where you were born and raised. It is not about the cultural environment that shaped your thinking. It is not about your status, education, or personality. Partiality is sin. To show partiality is to be “convicted by the law as transgressors.”Transgression is rebellion against divine authority. 

    • It is to know what the law is and decide to break it. 
    • It is to know the right path and turn to your own way. 
    • It is to know the boundaries and choose to cross them. 

    To show partiality is to commit sin and to transgress the law of God. 

    Partiality is a big sin. Verse 10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” No one can keep the whole law. James 3:2 says, “For we all stumble in many ways.” However, for the sake of argument, suppose you lived a perfect life except you showed favoritism. You are accountable for the whole law. 

    • To break any law is to be a lawbreaker. 
    • To break a piece of glass is to break the glass. 
    • To break one link of the chain is to break the chain. 

     There are no small, little, or minor sins. Verse 11 says, “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.” To steal a piece of bread is not the same as taking a life. But both acts make you a lawbreaker. And any sin is enough to send you to hell. Our holy hope is to turn from our sins and run to the cross. 

    The Coming Judgment. A day of judgment is coming. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Yet Christians will give account for our lives. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” Thus, verse 12 says, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.” 

    • There is freedom that enslaves. 
    • There is a law that liberates. 

    James 1:22 says, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” 

    Matthew 5:7 says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Verse 13 states that truth in negative terms: “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.” We want justice when wronged and mercy when we do wrong. But the mercy you receive is organically and inextricably tied to the grace you extend. You will have to withdraw mercy from the bank one day. Make sure the check doesn’t bounce because of insufficient funds.

    Verse 13 ends with good news: “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” If you show mercy, you will obtain mercy. But this statement means more than that. The mercy of God was put on full display at the cross of Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.”

    A mother approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed the offense twice, and justice demanded death. “But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.” “But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied. “Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.” “Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son. In a greater, deeper, higher way, that is what God has done for us in Christ! 


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.