1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? ~ James 2:1-4
Our study of the book of James, so far, has shown us that we grow in our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by learning to be dependent upon God as we encounter trials and temptations. It was in our last study of James that we learned that one of the greatest demonstrations of our faith in the God of the Bible is seen in how we treat the helpless.
Today, we transition into James 2. As we make this transition, it becomes evident that, like us, the early church struggled with favoritism. Having become Christians, these young believers had to learn that God shows no partiality to anyone, and neither should the believer in Christ.
In v.1 of today's text we read, "My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism."
The order this verse was originally written in the Greek is very interesting. The original reads this way: "My brothers and sisters must not show favoritism."
In the English the last phrase in this verse comes at the end of the verse, yet, in the Greek it comes at the beginning. James put it at the beginning because he meant it to be emphatic. It means the believer in Christ must not show partiality to anyone, especially toward those who can give us something in return.
This word "favoritism" means to lift up the face of someone or to elevate them. The idea is to judge someone by the face or to exalt them strictly on a superficial level. The lesson is we must not evaluate others by what they look like, or their clothes, or where they live, or what they drive, or their socio-economics. It is built into our fallenness to differentiate and divide. And so, this emphatic phrase at the beginning is a warning against preferential treatment based on race or wealth or dress or rank or social status.
Now, being partial toward someone regarding their socio-economics is in total conflict with what our faith teaches. If we are children of God, we ought to act like God, and He is impartial and we should be impartial. God does not tell us to give honor to someone based on their worldly wealth, nor does He want us to treat the poor with disdain, forcing them sit at our feet.
In v.2 of today's text we read, "Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in."
Here in v.2, James uses a third-class conditional sentence to get his point across to us. The situation James presents included two visitors who potentially come to our meeting, one is wealthy and the other is not. He is saying that when we make judgment of others just by the way they look, this is wrong. We are all equal because God has created all humans in His image. Our intrinsic value comes from the fact that God created us equal.
In v.3-4 of our text today we read, "3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"
To "show special attention" is to look upon this man with favor, rendering to him special treatment. Although, it is not wrong to give the rich guy a good seat, it is wrong if it is at the expense of the poor guy. We show partiality towards others because it is built into our fallenness to do so. We, naturally, extend favor to those who look nice, smell nice, and are obviously wealthy. And, we show contempt towards those who do not look nice, who do not smell nice, and who are obviously not wealthy.
In v.4 James asks, "have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"
Making distinctions among ourselves creates division. When we do this, we are guilty of evil discrimination. When we do this we are being defined by evil. When we make these distinctions, we are not being led by the Spirit of God. So, the issue of such behavior is that it’s not God-like, and it gives evil an opportunity to advance the kingdom of the enemy. This is not the wisdom of God which is what we need in the midst of our trials and temptations.
The word "evil" means vicious. In this case, we are being motivated to cater to the rich and the prominent and we are being motivated to shun and slight the poor and the common. This is anti-God behavior. This is "the flesh" at its finest. And, this has no place among the people of God.