My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 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, 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," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 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. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
James is interested in demonstrating a living, working faith. He begins to do this by asking us, what happens at the door of the church? How do we greet the first time visitors? How do we make them comfortable or uncomfortable? How do we treat new comers? Those who are looking for a spiritual home, regardless of their status in life? The difference between us and the people of the world, is in the way we treat those we don’t know. Hence the question, how do we treat those who are searching for a spiritual community?
1. It is possible for a Christian community to show partiality.
The amount of space Pastor James devoted to deal with this problem of partiality, favouritism or discrimination, shows that it was a problem among his readership. The word translated partiality is in the plural and it literally means ‘to receive the face’. It is used to mean making judgments about people based on external appearances or general factors such as dress, skin colour, general physical appearance, social status or class among others.
This is the scenario he presents in their assembly. He is not talking about some secular, judicial assemblies. Rather he is concerned about their gatherings like in the synagogue which is the word translated assembly here.
So two different people come to the assembly and by their dressing one can tell their social status. One is wearing a gold ring (it is interesting that the gold ring is the first one to notice) and fine clothes and the other is a man in shabby clothing. This second man is in fact stinking because he has filthy clothes – he may not have had wash for a long time. Notice that the same world for filthiness used in 1:21 is the same word here. Take the first man to be a cabinet secretary who is interested in elective politics next year: he drives into the church compound in a dark Toyota Prado, his gold ring makes his opulence obvious. He is clad in a well pressed Italian suit. The smell of his cologne is rich, and everything about him shouts ‘mheshimiwa’. Take the second man to be a streetboy: he is dressed in a stained, mismatched, torn and smelly jeans and a T-shirt. He has not known water for days and body lice are lined on his body like tiny necklaces. In God’s providence they both visit TBC for the service, the same day and about the same time, with the street guy walking in first. What do you do after they enter? You may twist your nose and wad off the street guy and very respectfully receive and welcome the weathly.
The Lord is so clear in His Word that, 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," you have effectively then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts. First, this passage is not prohibiting us from showing honour to whom honour is due or respect to whom respect is due (1 Peter 2:17). It does not teach that we are to take no notice of some worldly distinctions like age. It is not teaching that it is wrong for a boy to give seat to an old man. Or to accord some honour to the president if he decided to come and worship with us. Yet it is one thing to acknowledge some inherent dignity, whether of age or position, and it is another to be swayed by mere outward appearances such as clothing. When we do that we fall prey to evil thoughts and it becomes sinful for it gives robes the glory of God from God to man simply because he has possession, yet deny the same from another equally image-bearer!
Do you think that there is partiality in this church? It is likely. Do the elders call a congregation or Elders/Deacons’ meeting in which we discuss how to welcome some people better than others? I have not been to such a meeting, leave alone calling such a meeting. However, this does not mean that we have never been partial in the manner we have welcomed people. What we should do, is examine ourselves and ask how do show care and welcome everyone warmly, lovingly and show Christian affection. We must dismiss this claiming that such a sin cannot come anywhere near us.
2. It is wrong to show partiality for God is impartial
We must acknowledge that God Himself has revealed Himself as One who shows no partiality. He looks at the heart rather than outward appearance. Besides, He is very concerned for those who could be discriminated against. For example in Deut. 10:17-18, Lev. 19:15.
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.
"You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour.
It first acknowledges our Lord Jesus Christ, is the Lord of glory (v.1). See how much glory James apportions to our Saviour. He is the Sovereign Lord, for He is in full charge of all His creatures and all their actions, since He created them all. His glory must not be shared with another. He is Jesus, the Son of David, the Messiah, and Redeemer of His people. It is so amazing that the Sovereign Lord became man in order to save men and make them children of God. He has redeemed men and women, boys and girls from every nation, every social class, and every tribe. Every single barrier has been thrown down by His perfect obedience to the Law (something that we could not have been able to do) and shed His blood on the cross to secure our salvation by His atonement. He is Christ, the anointed of God and so He is the Prophet, Priest and King. And finally, immortal honours go to Him because He is the Lord of glory. This means that He is the Lord from glory, who owns all glory, and reflects the radiance of the glory of God and ultimately He will deliver all His people to glory!
Partiality is sinful because it contradicts God’s purpose of election (v.5)
Discrimination is wrong and sinful, for we read, 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? It is very interesting that James does not argue against discrimination by showing that God does not choose some or show His favour to anyone, but the fact that He does. He says, God has chosen but He has chosen those who are discriminated, and disfavoured by the eye of flesh. Favouritism is sinful because our carnal choices do not correspond with the choice of God. Furthermore, this is a divine prerogative, since God is the Creator who can do all that He pleases Partiality is playing God.
In the eternity past, when all uncreated human beings had nothing, God chose some for salvation. God has generally saved the poor people in order to show that He is impartial. The doctrine of the gracious electing love of God is all over the Scripture – see what Moses told the Israelites in Deut. 7:6. Saul and David were chosen of God (1 Sam.10:24; 1 Chron. 28:4). Jesus told His disciples that He is the one who chose them, they did not choose Him (John 15;16). God chose Thessalonians to be saved (2 Thess. 2;13). This is what we read in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
The point being made is that partiality belittles the work of God in the salvation of men for it attempts to overturn what God has done. Yet let it be known that the sovereign election of God is unconditional, this is why it emphasis the choice of the poor, so that they do not boast about anything. It did not depend on what they had, it depended on what God has.
Thankfully, even if people try to contest the sovereign electing work of God, they cannot get anywhere for God has already chosen – has not God chosen…? It is done, no one can undo it. Our response should be to praise God for this wonderful work.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. Eph 1:3-6
We must realize that even if the poor are discriminated in the world, they will not be discriminated against in heaven. God will continue to make them to be rich in faith and be heirs of the kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him (v.5)
3. Partiality is sinful because of who were are
We are a heavenly family. So James begins by reminding us who were are – we not of the world, though in the world. We are different from the world because we are:
Brothers – having been born again by God through the word of truth (v.18). We now belong to the family of God. God is our Father. And we live accordingly.
We hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory – we have been given a divine gift that brings salvation, it is called faith. For by grace are we saved through faith, and this (faith) not ourselves lest any man should boast, it is a gift of God (Eph.2:8).
We are heirs of the kingdom – it does not make sense that Christians who will spend all eternity together would discriminate against one another. We are citizens of the same kingdom. We must live as those who do not have a common destiny. After all whether you have or you don’t what you have now is temporary. Death is coming upon every. Judgement is coming upon all – it is appointed for man to die once and then face judgment. We are therefore, to love God who will give this to us and love our neighbours as He has instructed us in His Word.
Partiality contradicts the social living (vv. 6b, 7)
The rich oppress the poor: To discriminate against people based merely on social wealth or status disgraces those to whom God has granted grace. In effect, we place our standard of estimation higher than God’s! The believers of that day needed the freedom to proclaim and practice their faith without fear. But they were being deprived of this fundamental right by the rich. Is it not so ironic that they were inclined to practice partiality in favour of the elite when they were suffering persecution from the elite?
The rich blasphemes the name of CHRIST. James saved his worst accusation until last. Blasphemy is a transliteration of the Greek, which means ‘to speak evil of, slander, to be intentionally irreverent.’ One can imagine rich Jewish unbelievers slandering the followers of Jesus as disciples of a cursed criminal. ‘How,’ James mused, ‘could you show undue preference to those who insult the poor or the followers of Christ or both?’ James did not mention Jesus’ name but he spoke of the honorable or beautiful name of Jesus. ‘By which you were called’ is from a compound verb, ‘to put a name upon.’ The name Christian is a powerful and precious designation of one who belongs to Christ. It is a name we should take care to honor and protect. More than our own name, we should seek to honor and protect the name of Jesus. The wealthy to whom James wrote were not doing this, nor did they appear to be concerned that they failed to do so.
4. Partiality is sinful because it contradicts the Law of God
James reminds his readers of the Law of God: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (v. 8). God gave this law to Israel at the beginning of her existence as a nation (Lev. 19:18). So James calls it, ‘the royal law’.
How is it royal law? It is the king of all the other laws. This is because Jesus himself called it the great and first commandment - loving God and our fellow-man (Matt. 22:37–40). It is royal law having been given the Sovereign King, yes its source is royal and therefore, is to be taken seriously and obeyed.
James’s charge that they were discriminating caught them off guard. They would have responded that it was concern for the law of love that caused them to minister to the rich! And the fact that they were failing to minister to the poor was not due to lack of love but lack of time. It was rather that they were so busy practicing love towards the rich that they did not have any time left for anyone else. But James uses the word ‘really’ in order to essentially tell them, ‘If you really fulfil the royal law, you must show love to the poor.’
James warns against selective obedience. He says in verses 10-11,
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 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.
This selective obedience was the great failure of the Pharisees. They would be very scrupulous and meticulous about certain laws while ignoring all the rest. This syndrome fails to see the fundamental unity of the law. If we refrain from committing adultery but commit murder, we are guilty of breaking the law! The law tells us what God wants us to do and not to do. Any failure is sin, and any sin makes us transgressors and disqualifies us from standing acceptably in God’s presence.
We must remember that God did not give us the law so that we can be saved through keeping it. If that were the case, no one would be saved! God gave his laws to show us how very far short we fall of his requirements and, therefore, how desperately we need the Lord Jesus as our Saviour. The purpose of God’s law is to convict us ‘as transgressors’ (v. 9) so we will flee to Christ.
The reality of the Judgement Day. We must live with constant and keen awareness of the reality of that day Kent Hughes puts it like this, ‘ “Speak” and “act” are present active imperatives: keep on speaking and keep on acting in the reality of the coming judgement.’ These people’s sinful partiality indicated that they were passing judgement on others. The cure for this is to remember that we must all be judged one Day.
On that great day we will all fully realize our sins, we will also fully realize ‘the law of liberty’ (v. 12) that is the gospel. Satan, since the incidence with Eve and Adam at the Garden of Eden, has been lying about the law of God. He wants people to think that God’s laws are designed to take the pleasure out of life, and deprive us of joy and make us miserable. But on that day, this lie will be exposed! The laws of God were not given to bring us into a miserable bondage, but rather to bring us into glorious liberty. Instead sin enslaves and casts people into a dungeon.
The reality of the Judgment Day and the free liberation in the gospel will teach us, not only to be just and impartial, but very compassionate and merciful to the poor. So that instead of discriminating them, we help them in their needs. This understanding will remove us from the bondage of partiality to the freedom of mercy and compassion so that we look like our Father in the heaven.
We are saved only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. But those who are truly saved cannot live as if they have never been touched by the mercy and grace of God. Those who know mercy cannot withhold it from others, not especially to the poor, who God our Father is so concerned about.
ü Repent of the sin of partiality
ü You shall love your neighbour as yourself
ü Speak and act as heirs of grace
ü Thank God for His mercy, which triumphs over judgment
 Ellenburg, B. D., & Morgan, C. W. (2008). James: Wisdom for the Community (p. 95). Great Britain: Focus Christian Publications.
 Ellenburg, B. D., & Morgan, C. W. (2008). James: Wisdom for the Community (pp. 96–97). Great Britain: Focus Christian Publications.
 Ellsworth, R. (2009). Opening up James (pp. 84–85). Leominster: Day One Publications.