Bible Passage: James 2:1-13
In this section of James, he continues to help believers work out their faith in practice by looking at how we can build a community that is loving and welcoming to all people. In particular, James is keen to challenge our prejudice and warns us against treating others unfairly in our gatherings because we have judged them based on their appearance.
The two examples that James provides are a person with fine clothing and golden jewellery and a person dressed in shabby clothes. He outlines the different treatment that the two people receive when they attend a church gathering. The rich person is quickly welcomed and offered a good seat, whereas the poor person is dismissed and asked to sit on the floor or banished to standing room.
It is not difficult to see how this applies to churches today. For some, the issue is just the same as it was for James: social class. When people who appear well-off and respectable first come to one of our meetings, they are warmly welcomed, with many regulars introducing themselves, getting to know the newcomer and inviting them to further social activities. Is the story the same with those who are poorly dressed or look dishevelled? Often such people are given a wide berth, as regulars struggle to know how to engage with ‘such people’.
This is not the only way favouritism might creep into churches. People might be made to feel second-class for all sorts of reasons, and these might include age, ethnicity, marital status, disability and many other things. When we act in this way we undermine the gospel where Jesus welcomes all by his free grace. Ensuring that all kinds of people are welcomed into our midst warmly and impartially is the responsibility of the entire church.
In order to back up his teaching, James invites us to consider four key reasons:
The Lordship of Christ (v1-4): James begins the passage by instructing us to have no partiality as we ‘really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.’ We are partial when we are impressed with people. We look at certain qualities of those people that cause us to desire to treat them better than we do others. The way we overcome being overly impressed with people is to become overwhelmingly impressed with Jesus. As we worship the glorious Lord for who he is, then fine clothes and jewellery seem less of a big deal, and we will be able to treat everyone fairly because of the glory of Jesus.
The Kingdom of the Poor (v5-7): One of the most uncomfortable truths of Scripture is the way God seems to skew his favour towards the poor. From Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus to his statement in the Sermon on the plain that “Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God,” there is a consistent theme in Christ’s teaching that the poor are comparatively over-represented in God’s kingdom. James picks up on the same theme in verse 5: “Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom.” This is not to say that all who are poor will be saved, nor that none who are rich will, but rather it echoes Paul’s statement that “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” When we give preferential treatment to the rich and influential we work in opposition to God’s heart for the poor.
The Law of Love (v8-11): When it comes to obeying God, there is no scope to pick and choose. We can often feel like we are being obedient if we keep commands like not murdering or not committing adultery. The truth is that the same God who gave those commands also commanded us to love our neighbour. When we show preferential treatment to those who are successful in the world, then we are failing to obey God.
The Gospel of Freedom (v12-13): Though we may be naturally inclined to judge our performance against somebody else’s and write off those who we do not feel are doing well, James points out that mercy triumphs over judgment. If we go with judgment as the criteria we use, then we should be careful since we would not stand up to God’s judgment ourselves. Instead, mercy is triumphant. Not only do we experience the mercy of God but this mercy melts our hearts in order to be merciful to other people.
For James the point is simple. If we love our neighbour as ourselves (even the poor ones) then we can’t go far wrong.
- There is a very direct application for us all to think about who we might show partiality to in our church communities, and how we can honour and include those who are often overlooked?
- There is also application for those who have found themselves unwelcome in church communities. Healing may take time but passages like this show that what such people have experienced is not God’s heart.
- It might be a good week to do something all together as a church after your service such as a shared lunch or a picnic, where you can all share together without favouritism or partiality.