James 2: Showing Partiality
We all have things to which we’re partial, whether it is sports teams, restaurants, movies, a brand of vehicle, clothing, appliances or even laundry detergent. Those preferences could simply be because of habit, experience, advertising or just personal reasons. But taking this idea even deeper, there are racial, social, political and religious prejudices. One issue that can plague the church is passing judgments based on physical appearances; thus, it is not surprising that the Bible addresses it. In fact, the problem of favoritism has been an issue ever since the days of Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25:28).
In the New Testament, James spends a great deal of his letter addressing this issue — to make judgments about people on the basis of their outward appearance. He illustrates this problem in James 2:2-4 when two people enter the assembly — one is dressed nicely, the other is dressed the exact opposite. When we judge that one is better than the other, James says we have become “judges with evil thoughts” (v. 4). Why does he make such a condemning statement? Because the gospel is for all.
But backing up to verse 1, James teaches that mature faith does not show favoritism. Having faith in Jesus and showing partiality are not compatible. Favoritism is inconsistent with God’s character (Deut. 10:17; I Sam. 16:7; Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11; Gal. 2:6; Eph. 6:9; I Pet. 1:17). Therefore, favoritism should not be a part of our character. God looks at the heart, and partiality goes against God’s values.
However, if I am tempted to show partiality, there are a number of things that James reminds us of. First, favoritism violates the royal law (James 2:8): “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39). Second, favoritism is a sin (James 2:9). Lastly, favoritism is not a small sin (James 2:10-11). God parallels this to the commands of adultery and murder. Every law of God matters; every law must be obeyed.
We must remember: “Judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13a). This is a common theme throughout the New Testament. God is not going to show mercy to us, if we do not show mercy to others. “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13b).
In a world that is trying to tear us apart based on our ethnicity, color of our skin, political affiliation, etc., there must be a place we can come to and receive equal love, kindness and forgiveness: the church.
-- Steven Matthews