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Beware of Personal Favouritism

James 2:1-13

Perry B. Cotham

The Epistle of James is a general letter, not directed to any particular person or church. It deals with practical Christianity. Not all Bible scholars are agreed as to which James mentioned in the New Testament is the James who wrote this epistle, nor does it really matter. The time when the letter was written is also uncertain. The truth given in the letter, however, is very important for all Christians to observe at all times, both Jews and Gentiles. 

The "James" of this letter seems to have been James, the "Lord's brother,"  who was a servant of God (ct. 1:1; Galatians 1 :19; Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). He was a son of Joseph. The doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, the mother of Jesus, taught by some religionists, is not founded on the authority of the Scriptures. James and Jude, the authors of the epistles, which bear their names, were the brothers of Jesus, but they were not apostles.  The Bible speaks of at least three by the name of James: (1) James, the son of Zebedee, and brother of John (Matthew 4:21), who was put to death by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:2), and also an apostle; (2) James "the less", son of Alpheus, and an apostle (Mark 15:40); and (3) James "the Lord's brother," in the flesh (Galatians 1:18-19).


The letter was probably written at Jerusalem in about A. D. 58 or 60, a few years before the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 7O, by the Romans.  James is mentioned in connection with the church in Jerusalem in the council meeting in Acts 15:13-21.  James, writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wanted to show in the letter that mere assent to the truths of Christianity is not enough to save. One must have an obedient faith to the Christian principles.


James 2:1-13 “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.  For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:  Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?  Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?  But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?  Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?  If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:  But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.  For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.  For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.  So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.  For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”


In this particular lesson from chapter 2:1-13, we want to study the section of the epistle that deals with the tendency at times to show partiality or favoritism to others on the basis of rank, birth, wealth, or rich apparel.  What if two persons should come into an assembly of Christians in their worship service, one is very rich and elegantly dressed, and the other one is poor and in shabby clothes; maybe he "drops in" for the service. Should Christians show special favor to the former, and assign to the latter a very humble place?  James says that this should not be done. All men are to be regarded and treated according to their moral worth.  James says that God has chosen the poor for His own people. Too, often rich men oppress the poor, as people not worthy of special regard. Again, the rich are often found among those who revile true religion. They blaspheme the "worthy name" that Christians wear (the name "Christian" was given by divine authority, (Acts 11:26; ct. Acts 26:28; I Peter 4:16).


Finally, the law of God requires that we love our neighbors as ourselves, and if we will do this, it is all that God demands. So, the love of the poor man was not to be set aside by the love of the rich man's splendid apparel.  Although it is not a sin to go to the assembly "well-dressed," if one is able to afford it, and he should respect the worship service in so doing; but it is always character that counts in God's sight (ct. "the Lord looketh on the heart," I Samuel 16:7). So the poor man may be better morally than the rich man, and we may misjudge the poor person.  However, Scripture teaches that God wants all people, both the rich and the poor, to be saved in heaven. God is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). God would "have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). Christ died for all (Hebrews. 2:9; John 3:16). Nevertheless, it is often true that the poor will accept the teaching of the gospel over those who are rich. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "For you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called" (1 Corinthians 1:26). 


Love for God and love for our fellowman, and obedience to the Lord, is that which really counts in God's sight. The poor man may have the love for God as well as the rich man. Material wealth will not in itself cause one to go to heaven, neither will poverty.  The apostle Paul also wrote to the Romans about this "royal law" of love for our brethren:  Be kindly affectioned to one another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; . . . Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not. . . . Owe no man anything, but to love one another. . . Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 12:10-13:10).


Consider the parable of the “Good Samaritan”.  The Lord's Parable of the Good Samaritan shows us a person of genuine concern for his injured fellowman. The hurt man was a Jew, but he was neglected by his religious fellow Jews. The one who stopped and tenderly cared for the dying man was a Samaritan. He was considered by the Jews as one belonging to a lower class of people, and often hated and despised (ct. John 4:9).  Jesus, after telling the story, told the Jewish lawyer who had asked him,  "And who is my neighbor?", to "go, and do thou likewise" (Luke 1 0:25-37). No wonder, then, that James, "the Lord's brother," could urge his fellow Christians in the Lord's church to follow Christ's teachings. Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7).


Then we have Peter to the Gentiles.  When Peter was called to go to the house of Cornelius to preach to the first Gentile converts to Christianity, he began his sermon by saying: Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him (Acts 10:34-35; ct. Romans 2:6-11; Psalm 119:172).  Since God is no respecter of persons, neither should we be.


Within the past thirty-two years I have preached and distributed many tracts and thousands of Bibles to many people in many nations of the world. I believe that many souls will be saved in eternity as a result of it.  In Christ's account of the final judgment, He mentioned that one thing that will condemn many will be their neglect of helping those in need. "I was... ", but  "ye did not ..." (Matthew 25:31-46). So James is very positive: "If you have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced [convicted, NKJV] of the law as transgressors." You do wrong!  Why do we often "play up" to the rich? Is it not that we are selfish and want to get something from them some day? (ct. Luke 14:12-14).


There is need of obedience to the whole law.  In connection with these thoughts on impartiality in treatment of others, James adds that obedience to the whole law is necessary for true religion (verses 10-13). If a person should fail to obey God in this one point, he is in fact guilty of all the law as a whole. Every part of the law rests on the same authority, and one point is as binding as another. For example, if a flock of sheep should break through a fence at one place and get out of the pasture, they are out of the field. The sheep would not have to break all sides of the fence that is around the pasture to get out.  Thus, disobedience to one commandment is disobedience to God, and makes one a lawbreaker - whether it be murder, adultery, hatred of others, or some other sin. The violation of anyone law of God is in principle a violation of God's whole law. So, the word of warning to brethren is, "Do not hold such views of the faith, or the religion of Christ, as to cause you to manifest partiality to others on account of their difference in race, color, wealth, or some other outward circumstances." This is not a part of true Christianity in a place of Christians worshipping the true and living God. Judgment will be without mercy, to him who has showed no mercy, God's Word also says: “Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard" (Proverbs 21:13).  “With the merciful thou shalt show thyself merciful” (2 Samuel 22:26).


In conclusion, there will certainly be a judgment and all will be judged fairly by the Lord (Acts 17:31; Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Then we will need the mercy of the Lord (Romans 2:6). May we so live, therefore, in this life that we may enjoy the beauties of heaven with all the redeemed throughout eternity (Revelation 2:10; 22:14), and by our Christian life and teaching cause others also to be saved. 


I think I should mourn o'er my sorrowful fate,


If sorry in heaven can be;


If no one should be at the Beautiful Gate,


There watching and waiting for me.




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