The Apostle James Addresses Favoritism
This text continues last week’s text where James
addresses the Jewish followers of the Messiah
Jesus Christ who reside outside of Jerusalem.
James knows the days of Jerusalem are
numbered and he wants to ensure that Jewish
disciples clearly know how they should be
In this text James addresses the habit of some
Jewish disciples to believe that some should not
have faith because they are unworthy by their
standards. He specifically cites this behavior
showing itself in partiality and favoritism.
James was determined to show them that this
practice was entirely unacceptable to a life lived in
Christ. He did so because he knew that we will be
judged in some sense as we have judged others
and there should be repentance shown by such
prejudicial behavior while there is still time.
Edwin Markham once said, “We have committed
the Golden Rule to memory; now let’s commit it to
life. ’’ That is James’s point. In this chapter he
insists on consistent Christianity.
The Apostle Paul would later address this behavior
by reminding us that we all have fallen short of
God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and so none of us are
worthy to judge another or especially treat
someone differently by that judgment.
Spiros Zodhiates obsen/ ed, “Whenever James is
about to scold the believers of his day, he likes to
preface the scolding with a word of love, and that
word is my brethren. He admonishes in love; he
corrects in affection. ”
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of
favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus
James addressed some of the
problems, temptations, and sins that can be faced
in the early church and among all those who call
themselves completed Christians. New believers
especially needed to turn from the ways of the
world and to the ways of Jesus Christ their Lord.
James warned his readers not to show favoritism.
In the first century of the church, partiality was
already a problem. Even today it is easy for an
unspoken caste system to develop and all
distinctions between rich and poor should be
Showing partiality was specifically forbidden by the
Mosaic Law, particularly in judicial decisions
(Exodus 23:3,6 and Deuteronomy 1 :17 and
Peter learned that God himself is no respecter of
persons (Acts 10:34, King James Version).
For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes
comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in
dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice
of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have
a seat here, please, ” while to the one who is poor
you say, “Stand there, ” or, “Sit at my feet, ”
In James 2:3, the word “it” indicates a possible
consequence “if’ something happens. James knew
he was citing events that were already occurring in
In the church, some people may be tempted to try
to please the rich person most especially, because
he is rich and may contribute financially or in other
ways to the church.
Knowing the poor person may not have anything of
material value to give and may need something
material from the church, or knowing the dirty
person may make someone feel
uncomfortable, some in the church may be
tempted to treat the poor person with disrespect or
with less respect than they treat others.
In the church especially, James warned against
treating rich people better than poor people.
In the church, Christians should show love to rich
and poor alike.
Favoritism is the root cause. The wealthy
churchgoer is dressed in fancy apparel and wears
an impressive gold ring. He is quickly ushered to
the best seat in the house. The poor man in dirty
clothing is relegated to sitting on the floor or
standing during the service. When this
happens, James declared, you have discriminated
among yourselves and become judges with evil
have you not made distinctions among
yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
No follower of Jesus Christ should treat others
unequally just because of their financial status and
the clothing they can afford, especially when they
come to church. Believers need to be very careful
not to treat others differently based solely on their
Everyone is equally entitled to hear the gospel of
Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible without
being disproportionately honored or mistreated
because of their appearance. People judge with
evil thoughts when they treat people unequally
because of their wealth or status in the world and
so damage their witness to the truth.
The Apostle Paul wrote against making
“distinctions among yourselves, ” saying, “There is
no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or
free, there is no longer male and female; for all of
you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). If we
do not truly love others as God loves us and as
Jesus expressed the love of God for others, then
we may have evil thoughts toward others.
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not
God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith
and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has
promised to those who love him?
Some Jews looked on earthly prosperity as a mark
of divine favor, while poverty was seen as a sign of
God's disfavor. James reminded his readers that
those who are poor in the eyes of the world may
be rich in faith. Jesus noted that they have high
standing in God’s eyes. (Luke 4:18). Moreover, it
was the rich—not the poor—who were exploiting
Jesus cared for both the rich and the poor
according to their real needs, both material and
spiritual. God has chosen many poor people to be
“rich in faith”: the poor can have an abundant faith
in God, knowing God is their only hope and God
has an inheritance for them in His Kingdom.
Riches and the things of this world can crowd God
and following Jesus out of the lives of some rich
people. Jesus felt sad when the rich young man
walked away from Him because he preferred his
riches to following Him as Lord (see Matthew
19:21 -24). Jesus said it was hard or difficult, but
not impossible, for rich people to enter the
Kingdom of God.
James 2:6, 7
but you have dishonored the poor. is it not the rich
who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into
court? is it not they who blaspheme the excellent
name that was invoked over you?
James 2:6, 7
James rebuked these people by declaring “you
have dishonored the poor. ” He wanted the
disciples to know that the poor can be dishonored
in many ways, including giving the rich preferential
treatment over the poor in the church.
James 2:6, 7
He declared that all Christians must not dishonor
rich or poor, but treat all believers as valued
children of God. He felt much could be learned
from those who are “rich in faith, ” whether rich or
poor. Specifically, rich Christians (including rich
unbelievers) should not oppress others or drag
others into court to increase their power or wealth.
James 2:6, 7
The rich sometimes unjustly used their wealth to
profit from those who cannot afford to defend
James 2:6, 7
A. T. Robertson noted, “The Sadducees will not
even call the name of Jesus when they discuss the
case of Peter and John. They refer with contempt
to ‘this name’ (Acts 4:17). The disciples
rejoiced, however, ‘that they were counted worthy
of suffering disgrace for the Name”’ (Acts 5:41).
James 2:6, 7
Those who are financially poor are often proved to
be rich toward God (Luke 12:21). Jesus said that
Heaven belongs to the truly poor in spirit (Matthew
5:3; Luke 6:20).
James 2:6, 7
Jesus’ standard of behavior and morality are often
ignored and ridiculed by those who use their riches
to act contrary to the express will of God in the
Bible; who use their riches to fulfill their pleasures
knowing that Christians do not live that way.
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law
according to the scripture, “You shall love your
neighbor as yourself. ” But if you show
partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the
law as transgressors.
The royal law of love for God and others often
moved believers to try to live as Jesus lived before
the world. James knew that when believers
consider or love themselves, they can think of how
they would want to be treated and then try to treat
the poor in ways that avoid unjust partiality when
trying to do what God would want to help the poor.
When the followers of Jesus Christ loved others as
they love themselves, they naturally and
supernaturally treated each person as of equal
importance to themselves; they never sought to
mistreat or take unjust advantage of others. They
did not show partiality.
For political or other selfish reasons, James knew
some showed partiality toward the poor. Some
showed partiality toward the poor because they
wanted to ‘‘look good” before the world or they
wanted the support of the needy masses.
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one
point has become accountable for all of it.
Andrew McNab observed, “The apostle now
anticipates a possible objection. Why make so
much of this matter of respect of persons?
It is only a single offence, and it is surely not to be
taken so seriously. He rebuts this argument by
pointing out that the whole law is broken through
failure at any one point. ”
James understood that to fulfill the whole law is to
love God completely, which enabled believers to
rightly love others and themselves in ways
approved by God; yet some continued think love
for others means ignoring or not judging what
others do no matter how they break the laws of
God and harm others and themselves.
Those who did not have true faith in Jesus Christ
came to think that love had no moral standards.
James knew that no one could be saved by
obeying the law, and that God still expected
everyone to love Him and their neighbors; and
when believers fail to love rightly, He expects them
to repent and not make excuses for their
For the one who said, “You shall not commit
adultery, ” also said, “You shall not murder. ” Now if
you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you
have become a transgressor of the law.
Some people were very selective about what parts
of God's law they will obey and what parts they will
disobey. In this verse, James noted two of the Ten
Commandments as examples which everyone
understood and supported.
James warned everyone against transgressing the
law of God in any way.
Partiality would be giving a rich murderer a lighter
sentence than a poor murderer just because one is
rich and the other is poor.
James 2:12, 13
So speak and so act as those who are to be
judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be
without mercy to anyone who has shown no
mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
James 2:12, 13
The law of liberty is the law of love. When
someone truly loves God from their heart and
when they truly follow Jesus because they love
Him, they have been liberated from slavery to sin
and they have been freed to follow the Holy Spirit
in the way they treat others.
James 2:12, 13
James taught that to experience liberty or feel
liberated from focusing on the law while at same
time did not violate the law of God or the Bible’s
teachings because the loving Holy Spirit within
them guides and empowers them to obey the
James 2:12, 13
Mercy gives people the opportunity to
repent, come to saving faith, and change;
therefore, showing mercy can do more for people
than passing judgment upon them: “mercy
triumphs overjudgment. ”
However, James reminded his readers in this
verse that judgment is possible and some will
receive just judgment with no mercy.
James 2:12, 13
Albert Barnes added, ‘‘In all our conduct we are to
act under the constant impression of the truth that
we are soon to be brought into judgment, and that
the law by which we are to be judged is that by
which it is contemplated that we shall be set free
from the dominion of sin. ”
James is concerned that the faith of Jesus Christ
would be diluted or worse polluted by followers
who gave only lip service to the life and message
He called on them not only to have a change of
heart and repent but also to live that life in a
manner worthy of Christ.
James warned believers that showing favoritism to
wealthier or more powerful people over the poorer
or weaker was a flagrant sin against God.
They would be held accountable.
To the rich and powerful, James pointed out that
their wealth can cause them to depend less on
Christ and more on themselves. James was
concerned about their salvation as well and
warned them to guard against such behaviors as
they will find it more difficult to honor God if they
do not understand why they were given such
In fact, James points out that a man’s true wealth
lies in the amount of faith that he can demonstrate.
That is wealth drawn from the riches of heaven
which shall not fade or perish.
James was especially concerned that showing
love to one another based on a person’s merit in
life could alter their perception of faith in Christ.
They might be tempted to think one can be more
worthy of faith which is completely false.
To make his point, James reminds them that to
break one law is to fail the whole law and so none
of us can claim any sense of perfection or honor
over another. Repentance is always our first
response to partiality.
James concludes by describing how we treat one
another will serve to determine how we ourselves
are treated at judgment. For those who show
mercy, the Lord will show mercy and our very
judgment will reflect how we judged people here
Christians are called to cross the barriers of
prejudice and animosity. We are not to embrace
the petty hatreds of the world. We have been set
free from them as we were received by Christ with
no respect to our sin or condition. Partiality has
no place with the believer.