Online Bible Commentary
Do Not Play Favorites
James 2:1 My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. 2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," 4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? (NKJV)
The book of James is not considered a letter, as are the writings of Paul and many others. Instead it is considered to be more like a tract. It is believed to be parts of sermons that James had delivered to the first century church in Jerusalem. It was believed to be written to Christian Jews who had been dispersed from Palestine.
James addresses this passage to “My brethren” (v. 1a), his brothers and sisters in Christ. He instructs them not to be partial in their relationships with other believers (v. 1b). Here he is specifically calling for them to treat equally the poor and the rich that enter “your assembly” (v. 2a), the church. The word “filthy” used here to describe the clothing of the poor does not necessarily mean that some have come into the assembly in dirty clothes. It is more a reference to clothing that would typically not be worn by the rich. It may be the difference between a t-shirt and a suit.
The point here is not to give us guidelines for dress in church, but rather for us not to show partiality between how we treat the rich and the poor. The rich should not receive seats of honor in the church only because they are rich (v. 3). It is not a sin to be rich, but the rich should not be treated preferentially either, just because they are rich.
James describes those who show this partiality as “judges with evil thoughts” (v. 4), having a negative opinion of others based on their appearance, or rank in life. We are probably all guilty of this sin to one extent or the other. We may not even realize that we are treating some people better, or worse, based on their appearance, or rank in life. This is something that we all need to become more aware of as we relate with others in the congregation. Showing partiality based on appearance or rank is a sin that must be curbed.
James then calls for us to “listen” (v. 5a), as he is about to even the playing field. He writes in verse 5b “Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” Even though God has not chosen the poor to be rich in material possessions, He has chosen them to be rich in faith, which is even more valuable. It is very hard for a rich man to go to Heaven, to be an heir to the kingdom. He tends to rely on his riches instead of relying on God. He tends to be self sufficient, not needing God. The poor man does not have this burden. He has an easier path to God. In many ways being rich in worldly possessions is a curse.
Note that James repeats the formula for salvation that he has used previously in this book (1:12). He writes that the kingdom is “promised to those who love Him” (v. 5c). We show our love for Christ through obedience. We are able to be obedient through yielding to the presence of the Holy Spirit. And we receive the Holy Spirit through trusting in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The forward progression is Trust=Holy Spirit=obedience=love=salvation. In the end, we are saved by the grace of God because we fail at the obedience step.
Returning to the teaching, James writes that If we show partiality to the rich man, we have “dishonored the poor man” (v. 6a). One leads to the other. Favoring one person dishonors the other.
Finally, James makes the point that the rich often create problems for all of us. They “oppress” (v. 6b) us by dragging us “into the courts” (v. 6c). Some rich people are so consumed with adding to their riches that they do not hesitate to sue people when they feel wronged.
Believers should never settle their disputes with each other through the courts (1 Cor. 6). When believers sue other believers they “blaspheme that noble name by which you are called” (v. 7), meaning the name Christian, of Christ. A Christian blasphemes Christ when he takes another believer to court.
The teaching expressed here is to not show favoritism. Showing favoritism is never a good thing. It causes ill feelings between all parties. Those who are not favored are dishonored. God is no respecter of person (Mt. 22:16). We are all equal in the eyes of God.