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Sin of Partiality

James 2:1-13

Show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory… So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.


As we continue on in James’ letter, he enters into a discussion of how we should view and treat each other. Apparently in that time, members of the church were giving preferential treatment to the rich, and in doing so dishonored the poor. James uses the example to introduce us to a mindset of how we should view others: through the eyes of God.

In addition to James discussing the sin of partiality (or favoritism), we see a perfect example of how action should be taken against sin around us: rebuke with correction. Before we look into this passage, I think it is very much worth taking a moment to appreciate and learn from how James handles this and where else in scripture we see it.

The easiest (and possibly best) scripture to look at on this topic is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” The verse does not merely say Scripture is for reproof. It has the single ‘negative’ but multiple ‘positives’: teaching, correction, training in righteousness. Verse 17 also gives us the why behind the reproof, correction, and training in righteousness: “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The goal for reproof (or rebuking) is to teach so that the Christian grows closer to and more effective for God.

Paul’s ministry to the church is this process and can be very well summed up in a major way in Colossians 1:28, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”. Warning believers against sin, but teaching them how to live in a way that reflects the nature of and gives glory to Christ.

Circling back to this passage, James focuses primarily on the rebuke in verses 1-7, but he continues in v8-13 in the correction/teaching. In every sin, mistake, and struggle there is a lesson to be learned. Let’s see what this one can teach us!

[1] My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

Favoritism (partiality) is defined as “giving unfair treatment to one person or group at the expense of another.” As Christians, we are called to follow Christ, imitating Him and reflecting Who He is to those around us.

As we see in Luke 20:21, Jesus showed no partiality. He dined with sinners (Mark 2:15-17), Healed the sick and leprous outcasts (Mark 1:40-42), served the poor. He was often called out by the Pharisees for having what they considered to be behavior unbecoming of a Rabbi of such great wisdom as He was.

I love how James points to our faith in Jesus, and calls Him the “Lord of glory.” This is a deeper title than it may appear at a glance. While some may tire of definitions and studying the meaning behind words, it can be incredibly beneficial to look at to better understand the meaning of a word or phrase, and what the author is trying to convey.

The term used here in the original text was “doxÄ“s” conveying God’s infinite, intrinsic worth and is used all throughout Scripture to point to just how glorious Jesus is. At a more basic level in the English language, glory is said to be “high renown or honor won by notable achievements.” Jesus is the ruler, the greatest power over all who claim renown or who have achieved great things.

In the midst of this letter, James reminds us of who we are to look to: the Lord as described in 1 Chronicles 29:11-13: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.” This is the Lord of glory, this is Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)!

[2-4] For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Continuing in verses 2-4, James dives into an example of partiality. While this is just a single example of how partiality can unfold, it was one that must have been occurring at that time (and still occurs today). A man richly adorned in fine jewelry and clothing was viewed as worth more and had a finer seat, while a man in shabby clothing was asked to stand aside or be subjected to humiliation.

Throughout Scripture we see the rich and poor contrasted often, and in this case James is comparing how Christians treat them as well! Remember, this letter was written to Christian believers. James consistently refers to the recipients of this letter as “adelphos” or “brothers in Christ.” So in this case he was writing to Christians who were giving preferential treatment to people based on physical appearances, physical attributes, and physical possessions.

He gives a scathing rebuke saying that they have “made distinctions among [themselves] and become judges with evil thoughts.” They were guilty of what we so often find ourselves guilty of: confusing the standards of God with the standards of mankind. God does not need or concern Himself with physical things, only spiritual. Jesus Himself did the same all throughout His ministry.

We are called to be holy and righteous, considering one another with with sole thought to spiritual health. With the view of God’s Will in mind rather than with evil thoughts (judgements that value and are based upon pride, possessions, and things of the flesh).

[5] Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?

Verse 5 continues the refocusing of how we consider each other with a reminder that God often chooses those who are “poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.” Romans 8:17 says we are adopted as children of God and made to be co-heirs with Christ. This great honor is one we should consider when dealing with one another, that we are but orphans with all of our worth found in the inheritance God has gifted us though we did not deserve it (Romans 5:8).

Much of Jesus’ ministry was among the poor and needy, and many of His disciples were poor or common folk.

[6-7] But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

By considering the poor man as lesser than the rich man, they dishonored him. When we focus more on physicality than spirituality, we mistakingly lift up and prioritize those who do not honor Christ rather than our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

He continues explaining how we should treat each other by pointing to what Jesus described as the second greatest commandment.

[8] If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

While he is not done with the rebuke, James begins pointing more to how to correct the sinful behavior he is addressing.

In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus Himself answers the Pharisee that the greatest commandment is “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He then adds on to His answer to say that the ‘second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”

James is echoing Christ when saying that we are doing well if we are fulfilling that command. Jesus raised up that command to be the second greatest among the commandments given by God! He further goes on to accentuate just how important it is. If we can fulfill those 2 commands, then the rest will follow. You cannot love someone with the love of God and intend to harm them. You cannot seek the will of God, yet refuse to help those in need around you (Luke 10:25-37).

[9-11] But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said,’“Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

In case it was unclear before, James is very clear here that partiality is not a mere “mistake.” It is sin and condemned under the law of God. If we break any of the law, we have broken the law. Just as God does not consider the “levels of worth” of humans based on any physical properties, He does not consider anything about “levels” of sin. It is all horrid and atrocious before Him. We are condemned and set to be judged by Him.

These verses reference the original law in Exodus 20:13-14 but also relate to Jesus’ sermon from Matthew 5:21-30. In verses 21 and 22 of Matthew 5, Jesus also quotes the original law from Exodus 20 but explains it in greater detail. He proceeds to equate contemptful anger and malice in one’s heart to one of the great commandments: murder.

While societies have to weight sin (or to them, lawlessness), making the punishment fit the crime (Deuteronomy 19), the only standard God uses is this: are you as righteous as Christ, blameless and perfect before our Holy Father? Are your motives pure?

[12] So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.

We should remember that we are all judged by the same standard: perfection under the law. Let there be no mistake: Jesus’ coming did not abolish the law or remove the need to follow it.

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus tells us that He did not “come to abolish the law or the Prophets; but to fulfill them.” Jesus gave us a realistic way to achieve perfection: through Him. Because apart from Him we all fall short of the requirement. Apart from Him, all are sinful. None can uphold the law perfectly. (Romans 3:23)

Being saved by Christ, we are sanctified. Being sanctified, we should be growing ever-more like Christ. We should ever-more exhibit the attributes of the Holy Spirit. Being “judged by the law that gives freedom” is the glorious, merciful gift of our Heavenly Father to be considered as righteous because of Christ.

Romans 8:1-4 explains this fact well. Jesus’ sacrifice was so that “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” We are considered pure before God thanks to Jesus! “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 

We should act among others as though we realize that we are nothing. That we are worse than nothing: we are vile sinners in the hands of an angry God, in need of a savior. We all are at the Mercy of Jesus Christ, so we all should have mercy on each other.

Why? Because if we are not merciful, we will not be shown mercy.

[13] For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

As James discusses later in this letter, Christians in pursuit of Christ will reflect His attributes. If we have a living faith, then we will be merciful to others.

Matt. 18:21-35 Jesus tells of the unforgiving servant. Though he was offered great mercy, he did not in turn show mercy. Because of this, he never fully received the mercy and was delivered into torture. 

Verse 13 echoes the teachings of Jesus in Luke 6:37-38, “‘Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.’” It also pairs well with 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” If we are truly saved, we will show mercy, we will show love, we will be imitators of Christ.

“Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Praise be to God for this! If this were not so, then our salvation would not be secure, because our judgment would surely condemn us to God’s wrath. I can think of no greater passage to accentuate this sentiment than Ephesians 2:4-9:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Quoting Matthew Henry, “The deformity of sin is never truly and fully discerned till the evil of our thoughts be disclosed…” Let us thank the Lord today for having James reveal to us the evil of the sin of partiality. Let us not discriminate among ourselves and become judges with evil thoughts. Let us focus on Christ, praising God for adopting us as co-heirs with Christ through His great mercy!