The Sin of Partiality
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 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, 3 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,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? 6 But you have dishonoured the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honourable name by which you were called? James 2:1-7
Let your mind drift a little bit and picture yourself being a member of First Heritage Baptist Church in first century AD, a small church with a handful of members under persecution. Many of the members in this church are agricultural labourers, poor by the standards of the time. First Heritage Baptist church is under persecution for its beliefs, and this persecution is coming from the Roman rulers and authorities of the time, as well as the rich and affluent who have power and access to the big wigs at the top of society. At a regular Sunday morning service, in which you happen to be serving on the welcome team, one visitor comes in with his own chariot, dressed in fine purple clothing. And then, right behind him, a peasant in shabby clothes who hasn’t showered in months also comes to visit. The leader of the welcome team, or sadly, the pastor, whispers in your ear and says, “Make sure you’re nice to that well-to-do visitor and show him extra hospitality, perhaps he’ll visit us again and become a member, and then he’ll use his influence to deliver us from our persecutors. Perhaps he’ll also handsomely tithe and give to the diaconal fund so we can help the majority of our members who are poor. The peasant visitor isn’t going to bring any “value” to our church, so you don’t have to pay much attention to him”. What comes to your mind as you think of this analogy? I have no doubt many of you are cringing at this story. How could this pastor or leader be so narrow minded? How can he be so worldly?
If this is your reaction to this story, James shares the same sentiment. He says that men and women in the church who show partiality on the basis of socio-economic status have “become judges with evil thoughts” (Jas 2:4). In case they had forgotten Jas 1:9-10, James goes on to remind them how God’s economy works, that the poor have a rich inheritance to look forward to. Try putting yourself in Jesus’ shoes for a minute. You’re about to commence a rescue mission for the people of the world who have utterly undone themselves in sin and need to be saved from God’s coming wrath. You’re 30 years old and your time is limited. You need to recruit 12 men who will follow in your footsteps and create a following of what is now estimated to be over 1 billion followers. Who are your go-to people? If I were in Jesus’ shoes, I’d probably recruit the most influential men in Israel, wealthy and charismatic men who have access to the Emperor to give tax breaks to my followers and make life easy for them. That way, I’ll have a massive following overnight. But this is not what Jesus does. He chooses fearful, unknown, poor fishermen who are so weak that they’ll all desert him in the garden of Gethsemane. This makes a lot of sense to the human mind right? No! This, however, gives us a glimpse into God’s economy, and a precursor to who God would choose to make up his church. James reminds us of this reality; he says God has “chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom”. Bringing this closer to home, at Heritage Baptist today “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1 Cor 1:26). Yet God has chosen you to shame the wise and strong. Spiritual riches are infinitely more valuable than earthly riches. I like how John Piper puts it when he says, “The poorest peasant in the kingdom of God is infinitely richer than the richest man in this world”.
Instead of having a godly lens to see people from an eternal perspective, the readers of James’ letter where dishonouring the poor man, forgetting that the persecution and problems they were facing did, in fact, come from the rich in their time. Furthermore, the rich blasphemed the honourable name by which they were called. Make no mistake here, there is no virtue in poverty, and James is not advocating for a “salvation by a low bank balance”. His readers certainly included rich Christians (Jas 1:10); however, James is calling us to view people with sanctified eyes and with equal treatment. Dear Christian friend, do you show partiality in the church? Who do you typically share a cup of coffee with after church services? Do these include people of lower social classes? Do you show partiality in who you invite to your home for a meal? Who are you reaching out to with words of encouragement during this lockdown? Only the well-to-do? James calls this “evil”. If you have sinned in this way, ask God to forgive you of this “evil”, and He who promises to forgive us our sins will do this very thing. May God give us the right lens to treat people with an eternal perspective.