Published March 31, 2005
Related Sunday School Lesson, Family Bible Series, April 10
Partiality, favoritism, bigotry, "respect of persons," what do these words or phrases mean? The root meaning of the words so translated means "to see the face." It carries the idea that after I see your face and determine who or what you are socially, then I'll decide how I'm going to treat you.
The Bible calls partiality or favoritism the sin of evaluating (judging) a person on outward circumstances and not intrinsic merit. Our lesson this week confronts this sin and gives us practical instruction on how to deal with all people.
Reject favoritism, vs. 1-7
James begins by setting as opposites faith in Christ and partiality. Based on God's character as the "Lord of glory" and the one who does not show partiality, it is sin for His children to impugn His character in such a way! We often want to separate how we treat others and the impact that has on our relationship with God, but that is impossible! Time and again the Bible brings us back to the reality that we can't sin against people and be sinless with God.
James uses the example of an ungodly usher to illustrate his point. Two men, different only in superficial and social circumstances, attend church on the same day. One is ushered to the best, most comfortable seat while the other is dismissed to either stand in the corner or sit on the floor. This is not a matter of poor hospitality but serious sin. James says making such evaluations about a man's worth is to "judge," an act for which only God is qualified.
This goes beyond dishonoring the person, but it dishonors God. James says that God has chosen to honor the poor in that they are rich in faith and heirs of His Kingdom. To dishonor those whom God has chosen results in dishonor towards God. And sadly, often those we choose to show partiality towards are the very ones who mistreat poor Christians and blaspheme God's name! How are we to overcome bigotry or favoritism?
Fulfill the law of love, vs. 8-11
The Old Testament law taught that a righteous person was to "love your neighbor as yourself." James calls this the "royal law" and we can understand that since this was the teaching of King Jesus (John 15:12, c.f. Galatians 5:14). To show partiality is to commit sin against this law and causes one to be convicted as a "transgressor" of God's Holy standard.
James seems to anticipate a lighthearted response towards this sin. Maybe some would say, "Well that's no big deal, if that's the worse I do, God won't mind." James helps us understand how God views and evaluates all sin. Often some think of God's law or commands as individual, or stand alone commands. If there are ten commandments and I break one, I still have nine that are unaffected (and might conclude that one is 90% righteous).
But God's standard of righteous is not illustrated by stand alone glasses such that when one is broken the others remain intact. Instead, God's standard is likened to a mirror (1:23-25) and when one sin is committed it breaks the whole mirror! We then can see ourselves as the sinners that partiality, bigotry or favoritism causes us to become.
Show mercy, vs. 12-13
A person is not made righteous before God by how they act or by their daily speech. The Bible clearly teaches that we are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. Our sin is judged on His cross and we are forgiven and there is no further condemnation for that sin. But, Christians are going to give an account for our lives at Christ's "bema seat" judgment (2 Cor. 5:10). Our speech and actions should be carefully considered in light of the fact that they will be evaluated by Christ who shows no partiality!
The "law of liberty" was used in chapter one for the Word of God. By faith in Christ and obedience to God's Word, we are freed from sin and enabled to walk in liberty. But like an immature child needs a parent's rules and regulations to keep them safe until they are mature enough to make good decisions, we need God's law to prepare us for the maturity we need in liberty.
Biblical liberty is not license to do whatever we want (that's the worst kind of bondage). Liberty is being free to be all that I can be in Jesus Christ.
James states a maxim, or standing truth, about mercy. A person who gives (or shows) mercy will receive mercy (from others as well as the predisposition of God to be merciful). This is not a statement saying we can receive saving mercy (redemption) from God by being merciful to others. But is however, a principle like that of forgiveness in Matthew 6:14-15. The issue here is not whether or not we are a child of God, but rather an issue of our fellowship with our Father and how practical actions impact spiritual issues.
In light of all James has said about judgment, he turns to the subject of mercy. Mercy is much more to be desired than judgment! One who is about to be condemned in judgment would surely "rejoice" in the presence of mercy. Only a fool would want judgment.
Judgment is getting what we deserve and since all have sinned, the only thing we deserve from our Holy God is eternal hell and damnation. But how we rejoice in God's mercy! God's mercy brought Christ to the cross to receive our judgment for sin and through His sacrifice He offers to us God's mercy for salvation.
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