James 2:1 – My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.
Conversation about money and status in the church are often uncomfortable, but James discusses these issues often. James, the practical theologian that he is, urges believers to only make distinctions that God Himself makes. We’ve all got some preferences that can become our prejudices and, if we don’t take James’ instruction to heart, we can discourage fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and miss out on some relationships that will help us mature as well.
Remember how James starts this letter? He calls himself a servant of God and Christ. Since then, he calls us his beloved brothers. Every Christian has been adopted into the same family with the same Father and occupies the same position of love and blessing because of the Spirit in them regardless of what we see outwardly (Romans 8:14-17).
Understanding social dynamics does not require a degree in sociology. All it takes is witnessing lunch hour at your local high school.
Preppies, jocks, nerds, punks, stoners, and the drama club kids all cloister together with their kind, and it’s no mystery why. Everyone feels the need to belong, according to their interests and talents. The unfortunate side is, there are rules to who’s in and out. If you don’t wear the right clothes, make straight A’s, perform on the field, or listen to the right music, you’re excluded from one group but accepted by another. Later, in adult life, the rules may change, but the dynamics remain. You’re either in, or you’re out. But the church, James says, is a family where partiality is a sin.
In response to judgment, our hearts can be self-justifying. “I may not be perfect, but in the end, God will weigh the good and the bad.” The problem is, to break one law is to break them all. The Christian will never achieve perfection in this life but should continually strive for progress to become more like Jesus every day.
The one unifying factor in the Kingdom of God is that all Christians have received mercy from God in Christ. Social hierarchies of rich and poor, black and white, those with status and those with none no longer apply in the family of God. In the Kingdom, it’s not about what we do, what we have, or who we are but rather what Christ has done, what Christ has given, and who we are in Christ.
Our response to others through the power of the Holy Spirit is impartiality and mercy. Through Jesus, mercy triumphs over judgment.
So, as brothers and sisters in God’s family, how could we judge each other by external appearances? Who are we trying to impress? James reminds us that God has blessed the poor with rich faith. Some of us, being free from worldly possessions, have leaned into Christ and learned the joy of steadfast faith. As C. S. Lewis says, “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only,” except the one with everything is more tempted to forget the one who gave it all to him.1
As Christians, we are each glad that God has chosen to give us mercy rather than judgment. In fact, without mercy we could not have a relationship with God. James is asking that we model our relationships after our relationship with God. Rather than judging people that God has saved and given mercy to, we should not judge them but join Him in giving them mercy. This looks like love, grace, kindness, and patience that helps us both become more like Jesus Christ.
- C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 34.
Can you remember a time you were the person who was rejected and outcast by family or friends? How can that experience help you grow in empathy for others?