James issues a command against favoritism in James 2:1–8. He gives the following examples: treating rich visitors with great respect (James 2:1–2a, 3a) and treating poor visitors with no respect (James 2:2b, 3b–4). In James 2:5–7, James cannot understand this for often it was the rich who persecuted them and ridiculed their Savior. In James 2:4-7, there are at least five things wrong with showing partiality and favoritism. First, showing partiality sets one up as the judge of men (James 2:4). Secondly, showing partiality reveals evil thoughts (James 2:4). Thirdly, showing partiality discriminates against the poor and lowly, a people who are loved by God (James 2:5). Fourthly, showing partiality shows a disgraceful attitude (James 2:6a) which dishonors, humiliates, shames, disgraces, and insults the poor and lowly person. Finally, showing partiality shows foolish behavior (James 2:6b-7).
Two things are said about the rich in James day. One, the rich usually oppressed the poor and they readily grabbed what they could, using the very laws of the land to do it. The idea is that they used the law unjustly in order to protect and increase their wealth and power. Two, the rich usually blasphemed the name of Christ. They blasphemed His name by denying, mocking, ridiculing, persecuting, neglecting, ignoring, and rejecting Him as the Savior of the world. The rich forgot two things: that everything they had would fade away ever so quickly, including their health, body, and life; that they are subject to accident, disease, and death and that it is at most just around the corner. And, that they must face whatever lies right beyond this world and life: God Himself.
In James 2:8 he says, “Obey our Lord’s royal command found in the Scriptures.” James then gives some of the consequences of favoritism in James 2:9–13. James gives us three warnings. First, showing partiality is sin. Secondly, it violates the royal law of love (James 2:8-9). And finally, showing partiality makes a person guilty of violating the whole law of God (James 2:10). A well-known pastor told the following story. “One evening I stopped by the church just to encourage those who were there rehearsing for the spring musical. I didn’t intend to stay long, so I parked my car next to the entrance. After a few minutes, I ran back to my car and drove home. The next morning I found a note in my office mailbox. It read: “A small thing, but Tuesday night when you came to rehearsal, you parked in the ‘No Parking’ area. A reaction from one of my crew (who did not recognize you until after you got out of the car) was, ‘There’s another jerk parking in the “No Parking” area!’ We try hard not to allow people—even workers—to park anywhere other than the parking lots. I would appreciate your cooperation, too.” It was signed by a member of our maintenance staff. I’m sorry to report this staff member is no longer with us. He was late coming back for lunch the next day, and we had to let him go. You have to draw the line somewhere. … No, I’m kidding. Actually he’s still very much with us, and his stock went up in my book because he had the courage to write me about what could have been a slippage in my character. And he was right on the mark. As I drove up that night, I had thought, “I shouldn’t park here, but after all, I am the pastor.” That translates: I’m an exception to the rules. But that employee wouldn’t allow me to sneak down the road labeled “I’m an exception.” I’m not the exception to church rules, nor am I the exception to sexual rules or financial rules or any of God’s rules. As a leader, I am not an exception; I’m to be the example. According to Scripture, I am to life in such a way that I can say, “Follow me. Park where I park. Live as I live.” Just when I was starting to think, “I’m an exception,” somebody on our staff cared enough to say, “Don’t do
it, Bill, not even in one small area.” That’s love. (Bill Hybels: Willow Creek Community Church).
In James 2:14–26, comes the challenge to move from favoritism to a faith that expresses itself in Godly actions. James poses two questions that every believer needs to ask of himself. First, can a man have faith and not do good works? Secondly, can faith without good works save a man? James provides two examples of having only head faith (James 2:14–20). In regard to the destitute (James 2:14–18), head faith by itself is empty faith and attempts to minister to the poor by pious words not accompanied by works. Somewhat like a young boy on an errand for his mother who had just bought a dozen eggs. Walking out of the store, he tripped and dropped the sack. All the eggs broke, and the sidewalk was a mess. The boy tried not to cry. A few people gathered to see if he was OK and to tell him how sorry they were. In the midst of the words of pity, one man handed the boy a quarter. Then he turned to the group and said, “I care 25 cents worth. How much do the rest of you care?” Next, in regard to the demons (James 2:19–20) he points out that even the demons believe there is One God, and they tremble in terror! Faith in the head is a starting point but until faith moves to the heart it is useless.
Will you take the challenge from James? Move from an attitude of favoritism to a Godly faith that moves from your heead to your heart and then your hands as you do works of faith in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Dr. Bill Helton is a professor at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville.