Lately I have been studying James…. again, LOL. It seems that I study this book a lot and EVERY TIME I am floored by the life in this letter. In Chapter 2 of James, we see him confront the sin of partiality.
So what is partiality? This is how James describes it:
James 2: 1-13
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 dishonored 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 honorable name by which you were called?
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 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. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
While it seems pretty obvious what James is pointing out here, I want to point out something that struck me. James describes the picture of the two men, one rich and one poor. Both men enter into the “church” and one is shown honor while the other is shown dishonor. James says that what we are doing is making distinctions based on appearance and becoming judges with evil thoughts! I get this part, it makes sense to me… The next part was weird. James then describes in verses 8-13 a scenario that if we are guilty of one part of the law then we are guilty of all of it, however he doesn’t use “partiality” as his example. He uses adultery and murder.
At first I felt that maybe this was a drastic example to get everyone’s attention about the seriousness of partiality and I do believe that was the final intention, however in verses 12-13 James describes the responsibility of mercy in the light of the “law of liberty”. We understand from James chapter 1 that the law of liberty is the new covenant we now understand in Christ Jesus. James was talking to mostly Hebrew believers. They understand the Law as something that required complete obedience. Their long tenure as a people under the law brought them through many judgements. They knew how the sin of Akin affected the whole camp. They knew how small sins before God could hold the whole nation responsible. Now James is saying to act as one not under that law but under the law of liberty… liberated from the condemnation of the law of moses and instead act as one who has been shown mercy CONTINUALLY. We should also show the same mercy CONTINUALLY. In order to do that, we MUST understand the extent of that mercy! As a people, Israel had a rich history to understand the contrast. Individually each person also has a rich history to understand it.
My challenge to myself and all of us is to remember and dwell on that mercy. Let it break our hearts so that partiality will not even be on our thoughts. Instead we will respond with the same mercy that has been shown to us!
Soli Deo Gloria