In ancient times there were a couple of benches at the front of the Synagogue and a few that lined the back walls, everyone else sat on the floor or stood. The religious leaders always wanted the front seats because those were the places of honor. Everyone else either fought over the back or chose to sit on the floor or stand.
James was explaining that by showing partiality they had become judges with evil thoughts. The example he gives is the difference made between a rich man and a poor man. The poor man was told to sit by a footstool which is an even bigger insult than just telling him to sit on the floor. Whereas people would have been willing to give up their seat for the rich man. This is not a Christian way to behave.
To show partiality means to show favoritism, to distinguish, or to discriminate. Deuteronomy 10:17 says, do not show partiality. Proverbs 24:23 tells us that showing partiality in judgement is not good, and Romans 2:11 says, there is no partiality with God. The Bible has much to say about the subject, the main thing we need to understand about partiality is that it is a sin. If there is no partiality with God, there should be none with us. We should not look differently at the rich or poor. We should not structure our church services to one demographic over another. It’s easy to show partiality because we look at the outward circumstances but that can get us into trouble as James explains in the next few verses.
James 2:5-7 NKJV “Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?”
James points out some sad irony in these verses. We want to give honor to the rich man, yet it is the rich man who oppresses us and drags us into court. We dishonor the poor, yet he is rich in faith. Now, James is giving a basic example; not all rich are evil and not all poor have faith. James’s point here is that while we are busy looking on the outside we are not paying attention to actions and we are not relying on discernment to know what is really going on. If we want all people to be welcome in the church we must see as God sees. We must see worth in each person and have no regard for economic status, ethnicity, educational background or any other distinguishing factor. So how do we guard against partiality?
James 2:8-13 NKJV “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
We guard against partiality by walking in the royal law of love, to love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s the story of the Good Samaritan. Jews despised Samaritan’s, yet in the story Jesus told, it was the Samaritan and not the religious leaders who helped the man who was left beat up on the side of the road. That is the royal law of love in action. If we show partiality, we have not kept the law of love. When we don’t keep the law of love, we are not seeing as God sees, or acting as God acts.
Philippians 2:3 NKJV “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”
Selfish ambition and conceit leads to partiality. It leads to stepping on others, just so we can reach the next rung on the ladder of success. It is to tell someone how great they are but separate from them when it is a benefit to you. That is partiality and most of us are partial to ourselves which goes against the Scripture.
Proverbs tells us to guard our hearts because out of hearts flow the issues of life. Are you guarding your heart against partiality, in all of its forms? Search your heart today, ask the Lord if the sin of partiality is evident in your life. If it is, repent and begin walking in the law of love. If you’re not sure how to walk in love, read the book of First John, it’s only five chapters, and it will help you fulfill the royal law James talks about.