Partiality in the Pews (James 2:1-13)

James 2:1-4 TLV “My brothers and sisters, do not hold the faith of our glorious Lord Yeshua the Messiah while showing favoritism. For if a man with a gold ring and fine clothes comes into your synagogue, and a poor person in filthy clothes also comes in; and you pay special attention to the one wearing the fine clothing and you say, “Sit here in a good place”; and you say to the poor person, “Stand there,” or “Sit by my footstool”; haven’t you made distinctions between yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”

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 seats 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 judgment 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 TLV “ Listen, my dear brothers and sisters. Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom that He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor person. Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Don’t they blaspheme the good name by which you were 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 TLV “If, however, you fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. But if you show favoritism, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Torah as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole Torah but stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For the one who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the Torah. 12 So speak and act as those who will be judged according to a Torah that gives freedom. 13 For judgment is merciless to the one who does not show 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 Samaritans, yet in the story Jesus told, it was the Samaritans 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 TLV “Do nothing out of selfishness or conceit, but with humility consider others as more important than yourselves,”

Selfish ambition and conceit lead 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, and 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.

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