James 2:1-7


Bible Study Notes
Show No Partiality
James 2:1-7


The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff for use as a Bible Study aid.

Intro. - The world has always made a distinction between the poor and the rich. The rich are viewed as important, worth more, and deserving of better treatment than the poor.

However, this is an artificial distinction and one that we are to avoid as believers. There is no place for partiality in our faith in Christ. God has made us all equal in Christ and is Himself devoid of any partiality. We are to manifest His character in this crucial area.

James has already emphasized the equality which exists between the rich and poor in 1:9-11. He has shown the importance of the widows and orphans in God's sight in 1:27.

He now moves on to expand the importance of putting the Word into practice in the matter of personal relationships.

2:1 -
The word glorious may have been used to stress the contrast between Christ and the worldly rich.

personal favoritism (prosopolempsia) - This word denotes partiality or biased judgment based on external circumstances, such as race, wealth, social rank, etc. It ignores the value of the individual as a person.

James will later say that such behavior is sin (cf. 2:9). God never functions with such distorted motivation (cf. Rom. 2:11; Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25; 1 Pet. 1:17).

This does not mean we are not to show proper respect to those to whom it is due (cf. 1 Pet. 2:17; Rom. 13:7). The faith that is centered in Christ is to be devoid of all partiality and personal favoritism. It should be noted that Christ was known, even by His enemies, to deal with people impartially (cf. Matt. 22:16).

This has always been God's intention for His people (cf. Lev. 19:15).

The construction in verse 1, as well as the context, indicates that the readers are guilty of showing partiality. James now moves to give them a concrete example of how they are guilty of showing partiality in their dealings with people.

2:2 -
James presents a hypothetical situation (third-class condition) which would clarify the issue of showing partiality.

Here, assembly is a translation of the word "synagogue," which is used to denote the meeting or meeting place of believers. This fits the Jewish background of the readers (cf. 1:1). Later James also uses the word "church" (5:14).

A gold ring and fine clothes indicate a man of wealth and importance.

poor man (ptochos) - Refers to a beggar or to one who depends upon others for his support.

dirty clothes - His clothes, as you might expect, are filthy. The clothes he is wearing are all that he has, so naturally they would be very dirty.

2:3 -
The rich man in fine clothes gets special attention, and the believers see to it that he gets the best seat possible. The emphasis on his clothes indicates that they are motivated only by his external appearance.

In contrast, any place is good enough for the beggar. He can stand off to the side somewhere or sit on the floor.

This is in line with the pattern followed by the Jews in their synagogues. The scribes and Pharisees coveted the most important seats (cf. Luke 11:43; 20:46).

We can be guilty of similar things today. How would we respond to a tremendously wealthy person who came to a crowded service at the same time as a filthy beggar? Would we be more concerned that the wealthy person be given a good seat than we would the beggar?

2:4 -
They are making distinctions among themselves solely on the basis of external appearance. They have turned their attention from the "glorious" Lord (2:1) to the material splendor of fine clothes and a gold ring.

They have set themselves up as judges to determine who is most important and worthy of honor. The problem is that they have evil motives.

We are moved to honor the rich over the poor because we know the poor cannot contribute anything to our material and social well-being. There may be personal gain to be realized from the rich, but not from the poor.

The inconsistency of this kind of partiality by believers is now demonstrated by James (vv. 5-7).

2:5 -
Listen, my beloved brethren indicates that the severe things that James is saying are motivated by love for them (cf. 1:16,19).

The folly of their actions is seen in two areas:

  1. God has chosen the poor (2:5,6b).

  2. The rich oppress the believers (2:6b,7).

God has sovereignly chosen (elected) the poor. This does not mean every poor person will be saved or that every rich person will be lost. But generally speaking, it is the poor who respond to the salvation that is in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26-29).

Jesus emphasized the same thing in Matthew 19:21-26.

rich in faith - They are rich in the realm of faith. In other words, they are rich in the spiritual realm. Faith has provided salvation and all its blessings. These are the only true and lasting riches. They have eternal value. Everything else is fleeting (cf. Luke 12:15-21).

heirs of the kingdom - This is the glorious kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament and promised by Christ. They are indeed "heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17). They may not look like much in the eyes of the world, but they are those who have true wealth.

those who love Him - This identification was used in 1:12 and indicates that inheriting the kingdom is the same as receiving the crown of life,

2:6 -
you have dishonored the poor man - Their attitude toward the poor is very different from God's attitude. In reality, there is a greater possibility of the poor man coming to Christ than that of the rich man.

The greatest and strongest opposition and oppression came from the wealthy. For example, in the Book of Acts we often see the Sadducees leading the persecution of believers and dragging them before their courts (cf. Acts 4:1-17 5:17,18,26-40).

This oppression could include social and economic as well as religious persecution (cf. 5:4-6). This word oppress (katadynasteuo) is used in the Septuagint in a number of passages which speak of the abuse of the poor (cf. Ezek, 22:29; Zech, 7:9,10).

2:7 -
The rich have been the most aggressive in their opposition to the gospel, This makes clear that wealthy Christians are not in view here.

The word fair (kalon) means "beautiful," "noble," "excellent." Jesus Christ is the one in view.

by which you have been called - This indicates that they belong to Christ (cf. Deut, 28:10).

Why do we honor the rich who despise and speak against the beautiful Savior to whom we belong? There can be no other answer except that we desire the material things of this world and hope that our association with the rich will help us acquire them (cf. Matt, 6:19,20,24; 2 Cor. 4:17,18).

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.

Tony Capoccia
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