Respect of Persons
Our text shall be James 2:1-13. The reason for the study is mentioned in the text itself, verse twelve, "So speak ye and so do." In this passage we have a charge to keep and a responsibility to teach and practice what is taught herein.
Among the several methods of study is the profitable method called textual study where we open the Bible. read. and ponder the message, learning the mind of God as revealed there, really digging into the divine message.
So often today when one thinks of respect of persons he thinks of racial problems and racial prejudices that exist. This is certainly one area where the principles of this lesson can and must be applied. But the text deals more specifically with another kind of respect of persons, and so we shall follow the text.
James begins by referring to his readers as “my brethren.” This is a warm and affectionate salutation, very fitting in view of the strong rebuke that was to be forthcoming because of infractions against the will of Christ that was being practiced.
Verse one speaks of “the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ,” which has reference to the entire Christian system, the religion of which Christ is the author and founder. The word faith" is used to represent the whole of Christianity. The message is, to paraphrase, "Brethren, do not hold to Christianity and at the same time be showing partiality and special concern for the rich and highly favored of the world." Such favoritism and exaltation of people because of worldly considerations is foreign to the spirit of "the faith. "
In verse one the Lord is called “the glorious Lord,” In spite of living humbly, enduring poverty, suffering, and persecution, lacking material wealth, worldly rank and power, outside the social dignitaries, yet, He was “the glorious Lord.” Since this was the case with Jesus, how unbecoming and inconsistent to show respect to others on the basis of such standards as that by which the world judges people and their worth.
Peter and Paul taught God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34: Romans 2:11), but “in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.”In Christ we are considered equals (Galatians 3:26- 29), entitled to the same privileges, possessors of the same blessings with God, and are brethren in the Lord deserving of mutual love and concern for one another .
Verses Two Through Four
“For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment, and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him. Sit thou here in a good place; and say unto the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool, are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-4).
The term “assembly” is rendered “synagogue” in the American Standard Version. This reflects a Jewish background by both the writer and the reader. But it refers to the gathering of themselves together in the assembly.
People are tempted to show special favors and honor to those who “seem to be somewhat” In this life. They like to be identified with those of worldly attainments and the prominent in the world. Their partiality is evidenced in the special manner they treat them. We have seen brethren “fall all over themselves” getting to see some celebrity and ignore and even act rudely toward faithful brethren to do so. They betray their own worldliness and lack of comprehension of that which really matters.
James contends that such specialty toward the man with the goodly apparel and ring is a poorly veiled contempt of those whose earthly fame is not evident, even though their spiritual nature may be tremendous.
This behavior toward the rich and prominent reflects a lack of love for the right thing and for the Lord's people. It is to make a evil judgment. In the next verse James shows the absurdity and lack of good sense in this conduct.
Verses Five Through Seven
“Hearken, my beloved brethren. Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that Love him? But ye have despised tile poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by which ye are called” (James 2:5- 7)
By such favoritism and partiality they offend the very ones God has chosen. One can be poor in material things but rich in faith. The ones rich in faith, children of God, are the heirs of God. To them is the promise of eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9: 15). These brethren were honoring the very ones that would blaspheme the worthy name they wore, which would have been the name, "Christian." (Acts 11:26). The rich had no conscience against oppressing poorer people, even if they were Christians. How unreasonable to give them honor when such would come into their company. There is a difference between being courteous to others and placing them on some artificial pedestal to exalt them before others because of their worldly situation.
One characteristic of the ministry of Christ was “the poor have the gospel preached to them.”(Matthew 11:5). The poor were given consideration because they were worth as much as the rich. Jesus did not come to lead them from material poverty, but from spiritual enslavement, whether one was rich or poor. All souls are worth saving, and that is the point we must learn. We should not only be concerned with those who have financial, social, political, or worldly standing among men.
It is very difficult to reach a rich person with the gospel anyway. He has the temptation to place his dependence on his wealth rather than the lowly Nazarene. Paul said- “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.”(First Corinthians 1:26). So often they are too proud to come to Christ. How inconsistent to honor them above others when they enter the assembly.
Revelation 2: 9, "I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich)... “ Materially those in Smyrna were poor, but spiritually they were rich in God's sight. Contrast that condition with Laodicea where they thought themselves rich, increased in goods, and lacking nothing. The Lord said they were “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17).
If we today neglect the humble, faithful brother or sister in the Lord while heaping undue attention to the famous, prominent, materially successful notables of this world, even those not Christians, what kind of examples are we showing ourselves to be? The charge from heaven is thereby violated.
To honor brethren for their work's sake in the Lord is one of our privileges (First Thessalonians 5:13). But why exalt, in the church and before the church, the political office holder, the entertainer, the academic scholar, the famous sportsman, etc.? These things say nothing of one's spiritual qualities. He might even be a false teacher. One can excel in all these things and still not be acceptable before God.
We have noticed how many brethren will “jump on the wagon” to proclaim someone who is noteworthy in the worldly affairs, sports, politics, money, entertainment, etc., and have lived to regret it because the prominent later show themselves to be poor examples, We have even noted how some brethren have paraded “beauty queens” before the young, taking no account of the immodesty connected with the acquisition of their fame, and brought them before the young as something to imitate, It is tragic that such who are so set in following the world bring reproach against the church. Let Mr. Big Shot come around and everyone gasps with awe. Let brother and sister Faithful come around who has no such flare and nobody really cares. Such characterizes some assemblies, even those that call themselves “Churches of Christ.”
Verses Eight and Nine
" If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self: ye do well. But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors." (James 2:8,9).
What is the “royal law” under consideration? It is the law of the King, the law governing the kingdom. It is the law of Christ, which includes such teaching as loving thy neighbor as thyself. It also embraces the teaching,“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12). Even many who call themselves Christians, even leaders in the church, sometimes treat people as if this teaching was never given, or did not apply to them as well as others.
To love your neighbor is not the whole law, but is a part of the law, and that part that directly relates to the subject under consideration in this portion of Scripture. It is that part of the law of Christ that James contends was being violated by his brethren. To be deficient in the performance of this duty is to stand condemned by the law of Christ as a sinner, a transgressor of the law. The deficiency that is condemned is showing respect of persons according to worldly standards.
Verses Ten and Eleven
Just how serious is this transgression? “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, do not commit adultery, said also, do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.” (James 2: 10.11).
To violate God's law in one point is to be guilty of violating God's law. Obviously it does not mean one is guilty of every transgression, but he has offended the authority of God, violated the law of God, and stands condemned and in need of forgiveness. The same authority that teaches we are not to commit adultery also teaches not to kill. Doing either one is to show disrespect for God's authority .The One who taught one point taught them both. The One who taught against adultery and murder has also taught against showing respect to persons because of worldly fame, wealth, etc.
Verses Twelve and Thirteen
This is the message that James says is to be spoken and practiced. We should consider it in view of the coming judgment that shall be administered according to the “law of Liberty.”(Verse 12).
In the judgment there shall not be respect of persons according to their riches, power, prominence in the world, social status and other such things that some consider to be of primary concern. We shall be judged according to the way we have lived before God and His will.
Those who come into our midst as faithful brethren, regardless of the matters that artificially designate people of “worldly worth,” must be considered as brethren in the Lord because of their relationship with Christ. We must show love and mercy without respect to such things as those by which others may judge, lest we be deprived of the mercy upon which we must depend. “ For he shall have Judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy, and mercy rejoiceth against Judgment.”(James 2:13).