Level The Chassis
Passages: James 2:1-13
Calvary Baptist Church of Holland
The Church @ Hamilton
Key Goals: (Know) Understand that favoritism, racism, and a lack of love destroy rebuilds. (Feel) Feel love toward all regardless of their status. (Do) Treat every person like God does.
Introduction: [We Are the Body: Casting Crowns] This song hits me every time I hear it. I think anyone who has ever felt the sting of rejection feels the power of this song. The phrase “the weight of their judgmental glances” is a powerful line. I’ve felt that weight. I remember her walking into our youth ministry for the first time. She was very attractive, well dressed and smiled easily. She did not get two feet in the door before three young men decided to be the “welcoming committee.” I chuckled to myself thinking, “Well, she is going to get ‘special treatment’.” As I was preparing to speak, I saw something develop that I was not expecting. The girls in our group began huddling up and whispering, very clearly communicating to this young lady, “You are unwelcome.” I was shocked, and turned to Martha to ask what was going on. She looked at me and said, “The competition.”
This fallen world has a strange way of wrecking our lives. One of the most powerful wrecking balls is what the Bible calls “partiality.” When the church began just after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, it was radically counter-cultural. It consisted of Jews and Greeks, slaves and slave-owners, wealthy and poor—all of them worshiping together. This was unheard of at the time. Both the Roman and Jewish cultures were extremely status oriented. You were born, raised, and died within your station. Very little in society allowed for socio-economic mixing. If you were a slave, you associated only with slaves; if a nobleman, only with nobles. A Pharisee would not even walk into the home of a Sadducee, though they were both Jewish. Status, hierarchy, standing, and position in society determined every aspect of your life—from your friends, opportunities, spouse, job, and housing to where you worshipped and bought your food.
Imagine growing up in this culture as a slave. You have never even spoken with a rich person, in fact all you have ever done in the presence of the rich is “γιγνώσκειν πρόσωπον” (Gin-oskien pros-opon)—the respectful and expected greeting in which one humbly turns one’s face to the ground or sinks to the earth. This was the only culturally acceptable interaction between rich and poor or slave and free. Then you begin gathering with a group of Christ followers who read James 2:1–4 as part of their worship:
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?
As a slave, your first question would have been: what does “partiality” mean? Because in all of Greek literature, the word does not exist outside of the Bible. The only people in the history of the Greek language to write using this Greek word translated as partiality (προσωπολημψία) were the apostles Peter, Paul, and James. Peter used the word in Acts 10:34–35 after the first Roman soldier put his faith in Jesus. So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. Peter revealed to us that the gospel does not discriminate based on race. Anyone from any nationality may come to God. The Apostle Paul used the word in Romans 2:6–11. Paul was talking about the “Judgment of God” that awaits every person after death.
He [God] will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.
Same word. Paul is describing a key character trait of God in his judgment. He does not grade on a curve. It is not that he doesn’t judge—he will judge everyone—but his judgment is based in the character of their life and their relationship to Christ, not their position, influence, wealth, or nationality. Paul also uses the word in Ephesians 6:5–9.
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
Again God’s character is described as having “no partiality.” God will never pervert justice by showing favoritism to a slave owner over a slave. Slaves are to comfort themselves through hardship by knowing their masters will face “the ultimate Master”—God himself. The final time the word shows up in Scripture is Colossians 3:23–25. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. There is no partiality in what? This is describing God’s judgment. God will never show inappropriate favoritism, preference, or special privilege to anyone. This is both comforting and scary. No one will receive special treatment. Everyone will stand before God as either redeemed through the blood of Christ or unredeemed. No “do-overs,” no “buying your way out,” no “sweet talking.” Our outward appearance and status have zero bearing on the gospel, our salvation, or judgment. In Galatians 3:28 we read There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. These verses are often misunderstood. Paul isn't saying that roles, ethnicity, or status don’t exist; he is saying “in Christ” we are equal despite our roles. When it comes to the gospel, there is no superiority, color, race, or even gender. Of the four New Testament passages we just looked at, the word “partiality” is always referring to God’s character. These passages go well with the dozens from the Old Testament that tell us the same thing: that God does not look at our exterior, he does not take bribes, and he does not show favoritism (See Lev. 19). He knows us and deals with us only as we truly are.
Turning the corner: James’ purpose in using this word is a little different; he wants us to turn the corner from how God interacts with us to how we should interact with others. James 2:13 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. James is saying that partiality is inconsistent and incompatible with someone who claims to have faith in Christ. He illustrates this with a story of wealth in verses 2-4. Partiality in this case, we are told, “made distinctions” between people. The idea is judging and separating. This is evil because God does not separate or judge people differently because of money (nor race, gender, status). A good Jewish man in this era would have followed up James’ statement with a question: “If God can make any poor person wealthy, isn’t God showing favoritism by making one of these men rich and the other poor?” Good question. Look at verse 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. James’ answer is that poor people have been chosen too. The poor have been chosen for blessings that rich people do not have nor understand. Their “riches” do not come in dollars but faith. So why would a church think better of a man rich in dollars over a man rich in faith? Doing that would be pure evil!
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. This is as direct a statement as you will ever find in Scripture. Favoring certain people because of their status, education, money, fame, prestige, clothes, car, looks, or whatever is a sin. There's no place for favoritism in the heart of God and there's no place for favoritism in the heart of his people. If we do it, we 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. James’ point at the end here is essentially what Jesus said in Matthew 7:2 (NLT). “For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”
Confronting Reality: Before we go any further, let’s get real honest about this issue. The church has struggled with partiality all through her existence. We have ostracized people for the version of the Bible they read, the color of their skin, music styles, citizenship, cleanliness or social acceptability. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning is “the most segregated hour in this nation.” So how do we rebuild? How do we overcome partiality in our lives and in our church?
1. Pay attention (James 2:3)
In verse 3 when James tells us about the “gold fingered” man walking in, he says they “paid attention” (to notice/special attention) to him. That isn’t the issue. That is a good thing. We should pay attention to every person who walks through the door of our church and even those that don’t. The problem was not paying attention to the rich man, it was not paying attention to the poor man. Listen to how Paul wrapped up his letter to the Romans (Rom.15:5–7). May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. The way we overcome partiality is to pay notice or pay attention to young, old, rich, poor, black, white. Sunday morning can not just be about us—we must pay attention to others around us.
2. Live to fulfill the “royal law” (James 2:8)
The royal law James mentioned was: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Overcoming partiality is as simple as the church loving other people like we want to be loved. All through James we will find that he pushes believers: Don’t wait to be loved—love. Don’t wait to be noticed—notice others. Make the first move. The church turned the world upside down because of the radical way she loved the unlovely (and she can do it again). In the year 168 a man named Justin was beheaded by Rome for following Christ and refusing to worship idols. Listen to how he described Christians: “We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.”
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,
Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world. 
If Jesus loves “all the little children of the world,” we must too.
3. See others through the lens of mercy (James 2:13)
James ends this entire section by basically saying if you show mercy in judging people, God will too. Mercy is one of the most beautiful aspects of God and in turn what make Christianity so unique. Mercy is showing compassion to someone in need, aiding the helpless in distress, or assisting someone in debt who has no reason to deserve it. Mercy-showing people have a keen sense of how generous God has been with them, so they show up when they see others with a need. They reach out, not because someone deserves it, but because God reached out to them. They pay the bill, assume the debt, bear the burden, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek—they show no partiality.
Community Group Discussion
1. As a group, read through James 2:1-13. What are the concepts and phrases that jump out or are easy to remember?
2. Where is the boundary between godly discernment (which we all need) and showing partiality (which is sin)?
3. Often the rich get rich because they are wise and disciplined. The poor are often poor because they are foolish and undisciplined. How does this fit with James’ theology?
4. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning is “the most segregated hour in this nation.” Do you agree or disagree? Discuss how we move forward.
5. Discuss mercy. What do you understand “mercy” to mean?
© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to use and reproduce this material in any format for spiritual, non-commercial purposes. We only ask that you do not alter the content in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. Please include the following statement on any distributed material: by Paul L. Davis. © Calvary Baptist Church of Holland.
 Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 779.
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.
 Edwards, Dwight Game Changing Christianity: How the Early Christians so radically influenced their world and what we can learn from them. Thomas Nelson Publishing 2016.
 Written by C. Herbert Woolston in the early 1900’s