A man enters a church auditorium to join the worship service. He is the CEO of a major company. How will your ushers treat him? Another man comes for the same worship service. His clothes are shabby and he smells. He is poor and has to wear the same shirt for a few days. How will your ushers treat him? Students of the Bible will know this is a summary of the situation mentioned in James 2.
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?. (vv. 1–4)
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (vv. 8–9)
I was preparing a devotion on this passage and was struck afresh by the seriousness of showing partiality to the rich. To do so would be proof that we are not people who have faith in the Lord. Indeed, it calls our salvation into question.
James’ situation was further compounded by the fact that the people who were persecuting the church were rich. This does not imply that all rich people are evil but, in the situation addressed by James, the church was showing deference and giving special treatment to the very people who were persecuting them just because those people were rich.
This is a scenario that sounds too modern. All too often we give preferential treatment to the rich over the poor. Maybe the hope is that if the rich are treated well they can and may contribute more to the coffers of the church. What does this say about our trusting God to meet our needs? Maybe it is just echoing the values of a world that gives more honour to the rich and powerful. If we do this, James questions our very identity as children of God. If we are children of God, He dwells within us. And He is a God that does not show partiality. (Deuteronomy 10:17)
The call here is not that we are to treat the rich shabbily. The call here is to treat all with honour. James reminds us again of the need to love your neighbour as yourself (James 2:8). Most of us can perhaps recall moments when we were victims of prejudice. We would not want, then, for anyone to suffer prejudice.
The fact is that all are created in the image of God and hence are deserving of care and honour. This way of doing things is often very counter cultural and hence an important way to reveal the character of God, a God who loves all equally.