“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 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, 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,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 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. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” – James 2.1-13
There was once a young man who came to the courts of King Arthur whose name was Breunor. When Breunor came to the court however he had coat that had been torn to shreds. It was coat that made him look anything but knightly. Breunor had one dream and that was to become a knight, however the various knights looking at him and his ragged clothing didn’t think him worthy of being a knight, much less of the round table. One knight in particular, Sir Kay called him La Cote Male Taile which means the the badly-shaped coat. Before Breunor could prove himself in any manner the knights had judged him merely by his appearance. They couldn’t fathom that such a person would be worthy of any great deeds which accompany a knight.
Later King Arthur decided that he wanted to go on a hunting party with his knights leaving Breunor behind. After all, what use would this poor man be? So the knights left after a bit more mockery and mirth at his expense. Placing Breunor so to speak ‘out of sight and out of mind.’ Though the knights had thought him unworthy of any great deeds, the Lord had other plans for him. While they were gone, Arthur’s queen Guinevere went out to the castle’s courtyard with a few maidens and her guards. Unknown to them there happened to be a lion in an area. The lion upon seeing the Queen’s company and an occasion for food came rushing forward. loving lo
Everyone ran away from the queen, all the richly dress knights and maidens who should have protected her. Breunor however seeing the danger that his queen was in rushed forward. Picking up one the discarded sword of the knights who had fled he placed himself between Guinevere and the lion and attacked. He saved the Queen, when others ran. The man nicknamed “the badly-shaped coat,” showed that he was indeed worthy of knighthood. That appearances aren’t everything.
James also was adamant within the first chapter that we ought to avoid temptations and here within this section James tells of certain temptation that certainly must not be. Believers aren’t supposed to separate themselves into caste. Earlier (1.22) James tells us “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” In many ways this section works toward further explaining this comment as well as the one of verse 27 to “visit orphans and widows.” James in these sections relates to us thus that to do the word we must remember to have love for “the helpless.” We need to be Word Doers and that means not avoiding our poorer brothers. James devotes a significant portion of his letter to this problem, which evidently his audience had.
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 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, 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,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” – James 2.1-4
Clearly moving to another section with the words “My brothers,” we see a new topic discuss. James mentions Jesus and it’s significant since this is the second and last time Jesus name appears in the Epsitle. Thus the issue at hand is one which is very important to James’ heart, something that needed to be solved. One cannot claim to be a true follower of Christ and show partiality; favoritism. James insists that the two are inconsistent. Also of interest is that James here is again using the word Synagogue (many translations have assemblies) instead of the usual word translated Church, it helps to show the earliness (and Jewishiness) of the epistle.
James begins with an example; remember however that James wrote to a wide audience so we cannot be sure of whom this example (if real) refers to. James doesn’t tell us much of the rich and poor man besides the state of their wealth; it would seem they aren’t regular worshippers and perhaps they are new converts, they are seekers or perhaps not even believers (though this is uncertain). Simply put these two people are strangers and the congregation is basing their opinions of them on mere appearances. This is all the more distressing since as mentioned this is happening within the Church (so to speak)!
In describing the rich man James talks of a “Gold ring” which invokes the sort of richness which a high-class Roman would have and he talks of his clothing which is “bright,” and as seen elsewhere in the New Testament clothing of heavenly people. As Revelation 15.6 declares “and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests.” It almost seems that the rich man in question has wealth that would be unobtainable in any normal sense. He is filthy rich. And seems all the richer when compared with the rather poor man who enters with him. The poor man enters and he has “Shabby Clothing,” in our day we could easily imagine a homeless man dressed in whatever rags he could find entering in.
The seat in reference is one which would been usually used by the elders or the scribe of the synagogue. (One loved by the Pharisees). In the gospels Jesus makes references to this seat: “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” – Luke 11.43, (see it’s parallels in Matthew 23.6; Mark 12.39). This is a seat of honor. The people of the congregation look at the two and instead of treating them equally they show the rich man grand attention and even this special honor of this seat. Yet the poor man is then looked at with “disdain,” and told to just stand out of the way, basically they are ignored in favor of the richer man.
James chooses a problem which would have been common in his generation (and in a sense all generations), that the rich are shown attention over the poor, that honor is given to them only. Yet in showing this graphic image perhaps inflated it should make ever reader cringe at this. “Perish the thought,” that we do this. Yet this is exactly what is happening. James calls these actions “evil,” and dividing. By making these divisions between the rich and the poor the congregation in question is splitting itself apart and endangering itself (as would any in that situation).
The Bible is adamant that the heart matters and not the outward appearance of a person. Leviticus 19.15 says “”You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” As is repeated in Deuteronomy 10.17-19 “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Or the more famous passage found in 1 Samuel 16.7: “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.””
There is never any benefit to judging a book by its cover. Christlike behavior and judging do not go hand in hand. We are to treat all men the same, not differently, it doesn’t matter how much their worth, or how they look, we were all created in the image of God. We cannot separate ourselves in such material ways.
“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? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?” – James 2.5-7
Matthew 5.3 tells us “”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” James once more is referencing the words of his stepbrother here. How much more then this rebuke has become harsh. So often God shows love for the poor, and it would seem the poorer the better, why then if God doesn’t should we honor the rich over them? It simply shouldn’t work that way. Besides its more often that the poor are close to God and know him then the rich do. The idea that the people would even want to associate with the rich is all the more ironic since it is the rich who is oppression them. God is the one honoring the poor and yet Believers would choose to instead dishonor them, what sense would that make?
It is very similar to the prophet Amos’ words in 8.4 “Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end.” The rich are the oppressor the ones who are hurting James audience and yet the rich are being given a place of honor over the poor, over the same class as the audience? As indicated by rich’s oppression of the audience. Moreover the Rich don’t show any respect for Christ why then Honor them, who dishonor God? To James all this makes no sense, in every way they seem to be doing the opposite of what they ought to do.
The way the man looks at the world is the opposite way God does. But we are called to be like God and in a sense we should strive to look at things the way God would and not man. We could make any number of excuse why it would be better to have so and so in our congregation instead of that poor looking fellow, but in the end it still just an excuse. It’s still contrary to what God teaches. It doesn’t please him, as it shouldn’t please us to hear such things. It should be said that being rich isn’t a sin, if one is rich wonderful, but the problem, the core of this is how one treats one another. As James will say in the next verse “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” How are we doing with that? How are we in doing that so important part of our walk?
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 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.” – James 2.8-11
We are called to obey this “royal law,” this command given to us way back, of love. James is saying that which is has been said over and over again, to love matters most. Jesus summed everything up in the scriptures like this “”Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” – Matthew 22.36-40. Like James, Jesus says that everything that God commands us rest on love, Firstly Love Yahweh and Secondly Love your neighbor.
James comments that we mustn’t treat the poor in a way that we wouldn’t want to be treated. This is something which should be obvious. He goes on to point out that by not showing love to one James calls that as it is sin, breaking God’s command. Paul too makes similar remarks in Romans 13.8-10 “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” All of which does indeed go back to the Torah, as Leviticus 19.18 says: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
Moving on James reminds us that God doesn’t call for us to obey just a piece of the Law, but all of it. By failing in one piece we fail in all of it. James is not saying that all sins are the same, nor that to sin in one way is as bad in sinning in all the ways one can muster. Instead that by breaking one part of God’s law (in view here discrimination) places on in the same class as breaking any part, that of Transgressor, Law Breaker… sinner. One is also reminded of Jesus words in Matthew 5.19 “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” To think that we can lax on something is wrong, that to not show respect for a certain group does not work in God’s eyes.
“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2.12-13
James ends this section by telling us to stick to what God has commanded us. Specifically here to love our neighbors, and show no impartiality. After all we are warned, do this, or be judged. Simply put God isn’t messing around with this, if one doesn’t show love for their neighbor, if one picks and chooses and outer appearance he is not pleased. Thank goodness however that James doesn’t stood at judgment and moves onto mercy.
This concept of mercy and judgment is widespread in Jewish thought once more Sirach 28.1-2 is similar in teaching “The vengeful will face the Lord’s vengeance, for he keeps a strict account of their sins. Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” Or one may refer to Jesus’ words: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6.14-15. Or Hartin puts it “Mercy triumphs over judgment: for those who have practice mercy, there is no need to fear judgment.”
Remember therefore above all that we are to Love Yahweh firstly and then to Love our Neighbor as ourselves.
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