You will never get a second chance to make a first impression; but don’t worry, first impressions can be deceiving. This is why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It is foolish to judge someone by outward appearances alone because you fail to see who they really are. Previously, James wrote that Christians should be “doers of the Word and not hearers only” (1:22). One important aspect of putting God’s Word into action is that we “show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” This morning we will consider partiality and favoritism in order to fight against it. Consider:
- Favoritism Defined (1,4). In verse 1, James instructs us not to “show favoritism/partiality.” What does he mean by favoritism? Specifically, James is teaching us that we must not give special attention to someone on the basis of their face (outward appearance). Favoritism is incompatible with genuine faith because showing favoritism means you make “distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives.” Favoritism is sin and evil because those who show favoritism set themselves up as judges. There is only one Judge and it isn’t you. The true Judge does not show partiality on the basis of beauty, wealth, race, etc. (see 1 Samuel 16). We are pitiful judges because the true qualities of a person cannot be properly assessed by the eye (outward appearances) alone. Our judgment is usually selfish and determined on the basis of how it benefits us. Therefore, partiality is incompatible with faith because it seeks authority that does not belong to us.
- Favoritism Demonstrated (2-3,5-7). In verses 2-3 James gives a practical example of favoritism. He writes, “if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool.’” As we saw in our first point, the “special attention” is the result of judging with evil motives.
The arrival of each person provides a test. What do you think, speak, and do when each man arrives? Do you treat the two men similarly or differently? If differently, what is the basis of the distinction? In this example, the rich man is shown favoritism and the poor man is dishonored. The man with the gold ring and fine clothing is told to sit in a good place because of his gold ring and fine clothing. The poor man is told to sit on the floor because of his shabby clothing. This judgment is evil. It is sinful.
This example illustrates the foolishness of judging on the basis of outward appearances. Here we have a rich man honored because of his wealth, but James says it is “the rich ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court.” The rich “blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called.” This does not mean that all rich people do this, but is a generalization from that time. The poor man is not given a seat in a good place because of his shabby clothes. James says that the poor man has been dishonored by this action. Christian must refuse to judge people on the basis of wealth because “God has 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.” The point being, God has mercy on those who are poor and many of the poor come to God for mercy. Therefore, God’s children must also refuse to be partial against them and extend them mercy as well.
- Favoritism Defeated (8-13). James makes it very clear, “if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” If you are guilty, confess and repent because Jesus forgives sin. Once we have confessed our sin of partiality, how do we battle against it on a daily basis? Love is the only remedy for favoritism. Not just any love; it is Christlike love. James writes, “If…you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well” (8). Edmond Hiebert wrote, “The ‘love’ called for is an intelligent and purposeful love, a love that voluntarily and sacrificially seeks the welfare of its object, ‘your neighbor.’” Only sacrificial love (the love of Christ) can defeat favoritism because only Christ can change your heart.
Therefore, we must “speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty” (12). God commands us to speak and act in a way that anticipates future judgment. We must understand that God is watching what we say and do and we must give an account of what we have said and done. What is this judgment “by the law of liberty”? The law of liberty is the same as the royal law mentioned in verse 8 because “love is the fulfillment of the Law” (Rom 13:10). The judgment mentioned here by James is not a judgment of condemnation. This judgment is for Christians who have been forgiven of all their sins by Jesus Christ and is based on love and mercy. True love is sacrificial and is found in Jesus Christ. Mercy “is the outward manifestation of pity and compassion in kindly action toward the misery of another” (Hiebert). In other words, do we love our neighbor or do we mistreat them? Do we show mercy to our neighbor or do we show partiality? We must speak and act in love and mercy because a lack of love and mercy signifies a lack of faith. On the day of judgment, if you are a Christian you will receive mercy, but “judgment is without mercy to the one who has not shown mercy.” As Christians, let us show no favoritism but show our faith in our mercy and love because “mercy triumphs over judgment.”
It is very easy to judge someone based on first impressions and outward appearances. This is dangerous and sinful because it is done by evil, selfish motives. Christians must refuse to show partiality and instead show love and mercy. Let us take time this week to prayerfully ask God to reveal any favoritism you may be showing. Psalm 139:23-24 provides a good model of this type of prayer. David wrote, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.”