James 2:1-13 – The Sin of Partiality

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Jas 2:1

  1. The word “glory” (“doxa” in Greek and “kabod” in Hebrew) was often used in the Old Testament to describe God’s presence (e.g. on Mount Sinai in Ex 24:16-17, the ark in 1 Sam 4:22, and when God’s glory passed by Moses in Ex 33:22).
    1. In light of the Jewish connection between the word “glory” and “the presence of God”, the description of Jesus as “Lord of glory” is a clear indication that Jesus is God’s presence on earth.
    2. The glory of God, of which Jesus is the bearer, will also be ours (Rom 8:18, 2 Thess 2:14).
  2. Being “biased” in this respect means judging people based on external aspects, whether it is clothing, skin colour or some other external difference.
    1. In the Old Testament, this is a recurring theme. In Deuteronomy 10:17-18, God is clear that he “is not partial” and “does right by the fatherless and the widow; he loves the stranger and gives him food and clothing”. In Lev 19:15, Israel is urged not to be partial.

Jas 2:2-4

  1. In verses 2-4, James gives a hypothetical example of such “partiality” that he condemns in verse 1 by contrasting a rich man with fine clothes and a poor man with dirty clothes.
    1. When the Christians in the congregation welcome the rich man, he gets to sit in the good seat, and when they welcome the poor man, he gets to sit in the bad seat. They judge people by their appearance and are thus biased.
    2. By having a divided view of their fellow human beings, the Christians James is addressing reveal that they also have a divided relationship with God.
    3. It’s not up to us humans to judge people based on their appearance. Only God has that role as judge.
  2. Where the Bible says “gathering”, the basic Greek text says “synagogue”. A Jewish synagogue was a building intended primarily for worship and spiritual life.
    1. Since it is believed that James’ letter was written very early, it may well be that the split between Christians and Jews that eventually occurred had not yet happened. Virtually all the first Christians were Jews and it was quite natural that they continued to gather in their synagogues even after they confessed that Jesus was Lord and Messiah.
      1. The terms “church” and “congregation” (“ekklesia” in Greek) were used to describe the Christian community. It was only several hundred years later that the building in which Christians gathered began to be called a “church”.

Jas 2:5-7

  1. Now Jakob explains why it is wrong to be biased and discriminate. First, one should not be biased because God is not biased. After all, God has given his salvation to all who believe, whether they are rich or poor. We Christians should not judge each other based on worldly wealth because our wealth is measured in faith, not money. If God has not given advantages to the rich, neither should we.
    1. Very many people who become Christians do so in a situation of poverty, need and great need. After a period of salvation, with God’s help, they get their lives in order and in good shape. To discriminate against new Christians because they are poor is a mockery of God and the help he has given.
    2. An interesting question arises for the astute. Does James condemn one kind of discrimination but approve of another? After all, James is saying that we should not discriminate against the poor by being biased against the rich, but isn’t God biased against the rich when he specifically chooses the poor at the expense of the rich?
      1. Probably there is a spiritual nuance in the term “the poor” (Matt 5:3, Luke 6:20). Those who are spiritually poor often have a greater desire for God than those who think they already have everything. Therefore, those who humble themselves and long for more of God also have their longings answered to a greater extent than those who think they already have everything and do not seek God to the same extent. So God gives to all who seek him, but the poor are more likely to seek him and therefore receive more from God. Besides, the fact that a rich man comes to church in James’ illustration in the verses before shows that even the rich can come to God and receive salvation. See also Luke 1:51-53 and 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.
  2. Secondly, James argues that it is quite unnecessary for Christians to try to flatter and be sympathetic to rich people in the belief that it might create advantages for us. James reminds Christians that it is the rich who tend to make trouble for Christians and that will not change just because Christians fawn over the rich.
    1. In biblical times, it was not at all uncommon for rich landowners to accumulate more and more land and wealth at the expense of the poor. In this way, ordinary people became poorer and poorer. The oppression of the poor by the rich is condemned in the Bible (Amos 4:1).
    2. Secondly, the rich also use their power to influence courts and legal decisions to the detriment of the poor.
    3. Third, the rich defame the name of the Christian. Presumably the name “Jesus” is meant. Perhaps it was common for the rich to mock Jesus, either by their speech or by their manner.

Jas 2:8

  1. The description of the law as “royal” indicates that the law belongs to God and comes from God, just as God’s “kingdom” belongs to God and comes from God.
    1. The entire Old Testament Law of Moses can be summarized in the commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This “royal law” is the practical consequence of the saving confession that “Jesus is Lord”. Belonging to the kingdom of God means both confessing Jesus as Lord and loving one’s fellow man (Matthew 22:37-40).
    2. We Christians belong to the royal kingdom of God, obey the royal law and confess that Jesus is king. Thus, we are to follow the biblical law as our King Jesus preached and explained it to us.
  2. Who is my “neighbor” to love as myself? In the Old Testament, it usually refers to a “fellow Israelite”. But Jesus expands its meaning to include “strangers” (Luke 10:25-27) and “enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
  3. In summary, James has three arguments for why it is wrong to favour the rich at the expense of the poor: first, because it is not consistent with God’s love for the poor, second, because it is completely senseless, but above all, because it is a sin that goes against Scripture.

Jas 2:10-13

  1. It is not exactly which commandment one breaks that is the big problem, but that one breaks the law at all, which shows that one does not love God with all one’s heart.
  2. For a Jew, salvation in Jesus can be perceived as a liberation from the strict Law of Moses and mistakenly lead to a life without “law”. But we Christians are also to follow the biblical law, i.e. the “law of royal liberty”, founded in the law of Moses but declared and fulfilled through Jesus Christ.
  3. The one who obeys the royal law by loving his fellow man as himself shows that he is living out the inner faith in Jesus as Lord. One who does not love his fellow man does not show by his life that he has Jesus as his King.
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