The danger of partiality
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? (Jas 2:2-4 ESV)
So James continues to show in these verses, and the ones to follow, the sin of partiality. Those who have a faith that is called Christian should not be partial based on superficial means.
It is not entirely clear from the text if James has in mind a rich Christian who might be passing through or simply a visitor who happened to wander into the assembly. Paul makes mention of visitors in I cor 14:23 so such a thing is possible. However, in either case, paying attention to the richly dressed rich man and shunning the poorly dressed poor man puts those who do that in a bad spot.
First, James says that distinctions have been made among yourselves. A class warfare so to speak and possibly similar to what happened in Corinth. Paul addressed this in the first chapter of I Corinthians concerning those who made distinctions based on names of preachers . Second, he asks, in what I think is a question obviously designed to be answered “yes!”, if they have not become judges with evil thoughts?
It is bad enough to make yourself a judge and he will have more to say on this in the book but this judge is one with ‘evil thoughts’. A quick consult of a concordance and you can see ‘evil thoughts’ appearing in Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21. At the end of a discussion on Corban (a scheme by which the pharisees enriched themselves in so-called service to God), Jesus says that from the heart proceed evil thoughts. I would suggest that covetousness would be included in that context and this one.
Maybe they just were hoping that this rich man would drop a Talent or two into the collection plate. I am sure no one expected more than 1/2 a shilling from the poor man if that much. After all, they had buildings to build, salaries to pay, programs to fund…oh wait, once again I am getting a few centuries ahead of myself. Maybe they saw him as a potential business partner, client or someone who had connections that would help them out. In either case, the fact that they were well dressed became an enticement and their own lusts brought forth sin. (mmmm, heard that somewhere! 1:13-15) James says “don’t let the sin grow up!”
Another danger to this would be that the rich man might fall for this partial treatment and consider himself to be somebody special. Jesus was subject to this kind of flattery and yet did not succumb to it. Still, who is to say that this person might not think “wow! I must be someone.” Of course the truth is ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female and let me add ‘black nor white, rich nor poor’ we are all one in Christ. Gal 3:26-29
Still another danger would be that the poor man in seeing this might become discouraged and fall. Sure temptations will come and even the poor must endure them (1:3 and 9) but woe to the one who puts the stumbling block in his way.
I am sure that the person showing partiality had a logical reason for doing so. However, let me suggest that if the President of the United States (pick your favorite, Obama, Bush or Reagan) were to come into your assembly and a poor man from the poor side of town were to choose that day to visit also. The best you could do is say “Mr. President…Welcome. Please go find a seat. Sit where you like.” and to the poor man. Sir, welcome….please go find a seat. Sit where you like.”