My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
The Principle of Impartiality
An attribute of God that is not spoken of often is His impartiality. Impartiality is a serious and recurring theme in Scripture. God is absolutely impartial in His dealings with people. And in that way, as with His other attributes, He is unlike us. Humans, even Christians, are not naturally inclined to be impartial.
We tend to put people in categories, ranking them by:
- Their looks,
- Their clothes,
- Their race or ethnicity,
- Their social status,
- Their personality,
- Their intelligence,
- Their wealth and power,
- The kind of car they drive,
- The type of house and neighborhood they live in.
But all of those things are non-issues with God. They are of no significance or meaning to Him whatsoever.
The Principle of Impartiality
This is not referring to faith in the act of believing. This refers to the entire Christian faith, “Our Faith.” It says in Jude 3, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
The Lord of glory
Christ is the One who reveals the glory of God. In His incarnation, He showed only impartiality. As stated in Matthew 22:16 “And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
Consider the variety of people included in His genealogy, His choice of the humble village of Nazareth as His residence, and His willingness to minister in Galilee and Samaria, both regions held in contempt by Israel’s leaders.
Respect of persons
This originally referred to raising someone’s face or elevating the person. It came to refer to exalting someone strictly on: a superficial, external basis, such as appearance, race, wealth, rank, or social status.
An Example of Partiality
Jews commonly wore rings, but few could afford gold ones. There are some reports that in their day the wealthiest wore rings on every finger but the middle one to show off their economic status. Some ancient sources indicate that there were even ring rental businesses.
This refers to bright, shining garments. Goodly apparel is used of the gorgeous garment Herod’s soldiers put on Jesus to mock Him. Also used when describing the apparel of an angel. It can also refer to bright, flashy color and to brilliant, glittering, sparkling ornamentation. James is not condemning for this flashy dress, but rather the church’s flattering reaction to it. It is okay to dress nice. It is okay to wear gold rings. Some would take this out of context and build a non-biblical principle out of it.
A poor man
There were people of means in the early church. In 1 Timothy 6:17–19, it says “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
Sit in a good place
A more comfortable, prominent place of honor. The synagogues and assembly halls of the first century sometimes had benches around the outside wall and a couple of benches in front. Most of the congregation either sat cross-legged on the floor or stood. There were a limited number of good seats; and they were the ones the Pharisees always wanted. As stated in Mark 12:38–39, “And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts”
Partial in yourselves
The true nature of the sin in this passage was internally seeing one human as better than another; not the goodly apparel, golden rings, being rich or that he was given a good seat. The pharisees in Matthew 12 wouldn’t be sinning by sitting in the better seat. They would sin by thinking they deserved to get the seat while others sat on the floor.
Judges of evil thoughts
James feared that his readers would behave just like the sinful world by catering to the rich and prominent while shunning the poor and common. We should look after the poor and rich alike.
Some would preach this as “Shun the rich” and “Cater to the poor.” However, wouldn’t this make God also partial?
Pastor Chance Strickland
Harpeth Baptist Church
Kingston Springs, TN