My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. – James 2:1
A living faith is not only a listening faith but also a doing faith. True belief manifests itself in action—and, in some cases, in inaction. In other words, true faith is known not only by what it does but also by what it doesn’t do—for example, as James points out, by not showing partiality.
Partiality—the sin of treating people differently due to their outward appearance, status, or usefulness—was a clear and present danger in James’ day, and it remains so in our own. James was not condemning all acknowledgment of distinctions, or even preferential treatment for legitimate reasons. A young man who gives up his bus seat for an elderly woman is not running foul of James’ teaching! Rather, what James was making absolutely clear is this: external characteristics, and especially those that indicate wealth, in and of themselves do not mean that someone deserves honor.
This is the point of the illustration in James 2: if two men enter our gathering, one in fine clothing and the other in shabby, and the wealthy man gets the place of honor while the poor man gets shoved aside, then we are guilty of the sin of partiality. To give such preferential treatment to the wealthy would be to make “distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts” (v 4). God does not judge us by such distinctions, and so neither should we judge others in this way.
In His life and ministry, Jesus displayed how impartiality ought to look. He was willing to allow a woman of ill repute to weep over Him and for her tears to wash His feet (Luke 7:36-50). And He was just as prepared to call a rich man down from a tree to take Him to his house (19:1-10). Why? Because He knew that great wealth and worldly honor do not and cannot make someone more valuable in God’s eyes. He was well-acquainted with both the richest of riches and the lowest circumstances imaginable. In descending from heaven, exchanging honor for humility, Jesus set aside the glory which was His due in order to draw near to and save sinners like us—rich and poor alike.
When we grasp the wonder of this reality, we begin to see the true ugliness of judging others on the basis of the external and superficial. Partiality should have no place among the people of God because if we know God at all, it is because He dealt with us impartially. Be honest with yourself, then, and ask the Lord for the grace to see others in the way He does and to show others the mercy and grace He has shown you.