(8) But if you are fulfilling the royal law from scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. (9) But if you act with partiality, you are committing a sin, and you stand convicted by the law as a criminal. (10) Anyone who keeps the whole law, but fails in one respect, has become guilty of all. (11) For the same person who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said “You shall not murder.” So if you don’t commit adultery, but you murder someone, you have become a transgressor of the law. (12) Speak and act as one who is about to be judged by the law that gives freedom. (13) For judgment comes without mercy to the one who has no mercy. Mercy beats judgment every time. — James 2:8-13
I don’t talk about Greek words all that much in devotionals (can you guess that this is Henry?), but I’m going to make an exception today. The Greek word for â€œpartialityâ€ and â€œshowing partialityâ€ in our passage for today refers to look at the surface, at someone’s face or the symbols of status, rather than at the real issues. In this passage it refers in particular to judgments made in the church. To be worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ, such judgments should be made fairly and without consideration for external factors.
When we talk about partiality in judgment, we tend to think first of bribes. But judgment can be tainted much more easily by our attitudes. A person who is of the â€œwrongâ€ race for a neighborhood is going to be first to be suspected. I recall one time at church when an African-American gentleman was in need of a ride. The church in question is near the interstate and many transients came through. I had already indicated that I was going where he needed to go, and if he could wait, I would give him a ride.
While I was finishing up what I had to do, our church secretary, who was ready to leave, could not find her church keys. As we were getting more and more frantic searching for the keys, this gentleman started to assure us that he hadn’t taken them. Now the fact is that neither the secretary nor I imagined that he had taken the keys. For one thing, it was impossible for him to have done so. They hadn’t been anywhere near him, and he hadn’t been out of my sight. But he had experienced that suspicion often enough that he was fearful that we would accuse him.
We found the keys, I gave him a ride, and we had a fine conversation as we drove. If we had accused that gentleman of stealing the car keys, we would have shown partiality.
But what about church life? In James’ time one of the key questions was rich vs. poor, and how the church community should react to rich and poor. That is still a relevant problem today. But what about spiritual elites? I have been in churches where there were definitely spiritual elites, people who were deemed generally without spiritual problems. Usually we judge people’s spirituality by appearances. Who goes to the altar to pray the most? Who is in church the most? But we often don’t know the real answers to those questions. Maybe the person who isn’t at the altar is spending a couple of early morning hours with God each day. Would you know it? Or maybe the person who misses church a great deal has work obligations, and spends other times in worship.
We like the visible, stuff we can count and measure. That lets us decide who is good and who is bad. Sometimes we’re also just lazy. It’s easier to judge a whole group of people than to give consideration to each one individually.
Try something special today as you meet people. Pray that God will give you a special insight and let you see them as God sees them. Take a look past the obvious. Don’t be partial. Treat each one according to the perfect liberating law of God.