Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 2:1-9.
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the
Lord of glory, with respect of persons (James 2:1).
But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced
of the law as transgressors (James 2:9).
In James 2:1-9, the apostle identifies the sin of “respect of
persons” (cf. 2:1, 9). The phrase “respect of persons” does not mean being
respectful to persons, or treating persons with dignity and charity. Such
behavior is certainly not sinful. That phrase, as used here, refers to the showing
of partiality or favoritism toward someone based on what appears to be his
favorable outward appearance or standing, while at the same time neglecting or
overlooking others who do not share in this favorable outward appearance or
standing. James exhorts, in particular, that the brethren not show favoritism
to the rich, while neglecting the poor.
The English phrase “respect of persons” renders but a single
word in the Greek, which literally means “to receive the face” or “to look upon
the outward appearance.”
Consider the Lord’s instructions to Samuel when seeking the
man to replace Saul as king: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of
his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth;
for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart”
(1 Sam 16:7).
Peter’s response when he saw the faith of the God-fearing Gentile Cornelius: “Of
a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).
likewise, in Romans 2:11 writes, “For there is no respect of persons with God”
(cf. Eph 6:8-9; Col 3:25).
proceeds in vv. 2-3 to give a hypothetical example of how the believers might
have exhibited “respect of persons.” Two men walk into an assembly of believers…
(v. 2). Interestingly enough, the word here for “assembly” in Greek is synagogue.
The first man has on a gold ring and “goodly apparel.” The second is a poor man
in “vile raiment.”
or “respect of persons” is shown to the first man (v. 3). James says, “And ye have
respect unto him that weareth the gay [stylish, expensive] clothing” and you
find him a prominent and comfortable place to sit, saying, “Sit thou here in a
On the other hand, the
poor man is told, “Stand thou there or sit here under my footstool” (v. 3).
When I read this I
thought of some of the old colonial era Episcopal churches in Virginia, like the
Bruton Parish church in Williamsburg, where the wealthiest families would pay
an annual fee to rent their pews. The more money you paid the closer you could
sit to the front, if not so much to hear the sermon, as to be near the stove in
winter! If you were a poor man, however, you had to stand at the back, and if
you were a slave you had to sit in the gallery (not a balcony).
Before we judge either
the ancient Jewish Christians whom James addressed or the early Americans of
Williamsburg, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we too are prone
to offer preferential treatment to someone who might come into the church whom
we might think will be able to help us financially or with respect to prestige?
Do we cater to the impressive professional who might visit us with what looks
like a solid intact family, a happy marriage, well-mannered children, etc. Do
we size them up and say, “Wow, they might really be able to help us!”?
On the other hand, do
we sigh when someone comes in whom we might perceive to be a liability, who
might need to take more than he can give, who might tax our patience and
stretch our generosity to the breaking point?
If we are a healthy
church, I think God will send us, and we will welcome with open arms, both
kinds of people. But James is warning us not to favor one of these over
If Christ received us
when we were poor sinners, we should show no “respect of persons” to any man.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle