The Expository Files



The Sin of Partiality

The Rich and the Poor in the book of James #2

James 2:1-13


One with a “pure and undefiled religion” will look for opportunities to serve the needy and the distressed (James 1:27). The truly religious one will seek out the distressed widow or orphan and see after their needs. They do this because they are motivated by a deep reverence for God and a love for their neighbor. It’s not about attention or accolades, in fact if no one else ever knew of the deeds, the one with a pure and undefiled religion would be just as eager to serve those mourning. Immediately following this picture of pure and undefiled religion, there is

an illustration of a religion that is anything but pure and undefiled. It is a religion that is driven by “evil motives” and greed. It is a religion far too easy to practice and commonly found among people claiming allegiance to Jesus. The instructions in James 2 are sharp and cutting and those who belong to Christ need to take them to heart.


“My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ

with an attitude of personal favoritism” (James 2:1)


This is a simple, straightforward command that serves as a contrast to the description of “pure and undefiled religion”. It is stated as directly as any instruction in the New Testament can be stated. The command is illustrated by the treatment of two men visiting an assembly of God’s people, one rich and one poor. What takes place in the gathering is not the only realm where partiality can be shown. It is merely one illustration of this sin. Personal favoritism or partiality

describe a motivating factor of why people treat other people the way that they do. Their actions are not based upon a higher standard, instead they are based upon what one perceives he can get out of it. If you have something to offer me, I will treat you with respect and show you honor, but if not, I will not have much to do with you. One can not hold their faith in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ and be partial at the same time, because a faith in Jesus demands that we love our

neighbor as ourself (2:8). It is tragic that in all the environments where partiality can be shown, the assembly of God’s people is one of them. Two men come into the assembly, a poor man and rich man. Their status is evidenced by their apparel. Since everyone knows that clothes make the man, the rich man receives special attention. He receives special attention and is treated as an honored guest.

One with his status is warmly welcomed into the midst of the assembly. Meanwhile, the poor man is disregarded and there is only room for him on the floor. Certainly there will be some acknowledgment of the poor man, yet without a word he is sent a message that he is out of place and he will likely not return. For this reason, some brethren may say the poor man has a heart problem and is too sensitive, while God will say to those brethren you have “become judges with evil motives”. It is a scary thing to reject someone God has “chosen” (2:5). David

refused to strike the Lord’s anointed. Jesus taught us that rejecting one of His chosen messengers is to reject the Lord Himself (Luke 10:16). The Jews rejected God’s choice cornerstone when they crucified Jesus (1 Pt 2:6). When we show partiality we are essentially doing exactly what the Jews did to Jesus as we disregard someone God has chosen. Since the Lord desires “all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4) we must treat all men with the understanding that God wants them to be part of His kingdom. They have value based upon being created in God’s image with the purpose to serve Him. There is simply nothing else about their achievements or lot in life that add or take away from the intrinsic value that a person possesses. The servant of God will not base their treatment of another based upon any worldly criteria nor greed.


Partiality is often a subtle or quiet sin that can easily be overlooked and quickly excused. It can almost be viewed as a little sin because the fruit of partiality may simply be “looking the other way” and not “noticing” someone. Is it really a big deal to be partial? The answer is clear when we ask the question “what law do we break when we show partiality?” James 2:8-11 shows us that the partial one will be in violation of the “royal law” which is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. A partial person might never kill any one or commit adultery, yet James points out that the partial person violates the same law as the adulterer and murderer. The problem with the adulterer and murderer is their violation of the second greatest command. The problem with the partial person is the same. Furthermore, it can be easy to never actually murder someone or to never commit adultery, but to actually love your neighbor as yourself is a challenging demanding law that requires much more compliance then merely the avoidance of severe mistreatment. It requires that you treat people selflessly and fairly. It will be shown as we develop the character

of Jesus Christ. God shows no partiality (Galatians 2:6). To God, it doesn’t matter whether you are “Abraham our father” or “Rahab the Harlot” (2:21, 2:25) you will be justified by Him only when you have a faith that works.


Class struggles are not new. The division between the rich and the poor is just as prevalent today as it was in James day. preferential treatment will almost always be shown to those who have something worldly to offer. Among God’s people the class barriers between rich and poor must be broken down, demolished and have no part in our interactions with each other. Yet we often see someone who is “presentable” or possesses talent or money and we get excited at the prospect that they join our congregation. When we relate to those inside or outside the faith we

are to treat them based upon what God desires for them, not what we desire for ourselves. This challenge is one way serious minded disciples demonstrate themselves to be followers of Christ. We must challenge ourselves by asking ourselves hard questions like what motivates my treatment of others? What tempts me to show partiality? Do I love my neighbor as myself?


Asking questions like these is fundamentally important for us to be what the Lord has caused us to be. If one desires to have a pure and undefiled religion, there will be no partiality in their character.


 By Nathan Quinn
From Expository Files 23.7; July 2016