By Randy Dillon
James 2:1-9 "My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come into your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And you 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? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?"
James in his epistle moves in chapter two to deal with an application of how works reveal one's faith. He uses the example of how two different men might be treated when they enter a worship assembly. One is a rich man, well dressed. The other is a poor man who is dressed badly. The issue is how a Christian views each man. If someone allows the exterior looks of a person to determine how that person is treated, they have in effect made a judgment of the worth of that individual based only on the probable wealth that is visible, not on the inherent value of the person.
Notice how the assessment that James refers to results in not just the subjective judgments of the value of the persons, but also in the actual behavior of the believer towards each man. The rich man is invited to sit in a "good" place, that is, a place of honor where he can be seen by others in attendance. But the poor man is not invited, but rather told where to stand. He is not invited to "sit" but instead told to either stand in a certain place or to place himself under the footstool of the observer. The one is elevated, while the other is demeaned. But both appear in the assembly.
This indicates a judgment of partiality based solely on the visible appearance of each man. But note that the partiality belongs solely to the person who is making this judgement. Nothing other than the most basic observable difference between the two men has caused this observer to make a judgement of the eternal value of each man which James concludes is based on evil thoughts not on something far more eternal.
How can this observer know what lies in the heart of both of these men. Is it not possible that the rich man is actually evil towards others, while the poor man is righteous in the sight of God? James seems to indicate that this may indeed be the case. God has chosen to cause the poor of this world to be rich in faith based not on their wealth but rather on their love of God.
Such believers are furthermore heirs of God's kingdom because they love God. But in showing disdain for the poor of this world, the observer has shown that he does not make righteous judgments about people, but rather judges people based on worldly traits, not on how God judges. By exhibiting such judgment, he indicates that his works are not in accord with his stated faith. If his faith leads him to make external evaluations of people based on such elementary observations, can his faith be sincere? In fact, says James, rich people oppress God's chosen and take them to court where they are at a distinct because they are poor.
In the concluding verses of this passage, which are not cited above, James concludes that such rich people blaspheme God's name. Christians should adhere to the "royal law" of loving their neighbor as themselves. They should not be respecters of persons because this is sinful and convicts such a person of the law. Believers are to speak and work in accordance with the "law of liberty" such that the judgment they receive may be based on the mercy they have demonstrated toward others, not the judgments that they have made on worldly values.