Oh, we know this one! We have heard preachers and teachers preach and teach it if our parents took us to a Christian church. Even if your parents did not raise you to be a Christian, your mom or dad probably taught you to be kind to every person.
James, as the head of the Jerusalem church, led the Jewish Christian people. He understood and knew the Jewish Christians understood of the laws of God, how they affected one’s relationship with God and with one’s relationship with other people. That is how the Ten Commandments are divided. Taking care of the poor, widow, orphan, and alien is a big part of the Old Testament Jewish laws. Moses spoke about them many times in Deuteronomy.
Still, the Jews considered the poor unclean and not to be touched. With the arrival and teaching of Jesus Christ came a closer understanding of caring for one’s neighbor. One Pharisee asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered him with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). The man answered the question for himself after the parable. The man stated the neighbor was the one who had mercy toward another man. Whether Jew, Greek, gentile, Roman, Samaritan, Jesus’ point was that a neighbor is anyone you meet. Considering whom Jesus called a neighbor, we must realize then when Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” He meant to treat them with mercy – treat them as you want to be treated. The Jews understood helping a person with physical needs.
James went deeper in this passage. He told them not to show partiality among the people who enter the church/assembly to worship. Do not give the better seat to the rich and clean person and make the poor and dirty stand at the back or sit on the floor. Do not give preferential treatment. Showing bias like that is a heart action. Prejudice is a bias of the heart. When Jesus came to earth, He taught attitudes are to be changed as much as actions. He told the people what is on the outside of a person is not what makes him unclean, but what comes from the inside (Matthew 15:11). From within a person comes a person’s attitude, which determines the person’s actions. When a person becomes a believer in Jesus Christ, His Holy Spirit indwells the person and changes the person from within so that the heart becomes changed.
When James told the Jewish Christians not to show partiality to the rich and give the poor the lowest place, he reminded them of what Jesus taught that everyone is their neighbor and they were to show mercy. James directed their thoughts to consider their actions in church towards another person just as important as their actions outside of church. The Jewish Christians and all Christians are to love everyone and show mercy at all times whether in church or out. James told them showing partiality was a sin and any sin, no matter which one, made them transgressors of the whole law. God will judge the person who sins, whether in adultery, murder, prejudice, or against any of the other laws of God. For those who do not show mercy, James said God would show no mercy to them either.
Following Jesus requires 100% obedience and love of Him and every person. Whether a person is in church or living in his or her daily life outside church, the love Jesus showed to him or her and the love of the Father must be lived out within his or her life. Prejudice for gain or for supposed “religious” purposes is sin. To combat this, we each need to examine our own hearts, ask the Lord to show us our sin, confess it, and ask for the strength of the Spirit to empower us to overcome it. In this way, we can show the love of God and His mercy to everyone we encounter, not just people like ourselves.