I think it is common to judge people based on appearances. One looks at a man wearing an expensive suit and carrying a brief case and judges that he is likely a wealthy businessman. We tell others a little about ourselves by the way we dress. We express interests, finances, and even confidence by the way we present ourselves.
But if we let the judgment affect the way we think about or treat the other person, then we are sinning. Treating a person poorly or well based on our impression is prejudice. Bias leads nowhere good. James had something to say about the subject as well. Verses 1-4 read,
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in,3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
It is too easy to see a person, assume he is affluent and treat him a bit better than everyone else. It is almost natural to offer him greater respect than others. It is just as easy to discount the poor man, to not pay him much attention, and in that way disrespect him. In God’s eyes, they are both worthy of the same respect. We are supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves, not some, but all. We are to show everyone that same favor.
Consider this as well. We are supposed to build one another up, encourage each other, and meet each other’s needs. Chances are the rich man has an easier life than the poor man. It was probably easier for him to get to church, his needs are not so hard to meet. Faith is easy for him since he has probably had fewer struggles. Although we can’t and shouldn’t assume that. But the poor man almost certainly has had many struggles, has a difficult time getting his needs met, and his faith is exercised much more often than that of many of us. He really deserves our admiration. Both men deserve equal treatment. If favoritism were going to be showed at all, it might be just to offer the respect and a respite for the poor man so that he is brought up to the same level as the rich man. What has the rich man ever done to earn our deference? The wealthy, especially the very wealthy who had few trials in their lives do not have to lean on God and they have a hard time making Jesus their Lord. Making Jesus his Master means putting money, power, and reputation out of his heart. Jesus said it is really hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:22-24). He needs our love in order to be able to do that. Verses 5-7 put it like this,
“Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?”
We are supposed to love everyone without bias, just like God does. God gave Peter a vision to teach him that lesson. In Acts 10:34-35 Peter said, “…Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all),”
We are supposed to go out of our way to show esteem for one another. Romans 12:9-13 reads,
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
Showing partiality regardless which way it goes, is ungodly and therefore sinful. James doesn’t try and sweeten his message. It is plain that it is sin. It goes against the second of the commands Jesus told us was the crux of the entire law. Verses 8-9 say,
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
James wasn’t kidding around. Treating some well and others inadequately is sin. It is also often done in order to look good. Treating the congressman like a king can get us some points in the world. But treating the homeless man like a king doesn’t get us any advantages. If we are trying to gain benefits by our actions that is bad news. Our actions are meant to be expressions of our faith and love. God loves everyone, not just the rich, or only the poor, or merely the Jew, or only the Greek. Gaining rewards by our deeds is an attempt to keep the law. Looking good to the world is trying to keep the law. Verses 10-11 read,
“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”
Forget about how you look to the world when it comes to loving your neighbor. Love him as God loves him, not because he is a well-to-do influential man, but because he is a man created by and loved by God. We were saved by grace. We have been showered with mercy. We have grace and mercy to spare. We are free to do it. God wants a relationship with both the destitute and prosperous. He wants the priest and the prostitute to know Him. We are free to show love to all. We don’t have to worry about anyone defiling our buildings with their sin. We do not have to be concerned with anyone corrupting our temples or our souls because Jesus blood sanctified us. We don’t have to kowtow to money because we know God provides for us.
Verses 12-13 say,
“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
So my fellow believers and followers of our King and Lord Jesus, I encourage you today to examine yourself and see if you are showing partiality in your dealings with people. Are you out doing yourself and others in order to show honor to one another? I exhort you to go out of your way and love all your neighbors, regardless of appearance, regardless of bank account, and regardless of any of our perceptions.