1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?  2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet,"  4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?  5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?  7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.  11 For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.



  • Favoritism shows itself in courts of law, in social settings and even in church. James mentions the well-dressed dude who enters an assembly (the Greek word here is synagogé) and receives undue attention. When we show favoritism we are unlike God. Instead of being judges with good thoughts, we are judges with evil thoughts. This was the problem James addressed. It is a manifestation of the spirit of the world, ever crouching at the door of the church.
  • The rich were the opponents of the Christians, and they manipulated the law courts to their own ends. In fact, Roman law favored the rich: persons of lower class could not sue persons of a higher class; moreover, penalties were stricter for those of common birth than for the aristocrats. Is it necessary to remind the reader that in most of the world the situation is little changed today?
  • “Money talks.” Hebrew law, in stark contrast, is no respecter of persons. The careful reader will marvel at the all-pervading sense of justice in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the OT). God is just, his laws are just, and this should give us great confidence.
  • Of course God’s justice does not guarantee life will be fair, though ultimately all wrongs will be righted. In fact James himself was executed in 62 AD, the year Festus (Acts 24:27) died, at the hands of the high priest Ananus II. (As in the vein of the book of James, he had been preaching against the rich Jews who were exploiting their brothers.) When James was stoned, the public outcry was tremendous! Indeed James the Just, as he was also called, had many friends in Israel.
  • James urges certain of his brothers not to retaliate and others not to side with the exploiters (2:8-13). These Christians were tempted to be unmerciful. There is a difference between compassion and softness. In a fundamentally unjust and corrupt society, these are the temptations: revolution or compromise, retaliation or connivance, reaction or corruption.
  • “The royal law” which supersedes any law of man (just or unjust) demands that we love our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), no matter who he is or what he may be doing to us. The law is royal because it is the law of our true sovereign, Jesus Christ. It is seldom, if ever, observed outside Jesus Christ and his body on earth, the church of Jesus Christ. Even then, it has often been observed that the saintliest Christians readily admit the difficulty of keeping it.
  • Now ask the man in the street what the most important part of the Bible is and chances are he will say, “The Ten Commandments.” And he would be wrong! The top two commandments are to love God wholeheartedly (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus says explicitly that these are the two most important commands (Matthew 22:34-40). Interestingly, neither is in the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments). What is the mark of true Christianity? Adherence to these two laws, both now viewed through the cross of Christ. That means total commitment and total involvement.
    • Commitment to God as his disciples and involvement with both the saved and the lost in fellowship and evangelism, respectively.
    • As long as we keep these two commands at the top of our priority list, our emphasis will be neither warped nor unbiblical.
  • People are searching for a cause. Unfortunately, ignoring the royal law, which forbids us to act out of anger or to slander our neighbor, many people get involved in reactionary groups.
    • For example, while the feminist movement makes many valuable points. Yet those who make them sometimes discredit the cause. Thus this has often movement been fueled by resentment. Human rights and women’s rights are great things, but when the horizons of a person’s thinking are dominated by worldly thinking (i.e. “I want my rights and I want them now!”), this is not “the wisdom that comes from heaven” (see James 3:17).
    • Environmental concern is a Christian responsibility, but would you consider it legitimate to forcibly oppose those who disagree? From a biblical viewpoint, while nature and environment are delicately balanced and man is charged to exercise responsible “dominion” over them (Genesis 1:26), they are not the end-all of existence, and only a materialist could think they were. There are other more important causes!
    • Animal rights—yes! (Proverbs 12:10)—but human rights are more important! Many folks are far more concerned with the fate of whales, birds and insects than they are with their literal next-door neighbors. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the world, for the most part, turned a blind eye as over a million humans were wiped out. Had the fate of the 300-400 mountain gorillas of Rwanda been in view, no doubt the international community would have rallied to save them! This is not the royal law. Again, this is not to say Christians may not be concerned about these areas, but if such causes are more important to you than human concerns, your priorities are seriously out of balance and not Christ-like.
    • The Gay Rights Movement is primarily a defensive and reactionary movement, whose members are, as a whole, far, far from “gay.” It’s hard to be happy or fulfilled when your cause is a negative one. The problem is not just that homosexuality is sinful (Romans 1), but the movement as a whole tends to lack goodwill, charity and love, the emphasis being self-justification rather than justification with God through Jesus Christ. Opinion differs among believers about the extent to which political involvement is appropriate, but one thing is certain: when our political allegiance eclipses our Christian allegiance, we are in sin!
    • Anti-abortion protesters make some important points: The fetus is alive, and life has a God-given sanctity. Psalm 139 and other passages make this clear. But who authorized anyone to attack, or even kill, the physician who performs abortions? Is this the way of Jesus Christ? Speak up in the public arena, influencing the system as conscience and opportunity allow. Share your convictions with your friends. But force is most emphatically not the way of God!
    • These and many other movements of man do not fulfill the royal law of God (love for neighbor). They are more often than not fueled by hatred and self-interest. They seldom appeal to the Bible for support, and always minimize the sovereignty of God and his claim to our total allegiance. They reinforce a warped and man-centered world view and must be seen as such by all Bible-believing persons.


  • The "synagogue" (v.2, synagogé), or assembly, reminds us that at this early stage, church and synagogue had not yet broken. The catastrophe of 70AD is still decades away. Yet even then, the break may not be final. In Ignatius letter to Polycarp 4:2 (c.110 AD) the terms are used interchangeably. The Shepherd of Hermas also preserves this state of affairs (43.9,13,14, in Mandate 11).
  • James's words about fine clothes (v.2) deserve some comment. It is part of many church cultures to "dress up" for services. Is this right, or wrong?
  • In James's day, it is clear that most members did not wear "fine" clothes to church meetings. They dressed as they dressed under normal circumstances, perhaps doing their best not to look too shabby. Even today, in most countries Christians, like others, own only one or two sets of clothing. Dressing up is simply not an option.
  • In one sense this is a cultural convention. That is, for different activities people tend to dress in certain ways. The dividing line between descriptive dress codes and proscriptive ones in this sense is fuzzy.
  • In short, the Bible neither commends nor condemns dressing up for church. What is your custom?
  • Though it’s often remarked that we should not “judge,” this is a serious oversimplification of matters. Judging itself is merely drawing a conclusion based on evidence, premises or propositions.
    • In the Scriptures there are at least twelve different types of judging, and certain kinds of judging are prohibited or discouraged, including:
      • Hypocritical judging (Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 2:1)
      • Superficial judging (John 7:24)
      • Judgment in disputable matters (Romans 14:1: Colossians 2:16)
      • Analyzing another’s motives (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)
      • Judging others to be inferior to you or your group (James 2:3-4)
      • Grumbling against a brother (James 5:9)
    • Other types of judging are definitely encouraged:
      • Judging whether someone is receptive to the message (Matthew 7:6)
      • Coming to a correct conclusion (Luke 12:57)
      • Spiritual judgments (1 Corinthians 2:15)
      • Church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)
      • Adjudicating before potential litigation (1 Corinthians 6:5)
      • Being convicted by spiritual worship (1 Corinthians 14:25)
    • Obviously, some forms of judgment belong to God alone:
      • Judgment regarding retribution (Hebrews 10:30)
      • Final judgment (John 12:48, 1 Peter 4:5 )
  • Note: the material for our study of James has been adapted from James, Peter, John, Jude (IPI, 2006). For a complete study of the seven general letters (the epistles from James to Jude), please get a copy of the book.

Thought questions:

  • When are you most tempted to discriminate or show favoritism? Why does this run so counter to the gospel? Are there any ways in which you show greater respect to the more “high profile” Christians than to the “weaker members” who need it even more?
  • How does “mercy triumph over judgment” in the way in which you relate to other people? Are there examples when the opposite occurs?
  • How does the gospel of Jesus go deeper than many well-publicized social movements?