One of the temptations to which all human beings are particularly prone is the temptation to view some groups as better than others. It is far too easy to favor some people simply because they have more money or a higher status in the community than others.
This temptation is nothing new. The earliest Christians were also tempted to treat wealthy believers better than poorer ones. In the community that James addressed, the rich were often given preferential treatment despite the fact that it was often wealthy people who shamelessly persecuted the church (James 2:1–7).
Such actions, however, were in violation of James’ exhortation to be doers of the Word (1:22). The original audience that James addressed had professed faith in Christ. But this profession was called into question as they exalted the wealthy believers over the poorer ones. This audience should have known better because they knew the law of God. They should have known that only by truly fulfilling the royal law would they be shown to be true Christians. In showing partiality, they violated this Law (see Lev. 19:15) and thus could possibly have only an empty profession (James 2:8–9).
Today’s passage refers once again to the Law. The last time the Law was mentioned it was called the “law of liberty,” (1:25) and we were exhorted to obey it in order to receive blessing. In 2:8, it is called the “royal law.” In these two titles, James refers to the whole of the law of God, revealed to Moses and then fulfilled in Christ. Christians do well only if they obey the essence of this Law (Matt. 22:36–40).
It is important to note that James is not looking to our obedience as a condition of our salvation. The whole context of chapter 2 makes it clear that our obedience does not accomplish but only evidences our salvation. We will study this in more detail next month. For now we simply note that by showing partiality to the rich, the original audience was revealing that perhaps they were not saved at all. If we do the same and deny the command to love our neighbors as ourselves by showing partiality, then it is possible that we lack God’s grace in our lives.
The law against showing partiality to the wealthy shows up first in Leviticus 19 (v. 15), the same chapter where we read that we must love our neighbors as ourselves (v. 18). Thus, we can see that treating all of our fellow believers equally regardless of their wealth is a fulfillment of the command to love, upon which hangs the entire Law (Matt. 22:36–40). Ask the Lord to enable you to love your fellow Christians, and look for ways you can express your love for the saints today.