14 November 2013

James 2:1-7

“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” (v. 1)


James speaks out against partiality and favouritism. Even if the example given in verses 2-4 is hypothetical or exaggerated, these things must have been a feature in the Christian community he knew. Verse 7 suggests that the Christians have been persecuted by wealthy people, and a result of this is that the wealthy are deferred to in an unhealthy way. A way, moreover, that is not appropriate for those who believe in Jesus Christ. (Verse 1 is the only reference to Christ in the letter apart from a mention of his name in the greeting in James 1:1, and has caused some to suggest that the letter is actually a piece of Jewish writing 'baptized' for Christian use by adding these Christian references. Against that, it must be said that the whole letter is permeated with the spirit and teaching of Jesus.)

The attitude expressed in these verses of chapter 2 follows on from James' definition of "pure and undefiled" religion in James 1:27, which emphasises practical care for the needy and distancing oneself from the standards of the world. In the world the rich and powerful are given greater honour than the poor. But this is not the way that the followers of Christ should behave.

We can make comparisons with James' example and the behaviour of Christians throughout the years. It is easy to judge people by appearances, by accent, by skin colour, and it can be hard for visitors to a church to be accepted, if they are different to the majority of the congregation.

It looks as if those referred to as 'poor' are physically poor, or else the contrast between them and those with gold rings and fine clothes would not make sense. But in some aspects of Jewish thought people who were particularly pious were described as 'poor' because of their dependence on God. This is possibly a way of understanding verse 5, with its echoes of the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the poor in sprit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven".

To Ponder

  • Have you ever experienced this kind of partiality in the life of the church? If so, what can you do about it?
  • In what ways do some of your actions conflict with a belief in Jesus Christ? How might you change this?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.