I recently started reading a book called Live Not by Lies by Rod Dreher. It is a phenomenal book about Christian dissidence in the face of totalitarianism. Rod Dreher interviewed many people who escaped from communist regimes. He asked a Russian Orthodox man why the people fell for the Bolsheviks propaganda. The man explained that not only the government but also the corrupt church leaders treated the rich with superiority and the poor as barely human. The Russians were ready for a change since they found no relief in the society nor the church. Unfortunately, the change was not for the better.
This struck me so deeply as I prepared to write this blog. When Christians take justice out of God’s hands and into our own, we are not only forsaking being a refuge from the world, but also turing people away from God. We are standing with evil to usher in greater evil. Partiality may not seem like it is a huge sin like murder or rape, but it is in fact sin. It is a sin that can grow to rejection of God and accepting horrible ideologies. It is a sin that can lead to the horrors of what happened in soviet Russia. It is a sin that is not to be trifled with.
James in this next section speaks against the sin of partiality. We would do well to take heed and check our hearts to make sure that we are not partaking in this sin. We don’t know what horrors could be brought in due to our partaking in favoritism.
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 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, and you pay attention to the one who wears 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,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
James starts his argument for not showing partiality with an example. In this example, the Christians usurp God’s place as judge and take it upon themselves to make distinctions between people of economic and social status. They treat the rich with superior status and the poor as inferior. God calls this judgment evil. Truly it is. In 1 Samuel 16:7 God says, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” James states that it is the poor that actually inherit the kingdom of heaven and the rich who oppress Christians. Rank and wealth shouldn’t be our measuring stick for judgment. The God of the universe is the only one who can accurately judge.
Before we move on to the next passage, I think that some distinctions need to be made. If not thought through, it seems as if James is promoting a Marxist ideology: the rich are always the oppressors and bad and the poor are always the oppressed and good. It seems as if he’s saying that only the poor can be saved. If we follow that to it’s logical conclusion, we should never try to free people from poverty or they would lose their salvation. And no rich person could ever be saved. This is simply not true.
Marxism is not a biblical worldview. Jesus said it is very hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, but not impossible (Matthew 19:23-24). After saying this to His disciples, they asked who then can get into heaven. Jesus replied in Matthew 19:26, “With man it is impossible, but with God all this are possible.” This gives us insight into why James says it’s the poor who will be saved: because the poor are more likely to rely heavily on God than the rich who are self sufficient. The biblical worldview is not that the rich are bad and the poor are good but rather that we are all bad and only God is good. Those who recognize this and do not rely solely on themselves will be saved.
Across the board, partiality is wrong. It is a sin that separates up from God. When we participate in it, we are prideful and think we know how to judge and execute justice better than God does. We should expect the world to behave this way, but it is a tragedy when the church mimics worldly behavior. We cannot show favoritism because someone is of a higher rank or economic status. We also cannot swing in the opposite direction and hate the rich. Both are wrong. And both lead to horrific consequences as seen in totalitarian societies. We must advocate for a biblical worldview.
But if you fulfill the royal law according to scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” If you do not commit adultery bug Do murder, you have become a transgressors of the law. So speak and act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
In this passage, James refers verses in the Torah, which is Jewish audience would know well, while expanding upon them through the work of Jesus. First, he referenced Leviticus 19:18 when he said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This isn’t some modern “self love” notion of loving yourself before others, but rather, it expects that people take certain care of themselves and it should be done unto others as we do unto ourselves. When we care for others, regardless of their socioeconomic status or race or any other differences, we are doing as God commands of us. If we don’t love others as ourselves, we are sinning, and this isn’t to be taken lightly.
Next James refers to the Ten Commandments when he states that we aren’t to commit adultery or murder (Exodus 20:1-17). The Ten Commandments each are smaller, individual parts of a whole. Say there are ten boards that make up a table. Only one board may break, but we would consider the whole table as broken. It is the same with God’s law. We don’t have to break every command to still be broken. We may never cheat or lie or worship idols or murder anyone, but if we simply show partiality, which is not loving other correctly, we still broke God’s law.
Because of this, James implores us to live under the liberty of God’s law. It may sound odd that there is liberty in a bunch of rules but to the Christian, it makes perfect sense. Jesus came not to abolish the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments but to fulfill them. Because of His grace and mercy and sacrifice, we are liberated from our sin. We are not free from obedience to God, rather we are free to live in obedience unchained from our sins. We can serve God more fully because of His grace and the Holy Spirit within us. Because we have found liberty in Christ, how much more should we help others be liberated instead of oppressed!
God showed us mercy; in turn, we need to show mercy to others. This can’t be underrated. An evidence of our Christianity should be a readiness towards mercy. The world is not like this. The world is quick to judge and condem. The Christian, while it is necessary to make biblical judgments, should be quick to love and show mercy. This is a mark of being christlike. Instead of taking Jesus’s place as judge, the church should be a place of refuge from the ever changing standards of culture and a place where all people of all status can find mercy.
In Live Not by Lies, Rod Dreher states that we in America are entering into a form of soft totalitarianism. The world is sick of partiality and is looking for a solution. We as Christians know the only real solutions to this and all other moral problems is found in the Triune God. Yet, we will never convince the world of this if we are showing partiality in the church just as was seem in the first century and prior to the Bolshevik revolution. Partiality to the rich or white people or those of great status is not going to work. It also will still be sin is it swings the other way and the poor, marginalized, and people of color are held as better than others. We all need to love our neighbor and show mercy. No one gets a pass from this command. We need to take this seriously. Possibly future of our country and most certainly the future of our souls depend on it.