Show No Partiality
I remember when I was serving as pastor that my wife would occasionally send me on errands to the store. At this particular church, I usually wore a suit during the week. Like most men, I don’t like spending time in stores; unlike most men, I don’t mind asking directions. This means that if I can’t find something expeditiously, I don’t mind asking an associate to find it for me. I noticed on some occasions that when I did this, associates would treat me with more deference than usual. I couldn’t figure out why until one day it hit me—the suit! Imagine. I was treated with more respect by people simply for wearing a suit than when I wore blue jeans.
This story helps elucidate how vain we are as people and the vanity of outward show. We are so taken by appearances. Indeed, we are so taken by dress that we will even judge a person’s character thereby. Granted, there are inappropriate ways of dressing ourselves, but that is not what James speaks of here. James addresses the sin of partiality whereby we treat people differently on the basis of dress assuming that the finer the clothing the better the person. We may also suppose that the richer the person, the greater the hope for a benefactor. Meanwhile the one dressed in rags is shoved aside since we have no hope that he will further our church’s fortunes in anyway, indeed, may even drain precious resources which could be used for…oh, pew cushions.
But James even takes matters a step beyond that: “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?” And, “Are not the rich the 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 are called?” Now I have known generous rich people and lazy poor people. But it is certainly true now as it was then that the movers and shakers of our society are those elite who blaspheme God’s name and treat Christians with contempt. And it is also true that churches are full of “little people”; that is, people who earn an honest living and serve their churches faithfully. But we must ever be watchful of this wicked tendency in ourselves to judge by appearances and remember what God said to Samuel: “For the Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). May we search our own hearts that we not be taken by appearances and so discount a brother or sister who could teach us much about how to be rich in what truly matters—faith.