James described a situation that I'm sure has happened many times over the centuries. It still happens today; it's just a little more disguised. A rich man and a poor man enter the assembly. It should be noted that it is impossible to keep from recognizing differences in people, and it is not inherently wrong to notice differences. Sin takes place when one's actions emphasize those differences. For instance, the clothing on the first man suggested great wealth--he wore lots of expensive jewelry and fine clothing. The poor man wore shabby clothes. Perhaps he found them after someone had thrown them away; perhaps his clothes were dirty or smelled foul.
A modern day illustration of this might look something like this. A man arrives in the church parking lot in a $40,000 car, and he enters the building wearing a very expensive suit. Everyone goes out of their way to greet him and make him feel welcome. However, a second man enters the assembly, and he's what some would call a street person. He's wearing clothes that were probably given to him. He hasn't shaved or bathed in quite a while. His appearance and aroma leave something to be desired. Now, it is impossible not to notice the physical differences between these two men, but if you treat them differently based on these differences, then you have shown favoritism or partiality; that is, you've sinned! We run to the rich man because we think he deserves our attention. He could really help the church out with all of his money, so we'd better be extra nice to him and make him happy. We avoid the poor man because we think he can't do anything for us anyway. He'll just be a burden on us; he's only here for a handout. He should've just stayed with "his own kind." Friends, if you find yourself thinking this way, you need to repent!
Let me drive the point home by saying it again: God doesn't show partiality based on physical circumstances! I Samuel 16:7 teaches - "The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." Jesus shed as much blood for the rich man as He did for the poor man! He died for the white man just like He died for the black man! He gave His life for men and for women! For us to show favoritism based on physical characteristics is ungodly! It shows spiritual immaturity and a lack of understanding for that which is truly important--not the physical, but the spiritual--the heart of a person!
James gets to the heart of the issue in verse 4. When a person shows partiality, they are basically judging with evil thoughts. Now, we know that according to John 7:24, we are commanded to judge righteously, but judging based on physical appearances is anything but righteous! God doesn't do it, and neither should we!
I read recently about a preacher who was told by a member of a particular congregation that although he delivered good lessons, he didn't wear a nice enough suit to work with them. Can you believe it? I know personally of an eldership that instructed the preacher to focus his evangelistic efforts on the doctors and lawyers in town and not waste time on the "deadbeats." That is both sad and sinful! Partiality of this sort is wicked! May we always remember that every soul is precious in God's eyes. We need to try to save every soul! We must not show favoritism based on physical differences!