Read James 2:1-4. It is, among other things, a study in contrasts. One person is rich, well dressed, and, apparently, important, while the other is poor, shabbily dressed and, apparently, a nobody. One receives the utmost courtesy, the other disdain. One is offered a comfortable, prominent seat; the other is told to stand off to the side or find a place on the floor.
The description is not a very pretty one, especially because it is depicted (potentially at least) as happening in a worship service! The Greek word for
assembly in verse 2 is synagoge, probably an early reference to a Jewish-Christian Sabbath service, many of which would have taken place in private homes (see Acts 18:7-8).
In the Greco-Roman culture of the first century, one’s public image and position were all important. Those with wealth, education, or political influence were expected to use these assets to enhance their reputation and benefit their personal interests. Any large gift to public or religious projects obligated the receiver to reciprocate to the giver in some way. Kindness was repaid with loyalty and generosity with public appreciation. The few upper-class people who attended Christian services expected privileged treatment. To ignore these expectations would have brought disgrace on the church. A failure to be
politically corrector to reject societal values was a recipe for offense and a cause for division.
It is not a sin to be poor or rich, but one barometer of our Christian experience is how we treat people who are different from us in age, wealth, education, and even religious convictions. We tend to give more respect to those we perceive as
above us on the social ladder and less respect to those
below. We must remember that it is easy to get pulled into convention even though God calls us to be different (see Rom. 12:2).
Let’s face it: we might not be as open and as crass about it as James depicted, but are we not all easily susceptible to playing favorites? How can we learn to recognize this problem in ourselves and, ultimately, deal with it?