My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
I remember a leadership meeting about 20 years ago when I nearly lost it. We were discussing a very tough issue that had come up in the congregation between two members. One of them was a well-to-do businessman and the other was a guy going through tough financial times. Both had a point in their favor, but neither was entirely right either and they had brought their dispute to the leadership. As you might guess, the dispute was about money. Of the two, I thought that the second man was in the stronger position than the wealthier man because he had documents that backed up much of his story…. and I pointed this out to the others; they were horrified. “Rich guy gives $250. a week and Poor Guy barely $20., we can’t go against Rich Guy; we can’t afford it” was the preacher’s response. I was now horrified, and that horror turned to anger very quickly and I nearly lost my cool. I should point out here in all fairness, that this was way out of character for that preacher who was mortified at his own behavior the next morning. I guess we all have those times…
James has moved back to wealth in his discussion of the Christian life, and in this passage he points to something that must have happened often enough in the early church to be an issue: favoritism.
Look at his example here of a rich guy being shown the best seat in the place and the poor guy having no place at all to sit in the assembly. His remark that this is showing discrimination in the church is obvious, and will come up again, but his comment that they have “become judges with evil thoughts” is a disturbing one. What do you suppose the “evil thoughts” were? From the context, it would seem to have something to do with the love of money, the desire to be seen with the right crowd and the assumption that the man of lesser means must be less worthy of respect. As this passage continues, it will become clear that this is very wrong thinking indeed.
Oh, I never finished the story! Our discussion became a rather lengthy debate, the most heated debate I’ve ever seen in all of my time in church leadership, but we did arrive at a solution. We split the bill between us and gave the money to Rich Guy; peace was restored… Then one day about four months later Rich Guy found out that we had paid his bill and he became very angry. He had gotten his money, but not his way, and that wasn’t acceptable. He and his wife found a different church. Even though those were challenging times for the church financially, we survived and flourished. The following year another Rich Guy joined us and one day he made a six figure contribution. The only condition was that we promise to let him know if there was anything he could do to help either the church or its members. Over the following years he never asked for anything, but always gave freely of his money and time. He remained in that congregation until the day he died.
What did I learn from this? I learned that if we remain faithful to God, if we do what is right and place our trust and faith in Him, things will work out just fine in His own good time. I suspect that James had something like this in mind as he wrote this letter.