Sermon on James 2:1-9 – “The Sin of Person Respecting”

Sermon on James 2:1-9 – “The Sin of Person Respecting”

Sermon for Sunday Evening, April 7, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Sermon Text

[Jas 2:1-9 ESV] 1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 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, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the 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,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 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? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? 8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.


There are many videos out there of pastors dressed as homeless men to test their congregations. I’ve seen both positive responses and negative responses. There are, it seems, many pastors who have pulled the same stunt. Not that it is a bad thing. But I think one pastor a few years ago was the first to do this and now there are copycats.

I don’t think I’ll ever pull that stunt. For one, our church is so small, my absence and my alter-ego’s presence will be as obvious a switch as Superman and Clark Kent. Then, also, my beard at times looks quite frazzled. So my disguise may not be so conspicuous.

Well, in one video, the pastor has a large fake beard and tattered clothes and he sits outside the church. He comes up to the pulpit, takes off his disguise and preaches. With emotional music playing on the video it really “gets” you. He explains that he sat outside a number of their campuses. It must be a large church. And He says, as part of his message, “I cannot believe the people of this church, the number of people that prayed with me and brought me coffee.” And he shows a video of that happening over and over. This is the “good” video of this happening.

But in another case, a negative one, the pastor dressed as a homeless man goes into the church and sits in the back and generally gets no acknowledgment of his existence from his congregation. And while there is sometimes a good excuse for not speaking with someone — the time isn’t right, or a person has a social anxiety condition, etc. — the video made it clear that many people purposely ignored the incognito pastor.

And that is the sin we want to explore this evening. It is called “person respecting.” We should be aware of it, and not fall into it.

As for the term, it can be confusing. It is GOOD to give respect to others. To be kind to all and to treat all as created in the image of God. But “person respecting” is something different. It is respecting or favoring only SOME persons; the wealthy, the popular, those who may benefit you in some way, but ignoring or even disrespecting others.

The clearest passage on our subject is the sermon text, James 2:1-9.

It teaches us at least three things:

I. Show No Partiality

II. Do Not Judge with Evil Thoughts

III. Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

I. Show No Partiality (vs. 1-3)

1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 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, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the 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,

You have to wonder if, back in the day when churches had “rented pews” if they ever read this verse!

I talked about this in a sermon once before. The idea of churches funding themselves not through tithes and offerings but through Pew rents. And the rich had the nice pews in the front so that they could be seen. Praise God that we don’t do that anymore.

Church is for everybody!

And the church world has gone a long way with clothing as well. You can come to church wearing your normal clothing; you don’t need a suit and tie. I actually think at times that it goes to far; its nice to wear respectable clothing, not to wear shorts and sandals to church unless perhaps it is extremely hot outside or you’re at a beach service in the Bahamas.

But whatever the clothing style and practice of the day, we should not show partiality.

If we have a downtrodden hiker here, even smelling like a hiker, let us be glad. And let us listen to them and pray for them. And if we have someone “big and famous” come in, let us treat them the same. I know Lou Dobbs lives not that far from here some of the time. I always wonder whether he might come in someday. I’m not entirely sure if I would recognize him.

Now, one other thing on this point. Verse 3. It opposes saying “You stand over there.”

There were times in history when slaves and their own section. It was said to them, “You stand over there” or “You sit over there.” That’s just terrible. You again have to wonder if anyone read these verses.

Perhaps we should remember first and foremost that the assembly of the brethren is “the church of Jesus Christ.” It is not a church of me or of you, it is a church of all who believe. And we better welcome unbelievers as well, if we want to see them to hear the Gospel and become believers.

Now, another way not to be a respecter of persons:

We don’t vote to do things in a church according to what the wealthiest person wants, but according to the truth of God. This is what we find in Deuteronomy 16:19

[Deu 16:19 ESV] 19 You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous.

So don’t let wealth or status or anything else distract you from truth. We are to be guided by the truth, not other considerations. Even if the truth causes you to lose friendships, it is best to follow the truth.

It is just as wrong to say to the poor man “you sit over there” as it is to say to the rich man “You sit here in a good place,” It is like saying “We have a great spot for you here and we’re going to listen to you.” That too is a sin.

II. Do Not Judge with Evil Thoughts (4-7)

Next James says, that if we do show partiality the we have “made distinctions among ourselves and become judges with evil thoughts.”

He puts it in a question, but it is a rhetorical question, with the obvious answer “yes, that would be judging with evil thoughts.”

And that’s what is meant when it is said “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” This is not about judgment in general. We MUST judge well through all of life’s decisions. But the judging we are not to do is this “judging with evil thoughts” – disrespecting or disregarding people who have not sinned in being poor, of another race, or whatever their difference or perceived difference may be.

Such is to judge with evil thoughts.

And it is to oppose God, for God show great favor on the poor. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” The poor figure prominently and positively in the parables of Jesus. So to have partiality against them is to oppose that which God has favored; the poor and their salvation. So it is an evil thought – opposition to God – to despise the poor.

Let us rather take a Biblical approach. How are we to respond to such persons? Well, it is easy. We have a Biblical law for how to respond to ALL people. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Biblical way is straightforward. No calculation necessary. Not exceptions needed. Love your neighbor — all your neighbors—as yourself.

III. Love Your Neighbor as Yourself (8-9)

This is the greater teaching upon which “not respecting persons” then hangs. It is the base reason why we are to not disrespect some; for we are to love all.

But it has a particular group in mind.

This isn’t just a general love of your neighbor. It is not just saying “love your neighbor,” that average person who you otherwise might not even interact with, but love even the difficult cases. The poor, the conversationally un-stimulating, the people who look different, act different, smell different, or have whatever difference it is from you. ALL person are to be loved; and all are to be welcomed to the church.

I’ve had people tell me that they’ll visit a church, and no one will talk to them and they leave and that’s that. (and they are not dressed as homeless or anything else noticeable) But that should never happen. All people should be recognized and welcomed into a church. The pastor (and others) should remember their visit, pray for them, follow up with them, and want them to come back to church.

Now, our text explicitly says that “person respecting” is a sin. It says “if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

So what is a sinner to do? They are to repent. They are to confess their sin and turn from it; turning to Jesus Christ in faith.

Imagine if Jesus Christ were a respecter of persons. We’d all be in trouble. None of us would make the cut. We are all way below him; sinners, poor and miserably. What would he have to do with us. But he loved us anyways. He welcomed us anyways into his church. Praise God that Jesus is not a respecter of persons.

We have this statement in explicitly in Acts 10:34 — So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality,

That is the ESV.

Our term, is more old-fashioned, but still good. From the KJV. The same verse says:

[Act 10:34 KJV] 34 Then Peter opened [his] mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:

In the context we understand that it means that the chosen of God are among both Jew and Gentile. None are unclean who have been washed in the blood of the lamb and have faith in Christ.

This teaching about God is repeated in Ephesians 6:8-9

[Eph 6:8-9 ESV] 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

So your race or tribe does not impress God, nor bar you from coming to Him. Neither does your wealth, your status, or anything else. Even “bondservants,” SLAVES!, people who have nothing in the world, can have Jesus Christ. Wow, what a Gospel this is.

God is not a respecter of persons and neither should we be.

We’ve actually seen this teaching in our morning series on the book of 1 Samuel. There, in chapter 16 it reads:

[1Sa 16:7 ESV] 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

God is not a respecter of persons and neither should we be.

Now this seems like an easy thing, right?

Nobody’s racist anymore, right?

Everyone knows that poor people need help, right?

Everyone knows that we are to love one another, especially in the church, right?

Well, sadly this is not a reality that is fully embraced. I have seen “respecters of persons” in my time. It shows that sin remains in them, as sin does remain even in all Christians. But sin is not to be celebrated but to be eradicated. Sin is to be mortified, as the confession says, to be killed.

Some practical advice.

That person you are unsure of … TRY to get to know them. When the Scriptures say “love your neighbor as yourself” it doesn’t allow “avoid them” as a possibility. We are to POSITIVELY love others. Not only “not being mean” but actually being nice.

And loving others as you love yourself means SO MUCH MORE than just being nice.

Do they need work? Help them find it?

Do they need a friend, be it.

Do they need guidance in the word, encourage them. Read with them.

And if you come across a respecter of persons, especially in a church, what are you to do?

You know, what is interesting about the Matthew 18 idea on “if your brother sins against you…” what is interesting is that it doesn’t give you the option NOT to address the sin. You ARE TO tell him of the sin.

Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”

If you don’t tell others of their sin, they might not know of, and they will not be able to correct it. And Christians should want to correct their sin.

If they don’t listen, Matthew 18 continues:

16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Sadly, the unrepentant sinner, the unrepentant “respecter of persons” leads themselves out of the church. They refuse to deal with their own sin.

James, if we continue to 1 more verse passed our text, says this “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”

Some months back my family would watch Little House on the Prairie, and while there wasn’t an episode exactly like what I’m envisioning in my mind, I think it is a fitting setting. Say you have some churchgoer, like Mrs. Olsen of the General Store. Say she goes to church every Sunday, says her prayers, obeys the 10 commandments. But if all the while she thinks she is better than others and won’t associate with them or allow them to sit by her at church, then that is fitting with the villain character she often has on the show.

So how can we conclude this sermon? I like to end on a positive note, even when the subject is sin.

Let us reflect on the beauty that is a true church; the people of God in harmony.

Proverbs 22:1 says “The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the maker of them all.”

And we can say “The Jew and the Gentile meet together.”

All people meet together in the house of the Lord. And in heaven, like in Revelation, there is the multitude form every tribe, tongue, and nation. And surely every economic status. And they are TOGETHER. Let us all be together, not taking sides but siding with the Lord. And so we shall all sing together “We are on the Lord’s side.”