Partiality: a Sin Against the Law

Partiality: a Sin Against the Law

Partiality: A Sin Against The Law

(James 2:8–13)


Warren Wiersbe, in his outline of the book of James says that in chapter 1…

The Mature Christian Is Patient In Testing (Ch. 1)

Whereas, in chapter 2…

The Mature Christian Practices The Truth (Ch. 2)

In a message preached at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Howard Hendricks said…

To some, it is thought that James begins a new section in chapter two. I think not. Rather, I see it as a continuation, because there is a very close relationship between receiving the Word and respect of persons. But what if you fail to welcome the Word? What will that produce? James says it will produce an acute case of spiritual snobbery, of partiality, of spiritual pride, of discrimination. … They had developed a distorted perspective toward people. … Their evaluation was on the basis of the material rather than on the basis of the spiritual. Their evaluation was on the basis of the temporal rather than on the basis of the eternal. Their evaluation was on the basis of the external rather than the internal. And the Scripture reminds us, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.”

In the first section of chapter 2, James is talking about discrimination and favoritism in the fellowship of believers. In other words, he warns against practicing partiality in receiving people.

Hendricks indicated that as James deals with this issue in the first section of chapter 2…

The command is given in verses 1through 4. The contrast is given in verses 5 through 7. And the condemnation is given in verses 8 through 13.

Let me suggest that in verses 1 thru 7, because it is plainly prohibited and not seen in the character of God, James indicates that such partiality is a sin against the Lord. In verses 8 thru 13, he indicates that such partiality is a sin against the law.

I read that…

William Pitt, former prime minister of England, once was conversing with one of his guests, when the latter suddenly offered him an apology. “But we have just met,” Pitt remarked in surprise. “That’s just it sir,” said the visitor. “I want to apologize for what I thought of you before we met each other.”


I heard about a man who phoned the church office and asked if he could speak to the head hog at the trough. The secretary said “Who?” The man replied, “I want to speak to the head hog at the trough.” Sure that she heard correctly the secretary said, “ Sir if you mean our pastor you will have to treat him with more respect and ask for the “ Rev,” or the “ pastor,” but certainly you cannot refer to him as the head hog at the trough.” The man responded, “I see. Well, I have 10,000 dollars I was thinking about donating to the building fund.” The secretary exclaimed, “Oh, my hold the line, I think the big pig just walked through the door.” Yes, there are those who discriminate on the basis of resources and will have nothing to do with anyone who is not on their economic level.

Do we treat people with authentic equality? Or do we discriminate against others and show partiality based upon external, superficial factors?

I. James Speaks Of Acceptable Actions In This Section

(James 2:8)

(James 2:8) If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:

J. Vernon McGee paraphrased the idea wrapped up in verse 8 by saying…

If you want to please God, to obey Him, and to discharge your responsibility, James makes it very clear what you are to do: “ Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. ” That is the summation of the whole manward aspect of the Mosaic Law.

Warren Wiersbe said…

James reached back into the Old Testament for one of God’s laws, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ (Leviticus 19:18). In His Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told us that our neighbor is anyone who needs our help (Luke 10:25-37). It is not a matter of geography, but opportunity. The important question is not, “Who is my neighbor?” but “To whom can I be a neighbor?”

Why is “love thy neighbor” called “the royal law”? For one thing, it was given by the King. God the Father gave it in the Law, and God the Son reaffirmed it to His disciples (John 13:34). God the Spirit fills our hearts with God’s love and expects us to share it with others (Romans 5:5). True believers are “taught of God to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9).

But “love thy neighbor” is the royal law for a second reason: it rules all the other laws. “Love is the fulfilling of the Law” (Romans 13:10). There would be no need for the thousands of complex laws if each citizen truly loved his neighbors.

A. Notice The Vital Quality With Regard To This Royal Law

(James 2:8) If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:

1. Consider How These Summarized Words Are Critical

There are several passages that show the critical nature of this “royal law”

(Matthew 22:36-40) Master, which is the great commandment in the law? {37} Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. {38} This is the first and great commandment. {39} And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. {40} On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says of the word “hang” (NT:2910 – krematai)…

The verb has here the figurative sense “to be dependent on.” … The metaphor of Matthew 22:40 makes all other commands depend on the law of love as on a nail. They are not ways of fulfilling this command, nor are they judged by their closeness to it. Rather, this command is their sustaining basis.

(Romans 13:8-10) Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. {9} For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. {10} Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

The Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says that “comprehended” (NT:346 – anakefalaioútai) means…

To sum up (again), to repeat summarily and so to condense into a summary (as, the substance of a speech).

(Galatians 5:13-14) For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. {14} For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

The Strong’s Concordance says that fulfilled means…

fulfilled – Greek 4137. pleroo, play-ro'-o; from G4134; to make replete, i.e. (lit.) to cram (a net), level up (a hollow), or (fig.) to furnish (or imbue, diffuse, influence), satisfy, execute (an office), finish (a period or task), verify (or coincide with a prediction), etc.:--accomplish, X after, (be) complete, end, expire, fill (up), fulfil, (be, make) full (come), fully preach, perfect, supply.

The whole law of God is suspended by, and summed up by, and satisfied by this truth.

2. Consider How The Savior’s Words Are Comparable

This is not just the Mosaic law; this is the Master’s law. Jesus said…

(John 13:34-35) A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. {35} By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Manifesting that love by assisting others is fulfilling the law of Christ…

(Galatians 6:2) Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

The love that James (and Jesus and Paul) referred to is agape love or unselfish love.

B. Notice The Verdict Quoted With Regard To This Royal Law

(James 2:8) If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:

1. Consider The Action Associated With This Verdict

If ye fulfill

fulfill – Greek 5055. teleo, tel-eh'-o; from G5056; to end, i.e. complete, execute, conclude, discharge (a debt):--accomplish, make an end, expire, fill up, finish, go over, pay, perform.

Marvin Vincent, in his Word Studies in the New Testament, wrote…

Fulfil the royal law nomon teleite basilikon . The phrase occurs only here and Romans 2:27. Telein , “fulfil,” is stronger than the more common word teerein , “observe or keep,” which appears in James 2:10.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says that the word “fulfill” (NT:5055 – teleite) means…

To perform, execute, complete, fulfill (so that the thing done corresponds to what has been said, the order, command, etc.).

2. Consider The Approval Associated With This Verdict

ye do well

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon indicates that the word “well” (NT:2573 – kaloos) means…

Beautifully, finely, excellently; rightly, so that there shall be no room for blame. It is an expression of approval. It denotes that a duty or office is fulfilled well. It is fulfilled in an excellent, noble, commendable way.

John MacArthur wrote…

You are doing well could perhaps better be translated, “You are doing excellently.” To love others as we love ourselves is to do more than just love satisfactorily. It is to love as our heavenly Father loves and as He wants His children to love. … And if one day the Lord says to us, “Well done” (Matthew 25:21, 23), it will not be for our talents, our generous giving, our leadership ability, or any other such thing, but for our love of Him and of others, especially other believers, demonstrating our faithfulness and obedience to His Word.

II. James Speaks Of Accusatory Actions In This Section

(James 2:9–11)

A. Notice How The Specifics Of Guilt Is Explained In This Context

(James 2:9) But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

John MacArthur said of the phrase “have respect to persons” (or “show partiality”)…

The form indicates that James is not speaking of occasional favoritism but of habitual, blatant partiality. Those engaging in it were committing serious sin and were thereby convicted by the law as transgressors. And just as loving one’s neighbor as one’s self fulfills God’s “royal law according to the scripture” and gives sure evidence of being God’s child, so does habitual partiality transgress that divinely revealed law and give sure evidence to the contrary.

1. James Said This Sin Is Committed – In Other Words, There Are Those Who Operate In This Sin

commit – Greek 2038. ergazomai, er-gad'-zom-ahee; mid. from G2041; to toil (as a task, occupation, etc.), (by impl.) effect, be engaged in or with, etc.:--commit, do, labor for, minister about, trade (by), work.

A. T. Robertson explained…

Ye commit sin hamartian ergazesthe . “Ye work a sin.” A serious charge, apparently, for what was regarded as a trifling fault. See Matthew 7:23, hoi ergazomenoi teen anomian (ye that work iniquity), an apparent reminiscence of the words of Jesus there (from Psalms 6:8).

Marvin Vincent said…

Ye commit sin hamartian ergazesthe . Literally, “work sin.” … The phrase is rather stronger than the more common hamartian poiein , “to do sin.” The position of sin is emphatic: “it is sin that ye are working.”

James told them if they had this kind of habitual, blatant partiality, they were operating in sin.

2. James Said This Sin Is Convicting – In Other Words, There Are Those Who Overstep In This Sin

Marvin Vincent in his Word Studies in the New Testament wrote...

And are convinced elengchomenoi . Rather, as the English Revised Version (1885): “convicted.” The word, which is variously rendered in the King James Version “tell a fault, reprove, rebuke, convince,” while it carries the idea of “rebuke,” implies also a rebuke which produces a “conviction” of the error or sin.

John Phillips wrote…

So, there it is, out in the open. To discriminate against people is sin. The word here for “transgressors” means literally “one who oversteps.” A transgressor breaks through a boundary. He goes too far. He breaks God’s law. God does not want cliques in His church. Those who belong to cliques go too far.

B. Notice How The Scope Of Guilt Is Explained In This Context

(James 2:10-11) For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. {11} For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

1. The Conduct Of Life Is Not Segmented

(James 2:10) For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (English Standard Version – ESV)

Albert Barnes said in his Notes…

[For whosoever shall keep the whole law] All except the single point referred to. The apostle does not say that this in fact ever did occur, but he says that if it should, and yet a man should have failed in only one particular, he must be judged to be guilty. The case supposed seems to be that of one who claimed that he had kept the whole law. The apostle says that even if this should be admitted for the time to be true in all other respects, yet, if he had failed in any one particular-in showing respect to persons, or in anything else – he could not but be held to be a transgressor. The design of this is to show the importance of yielding universal obedience, and to impress upon the mind a sense of the enormity of sin from the fact that the violation of any one precept is in fact an offence against the whole law of God. The whole law here means all the law of God; all that he has required; all that he has given to regulate us in our lives.

[And yet offend in one point] In one respect; or shall violate any one of the commands included in the general word law. The word “offend” here means, properly, to stumble, to fall; then to err, or fail in duty.

2. The Code Of Law Is Not Separated

MacArthur said…

As an illustration, James quotes from Exodus 20:13-14 and Deuteronomy 5:17-18. … James chose two of the most serious social sins, in both cases the breaking of which demanded the penalty of death. Perhaps he chose those in order to illustrate the extreme sinfulness of partiality. But he could have used any of God’s laws to make the same point. It only takes the breaking of one commandment, any commandment, to become a transgressor of the law. … The Jews tended to regard the law as a series of detached commands. To keep one of those commands was to gain credit. To break one was to incur debt. Therefore, a man could add up the ones he kept and subtract the ones he broke and, as it were, emerge with a moral credit or debit balance. … The idea is that acceptance or rejection by God depends essentially on the moral standing of the person himself. If he does more good than bad, he is accepted by God. If the scale tilts the other way, he is rejected.

But God’s law is totally interconnected. In fact, James says that the person becomes “a transgressor of the law,” not “laws.”

Barnes said that a man who is a thief…

Cannot plead his obedience to the law in other things as a reason why he should not be punished for this sin; but however upright he may have been in general, even though it may have been through a long life, the law holds him to be a transgressor, and condemns him. He is as really condemned, and as much thrown from the protection of law, as though he had violated every command.

III. James Speaks Of Accountable Actions In This Section

(James 2:12–13)

A. We Should Be Mindful In What We Do

(James 2:12) So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

1. Let’s Be Mindful Of Our Action And Speech

Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament reminds us of the joined ideas of speech and action and how James has been dealing with both of these…

For the combination see James 1:19-21 contrasted with James 1:22-25, and James 1:26 with James 1:27.

MacArthur said…

The admonition to speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty is tantamount to saying, “Live and act as a true believer who has been saved by God’s grace and who will be judged on the basis of Christ’ imputed righteousness.

There will be an accountability for our walk and our talk; the things we say and the things we do.

Cf. (Ecclesiastes 12:14) For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

(Matthew 12:36) But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

(2 Corinthians 5:10) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

2. Let’s Be Mindful Of Our Assessment By The Scripture