My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.—James 2:1
Who has not heard a man loudly proclaim his faith in the doctrine of marriage? Marriage is for life. There may not be divorce except for fornication. There may not be remarriage while the other spouse is living.
The faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ himself taught us so about marriage. So a man proclaims that this is his faith. The precious truth about marriage is dear to his heart.
Until his son divorces his wife, covering his garments with the violence of divorce, covering the altar of God with the tears of his abandoned wife and children, and covering the name of God with blasphemy. This wicked son the father now defends, and for his son the father carves out a large and comfortable place in his life.
Respect of persons.
Have not the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons.
The faith of the Lord Jesus Christ is true faith. It is the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ because it has Christ as its object. In Christ is all the blessing that comes to the believer by faith. This faith is worked by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s elect, uniting them to Christ their savior. It is a gift of pure grace. The believer holds for truth all that God reveals in his word. The believer trusts in God alone for salvation. By faith the believer receives from Christ every blessing of his cross and draws out of Christ all his goodness and grace.
By that faith alone we are saved. Faith without works saves. Faith saves because faith has Christ, in whom all salvation is found.
Having that faith, one also makes a true and right confession of Jesus Christ. The faith of the Lord Jesus Christ is the true and complete doctrine of salvation: the doctrine of the Reformed creeds that summarize the doctrine of sacred scripture. One who has the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ confesses the truth so that no charge can be laid against his doctrine.
There is nothing more glorious that one can say about someone’s doctrine and confession than “It is the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Confessing that doctrine, he confesses to have the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. Having that faith, he confesses to have salvation in Christ.
Respect of persons is the sin of partiality in judgment. Partiality belongs to the sin of antinomianism in the church. Partiality tramples the law of decency and order, the law of God, the law of the church, and the law of society in order to show preferential treatment to another. Because of one’s close relationship to another—a friend, a brother, a cousin, a son, or an uncle—he is judged differently. Because one is rich, he bears a certain last name, or he holds a position of influence in the church, he is judged differently. Respect of persons is the sin of judging on the basis of appearances or consequences, not on the merits and facts of the case and regardless of the consequences involved. The partial judge has the facts but will not judge on the basis of the facts. Respect of persons invariably involves condoning sin.
Imagine the scene. There is a judge into whose court two men come. Both are charged with the same crime. The evidence against both is equally strong. It is clear that both are guilty. But the judge acquits his rich and influential friend and condemns the unknown beggar. Everyone would cry out, “That judge is corrupt. His evil judgment is not based on the facts of the case and according to the laws of the land. His judgment is based on the persons who are in his judgment. The one he respects. The other he despises.”
Respect of persons.
Have not the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons.
In the church it happens.
Two men come into church. The one is a rich man in fine apparel: a gold ring on his finger; a well-tailored suit; brightly polished, finely crafted leather shoes; a gold tie clip; and jewel-studded cuff links. He is well-kempt, articulate, and knowledgeable of the people. He is highly spoken of in the community. The other is a man in vile raiment. He is obviously poor. The members of the church have a hearty welcome for the rich man and give him an excellent and honorable place in the church. Many crowd around him in the narthex to be regaled by this easy raconteur. But they say to the one in the vile clothes, “Sit here under my feet.” They have no greeting for him but contemptuously dismiss him. He stands alone in the foyer.
Respect of persons.
Beloved brethren, have not the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons.
But it becomes worse. This partiality in the church is not only the evil preference of the rich over the poor, but also the preference of the wicked rich over the godly poor!
The rich man with whom the members of the church attempt to curry favor lives in sin and adds to his wickedness the slander of the truth and the oppression of the people of God. The rich man for whom they carve out a place in their assembly, in their affections, in their narthex, and in their homes is an unbelieving oppressor of the righteous. He is the rich lawyer, the influential doctor, or the well-heeled businessman who divorces his poor, godly wife. He is a man who delights in defaming the denomination, the minister, the elders, the members of the church, and the truth the church holds dear. By respect of persons, the wicked rich are showered with affection in the face of their obvious and impenitent hatred of the truth, their openly ungodly lives, or their public oppression of the people of God. The respecter of persons knows how to treat the wicked enemies of God just right, accords them great respect, opens his fellowship to them, and makes sure that their feelings are never hurt.
Respecters of persons also despise the poor people of God, who are rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom of God. Respecters of persons despise the poor woman abandoned by her husband. They nod their heads approvingly as the wicked rich savage the minister and elders. The enemy of the truth or the impenitent sinner is preferred over the poor who are rich in faith and objects of the oppression of the mighty.
Outrageous respect of persons! Some sin is a great threat to the church until it happens in your family.
Some sin is vile until your son commits it. Some wicked behavior is evil until it is found in your friend. Some evil speaker against the church is judged to be a good and upright person because he is an acquaintance. Because a man in a church is rich, popular, influential, or holds high office, he receives preferential treatment, and the rules are bent or ignored for him. The church will discipline one because he is lowly, but not another because he is mighty.
Beloved brethren, have not the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons. These two things are totally incompatible and antithetical. They cannot exist together. Where respect of persons reigns, there is no faith. Where faith reigns, there is no respect of persons. To have respect of persons is to deny the faith, though one’s doctrine is impeccable.
By respect of persons, we become judges of evil thoughts.
The judge’s thoughts are to be concerned only with the truth. Even before he is concerned with justice, he is concerned with truth. Whenever a judgment is based on truth, there will be justice. The judge’s task is to seek the truth. The judge’s calling is to judge in harmony with the truth in every situation. He must have the facts and judge only on the basis of the facts. He is to have a blind eye and a just balance so that all are weighed equally in the balance of the law. The judge must call evil, evil, and he must call good, good. With such thoughts the judge will always justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, regardless of whether they are rich or poor, bond or free, acquaintances or strangers, or mighty or weak. The gold of the one does not count any more than the rags of the other.
The respecter of persons is a judge with evil thoughts. The judge who respects persons does not reason on the basis of facts and the truth. He is not interested in seeking the truth but in justifying a friend. He reasons about how his judgment will be advantageous to himself, how he will profit from it, what the costs of his judgment will be, or what the consequences of his judgment might be. Then, seeing and understanding that to judge justly will cost him a friend, or a son, or some earthly advantage, and being unwilling to bear that cost, he judges unjustly.
The carnality and covetousness of it all!
The respecter of persons is carnal, not spiritual. He does not live before the face of God and judge before the face of Jesus Christ. How could he? He does not stand before God by faith. You cannot have the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ and respect persons. The respecter of persons is dazzled by the gold chain of the rich man and the potential for favors the powerful man can offer him. He is interested only in the earthly relationship with his son or family member and thinks not of heaven. The respecter of persons is like the wicked whom he justifies. Claiming to hold the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, his respect of persons betrays evil thoughts and a faithless heart.
What can a poor man give to such a person? Indeed, the poor man—righteous and rich in faith—will offend the respecter of persons with a rebuke of his covetousness, faithlessness, and respect of persons, just as that same poor man offended the wicked rich who hate him.
What a contrast with God! Did God choose the rich of this world? Listen to what Paul says:
26. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29. That no flesh should glory in his presence. (1 Cor. 1:26–29)
God chose the poor of this world rich in faith. The spiritual condition of those whom God chose was poverty. Even if a man were as rich as Abraham or Solomon, he would be chosen as a poor man. All became unspeakably poor in Adam. God made Adam rich. God made Adam rich with righteousness, holiness, and true knowledge. Because of his rebellion against God, Adam was stripped of that image of God. Adam became unspeakably poor. All his children became poor, too. They were judged guilty of Adam’s sin. And that sin alone is such a debt that they can never pay it. Besides, all Adam’s children have a mountain of debt because of all their actual sins. They were loathsome and disgusting in their poverty, and dirty and unwashed in their wickedness. They were lost in sin and darkness.
God did not choose the good, the mighty, the noble, the powerful, and the spiritually rich; but he chose spiritual beggars, his enemies, and disgusting people. He chose them eternally. He appointed them to salvation.
The partial person, the unjust judge, who speaks well of the wicked and oppresses the righteous, has forgotten who he is. He is a respecter of his own person first. He is a partial judge of himself and in himself. He does not judge himself as a wretched and miserable person of the worst sort, whose salvation depends on God’s pity alone. He does not see himself as nothing in the sight of God. He is something in his own eyes. But all are beggars.
God made beggars rich. Did his love and favor shown to them in his choice of them give them earthly riches? God gave them the riches of faith. Faith is unspeakable riches. If you have faith you have the world, because if you have faith you have Christ Jesus and are an heir of the eternal kingdom of God. If you do not have faith, though you have the riches of Croesus, you have nothing. To the believer, to each and every believer of whatsoever station or calling he finds himself in this life, God has promised the world. Do not count yourself rich if you have only the riches of gold and silver. Count yourself rich if you have faith. By faith we are saved, by faith we inherit eternal life, and by faith we are heirs of an everlasting inheritance and God’s eternal kingdom.
By faith the believer consciously stands before the presence of Christ and lives in the light of the glory of Christ. He understands that Christ is the ultimate judge by whom all are judged. He understands how Christ judges. He justifies the righteous and condemns the wicked. He will cut off wicked persons. He does not suffer them. He cares not for their gold, and their influence has no influence with him. He is a just judge. There is no respect of persons with Christ. That is his glory.
So the believer is not dazzled by the riches of the rich, the influence of the powerful, or the name of the mighty, because he is dazzled by the glory of Christ and respects only Christ. So the believer likewise casts the wicked out of his affections as hateful to God, instead of showing them favor. The believer strenuously opposes the wicked in their sinful behavior and opposition to the truth, instead of overlooking their sin, coddling them in their wickedness, and excusing their evil.
Living in light of the glory of Christ, the believer does not despise the poor and those who offer no earthly advantage to him. He loves his poor neighbor. Is this not the chief part of Christ’s glory, by which he became the glorious judge of all? He condescended to us of low estate. He became nothing for us. He who was rich became poor for our sakes, that we who are poor might become unspeakably rich in him. He did not despise us poor beggars but gave his life for us. If we live in the light of that reality, we, too, cannot possibly be respecters of persons, partial in ourselves, and judges of evil thoughts.
So, beloved brethren, I warn you: have not the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons. By respect of persons, we give the lie to our profession of faith. We choose men over God, Christ, and the truth.
Is that not a terrible lawlessness: the lawlessness of respect of persons! By means of respect of persons, more lawlessness comes: wickedness is tolerated, approved, and excused in the church. In order to do that, the law of God is ignored, trampled, and pushed aside. What rules in the church, then, are the names, faces, reputations, and words of men; and the word of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, is ignored. Invariably this involves the oppression of God’s people, for the wicked who we let into our affections will not suffer the people of God to go without oppression.
No, respect of persons is the beginning of denial of the faith, and where it is carried on the faith cannot long endure.
So, beloved brethren, let your faith be without partiality. —NJL