How We Look at the Outside and Those on the Outside, Looking In

Reading James chapter two reminds me of a couple different scenarios in my life:

That time I first walked into a country club and felt so out of place, as if my clothes weren’t stylish enough, or I knew I didn’t fit in because I didn’t have enough money to be a member.

The other was driving down a city street full of homeless people huddled near their pile of belongings and feeling somehow ashamed of all the excess that I have.

In both situations, I was looking at the external, and feeling like an outsider, looking in.

James begins chapter two by reminding us that Jesus’ Church is never to be a place where people feel like outsiders.

It helped me to first read verses 1-9 all together, to get the context:

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?  Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

This is NOT a section of God’s Word that is difficult to understand. In fact, it is one of the more immediately convicting passages in Scripture. Why? Because we ALL understand what it means!

The way we treat those who come in to our assembly (church gathering) is another example of whether or not we are just HEARERS of the Word, or effectual DOERS.

Personal Favoritism Looks Only at the Outside

James admonishes us NOT to act out our faith in Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. These words put together mean partiality based on outward appearances.

It’s true that before we get to know a person, all we see is the outside, the surface.

James gives two examples: the rich (those in fine clothes wearing gold rings) and the poor (those in dirty clothes).

When we discriminate by assigning the rich a special place to sit, or give them an esteemed role of service, we judge.

When we discriminate by assigning the poor a place in the corner where they won’t be seen by others and therefore not cause embarrassment, we judge.

These are examples of judging people WITHOUT knowing anything about their hearts.

How Does God Look at People?

The cross references for this section of verses not only enlighten the passage, but convict my spirit. They grip my heart and make me ask God if I too, look only at the outside of a person and make judgements based on what I see. 

“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (Jesus’ words) John 7:24 

“For there is no partiality with God.” Romans 2:11

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3  

The Lord is my model for how to look at people. I won’t always get it right, but I’m to try!

God Looks at the Heart, So Should We

How Does God View the Poor and the Rich?

James gives us a great deal of insight to help us answer this question. And we need to answer it because if we play favorites, we might find ourselves barking up the wrong tree.

Poor – God chose them to be rich in faith and heirs to the Kingdom.

Rich – James reminds his readers that the rich were oppressing them and dragging them into court. They blaspheme the name of Jesus by doing this, meaning they defame, speak evil, slander, and revile His name.

We know that not EVERYONE who is rich acts this way. Many with money are generous and love Jesus with their whole hearts.

What is My Response to God’s Word?

When it comes to how I treat others, or how I fulfill the Royal Law of loving my neighbor, I must let the Holy Spirit convict me. I found the “Deeper Discovery” questions a great place to start. I encourage you to journal your own answers to these questions:

  • How do I treat others?
  • Why do I have an attitude of personal favoritism, of being a judge?
  • To whom do I show partiality?
  • Or, do I treat others the way the Lord treats me? 
  • How is my love and mercy shown to all?

Thank you Lord for reminding us that You look not at the outside of a person, but at the heart. We must do the same. Thank you that You don’t show partiality. Neither should we.