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.
James now changes the subject from “being doers of the word” who practice “pure and undefiled religion” (1:21-27) to a new topic: treating others without partiality. Chapter 2 of James opens with this command: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (2:1). He then gives an illustration (2:2a) about two men who “come into your assembly” (“assembly” – synagoge in Greek, the same word translated “synagogue,” defined as a religious meeting house, the first-century equivalent of the modern church building). The first man has “a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes,” and the second is “a poor man in dirty clothes” (2:2b). The Christians there “pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes,” offering him a good place to sit; however, they tell the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool” (2:3). He then brings home the point about the sin of favoritism with the rhetorical question: “Have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives?” (2:4)
Showing favoritism does in fact lead to unrighteous judging (cf. John 7:24). Bias always covers the truth about someone in a fog of fiction, a non-existent myth which exists as reality only in our own minds because we would wish or prefer it to be true due to how much we love, like, or prefer the one towards whom we are biased. In these Christians’ cases, they were so invested in currying favor with the rich visitor that they conveniently (actually, inconveniently) forgot that it was the rich who tended to “oppress (them),” “personally drag (them) into court,” and “blaspheme” the name of Christian, “the fair name by which you have been called” (2:6b-7; cf. 1 Pet. 4:16). They also failed to remember that poor people like the visitor they were “dishonor(ing)” are generally chosen by God “to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him” (2:5-6a). This poor visitor had the potential to be a great asset to the church, and their partiality kept them from seeing it because they were so interested in currying favor with the one who was more likely to persecute them. In like manner, our own partiality (towards ourselves, our loved ones, our ideologies) blinds us to the objective reality that would have us realize the times in which we, our loved ones, and/or our beliefs are actually wrong.
James then encourages us to fulfill Scripture’s “royal law” quoted above (2:8-9). Truly loving our neighbor the same we love ourselves demands that we see them as they really are in both their good and bad qualities, not as we would wish them to be due to how much they mean to us. Showing partiality is sinful, not just because it is founded in unrighteous judgment and self-deceit. It’s sinful because it also leads to more sin (cf. Jonah 4:2). Remember the famous command to “take the log out of your own eye” (Matt. 7:3-5)? Consider a scenario in which you recognize clearly when an average friend or acquaintance sins but you refuse to acknowledge the exact same sin when it is you, your spouse, your children or parents, or your closest friend who commits it. Your refusal to acknowledge what clearly exists because of your favoritism will lead to you refusing to correct yourself or them and encouraging yourself or them to obey God, which in turn will lead to eternal condemnation (cf. Ezek. 3:17-21).
God does not show partiality (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 2:6-11; Col. 3:25). He expects the same from us. “…To show partiality in judgment is not good. He who says to the wicked, “You are righteous,” peoples will curse him, nations will abhor him; but to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight, and a good blessing will come upon them. He kisses the lips who gives a right answer” (Prov. 24:23-25).