My brethren, have not the faith of our LORD Jesus Christ, the LORD of glory, with respect of persons.


A system of literature has grown up around the notion that Christianity may be proven by the fact that “great men” believe in Christ!

A magazine article carries the caption that “Senator So-and-So Believes in Christ.” The implication is that if the senator believes in Christ, then Christ must be all right.

When did Jesus Christ have to ride in on the coattail of a senator, or a governor, or some other well-known man?

No, no, my brother! Jesus Christ stands alone, unique and supreme, self-validating, and the Holy Ghost declares Him to be God’s eternal Son. Let all the presidents and all the kings and queens, the senators, and the lords and ladies of the world, along with the great athletes and great actors—let them kneel at His feet and cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!”

Only the Holy Ghost can do this, my brethren. For that reason, I don’t bow down to great men. I bow down to the Great Man, and if you have learned to worship the Son of Man, you will not worship other men.

The Holy Spirit is God’s imperative of life. If Christ is to be the Christ of God rather than the Christ of intellect, then we must enter in beyond the veil, until the illumination of the Holy Spirit fills our hearts and we are learning at the feet of Jesus—not at the feet of men![1]

The Principle

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. (2:1)

James prefaces this command by addressing readers as my brethren, indicating that he is speaking out of love and as a fellow believer and brother in Christ. Mostly as a preface to an admonition or warning, James uses this or the expanded phrase “my beloved brethren” some fifteen times in the letter (e.g., 1:2, 16, 19; 2:5, 14; 4:11; 5:7).

The basic principle is succinctly stated in verse 1, indicating that having genuine faith in the gospel of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ while holding an attitude of personal favoritism is contradictory and incompatible.

The phrase our glorious Lord Jesus Christ is, more literally, “our Lord Jesus Christ of the glory,” perhaps referring to God’s Shechinah glory (see Ex. 40:34; 1 Kings 8:11), the history of which James’s Jewish readers would have been very familiar. The idea is that we cannot hold the faith of Jesus Christ, who is the very presence and glory of God, and be partial. Jesus Himself was impartial (Matt. 22:16), as indicated by His humble birth, family, and upbringing in Nazareth, and His willingness to minister in Samaria and Galilee, regions held in contempt by the Jewish leaders.

In the Greek text, the phrase do not … with an attitude of favoritism is in the emphatic position, preceding hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ and thereby giving special force to the imperative admonition, which carries the idea of continuation, of not making a practice of favoritism, which has no place in the life of a faithful Christian. A few verses later (2:9), James makes clear that favoritism is not simply discourteous and disrespectful but is a serious sin.

Being partial is in total conflict with our salvation and with what Scripture teaches (cf. Lev. 19:15; Prov. 24:23; 28:21). If we are saved, we are children of God; and if we are His children, we should emulate Him. Paul declares categorically that “there is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2:11; cf. Lev. 19:15; Job 34:19; Prov. 24:23; 28:21; Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25; 1 Pet. 1:17).

There is, of course, a proper special respect and honor that should be shown to the elderly and to those in authority, both in the church and in society in general. Through Moses, the Lord commanded, “You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:32). Paul wrote the Thessalonians to “appreciate” and “esteem … very highly” their pastors (1 Thess. 5:12–13). “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor,” Paul told Timothy, “especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). Quoting Exodus 22:28, Paul apologized for unknowingly calling the high priest a “whitewashed wall” (Acts 23:3–5). Likewise,

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. (Rom. 13:1–5)

Peter reiterates that admonition, saying, “Fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17).

An attitude of personal favoritism translates the single Greek word prosōpolēmpsia, which has the literal meaning of lifting up someone’s face, with the idea of judging by appearance and on that basis giving special favor and respect. It pertains to judging purely on a superficial level, without consideration of a person’s true merits, abilities, or character. It is both interesting and significant that this word, along with the related noun prosōpolēmptēs (see Acts 10:34, “partiality”) and the verb prosōpolēmpteō (see James 2:9, “show partiality”) are found only in Christian writings. Perhaps that is because favoritism was such an accepted part of most ancient societies that it was assumed and not even identified, as it still is in many cultures today.

During His incarnation, Jesus was the glory and image of God in human form (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:4, 6; Phil. 2:6) and, like His Father, He showed no favoritism, a virtue even His enemies acknowledged. It made no difference to Jesus whether the one to whom He spoke or ministered was a wealthy Jewish leader or a common beggar, a virtuous woman or a prostitute, a high priest or a common worshiper, handsome or ugly, educated or ignorant, religious or irreligious, law-abiding citizen or criminal. His overriding concern was the condition of the soul. One day, John assures believers, “we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). And while we are on earth, we should act just as He did when He was on earth.

God’s impartiality is reflected even in the genealogies of His Son, Jesus Christ. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ descendants are shown to include such notable and godly believers as Abraham, David, Solomon, and Hezekiah (Matt. 1:1–2, 5–7, 10; Luke 3:31–32, 34 ). But also included are many otherwise obscure and common people, including the incestuous Tamar, the former prostitute Rahab, and Ruth, from the outcast Moabites (Matt. 1:3, 5). Jesus was not born in the great holy city of Jerusalem but in Bethlehem, of historical importance to Jews as the city of David but not at all comparable to Jerusalem in glory, and of total insignificance to the rest of the world. Jesus grew up in the Galilean town of Nazareth, whose poor reputation among most Jews is reflected in Nathanael’s comment to Philip: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). On another occasion some people commented about Jesus, “Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He?” (John 7:41). Still others said, “Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee” (John 7:52). Onlookers at Pentecost “were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans?’ ” (Acts 2:7).

The landowner who hired workers in Jesus’ parable sent them to begin working at various times throughout the day. At the end of the day the men discovered they were all being paid the same amount. But those who had worked all day complained that those who started work near the end of the day were paid the same as they were. The landowner “answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ ” Clearly recognizing the man’s right to do as he did, Jesus added, “So the last shall be first, and the first last” (Matt. 20:13–16). Those who are saved in the last minutes of their lives will enjoy the same glories in heaven as those who have known and served the Lord faithfully for many years. The time of their salvation, like their wealth, fame, intelligence, social status, and other worldly measurements, will not be factors in their heavenly blessings. This wonderful story shows God’s impartiality in giving all the same eternal life.

In another parable, when some of the invited guests did not bother to show up at the wedding banquet given for his son, the king ordered his servants to “ ‘go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests” (Matt. 22:9–10). Jesus impartially calls all people to Himself; and if they have saving faith in Him, their being rich or poor, educated or ignorant, basically moral or grossly immoral, religious or irreligious, Jew or Gentile makes no difference (cf. Gal. 3:28). It was doubtless at least partly for that reason that “the common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12:37 kjv). Jesus went on to illustrate that it is not the amount of money a person gives to the Lord’s work but the heart intent of the giver by which God judges. As He and the disciples sat down in the temple opposite the treasury, “a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on’ ” (Mark 12:42–44).

The gospel is a great leveler, available with absolute equality to everyone who believes in the Savior it proclaims. Jesus’ promise to all those who trust in Him is: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:29–30).

Tragically, many otherwise biblical and faithful churches today do not treat all their members the same. Frequently, those who are of a different ethnic background, race, or financial standing are not fully welcomed into fellowship. That ought not to be. It not only is a transgression of God’s divine law but is a mockery of His divine character.[2]

2:1 First of all, the practice is distinctly forbidden. Note first that the admonition is addressed to believers; we are assured of this by the salutation “My brethren.” The faith of our Lord Jesus Christ refers to the Christian faith. It is not a question of His trust or dependence, but rather of the body of truth which He gave to us. Putting all these thoughts together, we find that James is saying, “My brethren, in your practice of the Christian faith, do not show partiality.” Snobbery and caste distinctions are utterly inconsistent with true Christianity. Servility to human greatness has no place in the presence of the Lord of Glory. Contempt for others because of birth, race, sex, or poverty is a practical denial of the faith. This commandment does not contradict other portions of the NT where believers are taught to pay proper respect to rulers, masters, elders, and parents. There are certain divinely ordained relationships which must be recognized (Rom. 13:7). In this passage it is a matter of showing obsequious deference to people because of their expensive clothing or other artificial distinctions.[3]

1 Once again James addresses his readers as “brothers” (1:2, 16, 19; 2:5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9–10, 12, 19; see discussion at 1:2) and exhorts them, as followers of Christ, not to show favoritism. The NIV’s translation “as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism” the NASB renders more literally with “do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.” The idea of “holding the faith” has to do with a public posture of identifying oneself as a follower of Christ, and thus the NIV’s “as believers” serves the author’s intention. That Christ is “glorious” points to his manifestation of the presence of God, as seen in the shekinah glory of the OT (e.g., Ex 14:17–18; Ps 96:3; Isa 60:1–2), and passages in the NT relating to his exaltation and eschatological salvation. Consequently, James may use the qualifier here to point to Christ as the exalted Judge, “whose glory will be fully revealed in eschatological judgment” (so Davids, 107).

Therefore, one must not hold faith in him “with favoritism” (en prosōpolēmpsiais, GK 4721). The word translated “favoritism” speaks of the attitude of partiality by which one person is shown favor, or special consideration, over another. In the OT the concept often refers to unjust judgment against the vulnerable on the part of those in power (e.g., Ps 82:2; Pr 18:5; 24:23; 28:21; Mal 2:9–10; so Martin, 59; Nystrom, 114). Such an attitude is contrary to God’s way of dealing with people when he judges them (Ro 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25) and, therefore, inappropriate for his people. In the broader context of Leviticus 19:18, to which James turns momentarily (2:8), the law states, “Do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev 19:15). By his exhortation in 2:1, James implies that a public commitment to Christ, the Lord of glory, is incompatible with an attitude that degrades a fellow believer or puts the person at a disadvantage, for such an attitude runs contrary to God’s law.[4]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 97–100). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2224–2225). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 231–232). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


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