The silent sin of the church – James 2:1-13

Mohandas K. Gandhi was the leader of the Indian nationalist movement against British rule and considered the father of his country. He is internationally esteemed for his doctrine of nonviolence to achieve political and social progress. Gandhi says in his autobiography that in his student days he was truly interested in the Bible. Deeply touched by reading the Gospels, he seriously considered becoming a convert, since Christianity seemed to offer the real solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. One Sunday, he went to a nearby church to attend services. He decided to see the minister and ask for instruction in the way of salvation and enlightenment on other doctrines. But when he entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go and worship with his own people. Gandhi left and never came back. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said to himself, “I might as well remain a Hindu”.[1] Unfortunately, the Christian church is filled with prejudices. Yet, the very book that we as Christians follow gives us clear instructions that we are not to show partiality in any way. What would we do if someone dressed in Muslim garb walked into our church? How would we respond if someone dressed in nothing but dirty rags and smelled as if they have not had a bath in over a month came into our church? How would we react toward the homosexual couple that enters into our midst? What would we say to the teenager dressed in gothic apparel who walks in and sits next to you? What about that family with rowdy children who can’t seem to be quiet, what do we do? Most of the time, we would make them feel uncomfortable by staring at them and whispering to one another. Most would ignore them while some may approach them and interrogate them as if they are some security threat. If we were to be honest with our selves this morning, we would have to admit that we all have some level of prejudice in our hearts. This I believe is the silent sin of the church. It is something that we do not like to talk about. We are uncomfortable with facing our prejudices. However, in being doers of the Word and not just hearers of the Word, we must face that silent sin head on and cut off its ugly head. In our text, we discover the wrongs of partiality and the totality of sin.

The wrongs of partiality. After dealing with the subject of the trial of faith and how we can avoid unnecessary trials, James now turns his attention to life in the local church by addressing the issue of showing partiality. In verses 1-9 we see five wrongs of partiality.

(1) Partiality shows ones value system (v. 2-3). James gives the illustration of a two men entering into a place of worship. One man is dressed in fine apparel and is obviously wealthy and prestigious. The other man is poor and dressed in vile garments. “Vile garments” refers to ‘shabby’ or ‘worn’ clothing. James continues by describing the tendency of most Christians. The more wealthy and prestigious man is welcomed with open arms, while the poor man is ignored. Such partiality reveals how we value one person over another. I have heard it said many times in churches, “Oh, I hope so and so will come and join our church, they make good money and we could use their tithes.” Or, “I hope so and so will come and join our church, they are so talented and have so much to offer.” Whether we will admit to it or not, we are often times guilty of valuing one life above another without even realizing it.
(2) Partiality is discrimination (v. 4). Now, I do understand that the term ‘discrimination’ is often abused and misunderstood in our culture today. However, discrimination is wrong on many different levels. To discriminate is to make an unwarranted distinction between two individuals. It does not have to do with differences, rather with how we treat others differently. There are distinctions to be made between men and women, the saved and the unsaved, etc. However, it is when we treat others unfairly simply because they are different than we are, that is discrimination. Just because someone is struggling with a particular sin, does not mean we treat them unkindly. Just because someone looks different than we do or has a different personality, does not mean we treat them with scorn. Just because we believe in the God-given roles of men and women, does not mean that we treat one sex as more valuable than the other.

(3) Partiality fails to honor those whom God honors (v.5). The problem with showing partiality is that it makes ourselves as if we are God. We try to do God’s job for Him. We choose to honor and respect those whom we think are worthy of it and we dishonor those whom we think are undeserving. Yet, all throughout scripture we find how God chooses the weak things of this world. He honors the less honorable. He makes His grace available to all men no matter who they are or what they have done. It is my desire that our church be a place of grace. We need to be the one church in our area that will reach those that other churches will have nothing to do with. We should be a church with open doors that loves all people and that has an overwhelming desire to reach all people with the life changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be a people that looks beyond the sin of others and who stands ready to lavish the vilest of sinners with the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Think about it. If it were not for the grace of God you would be involved in the vilest sins imaginable. If it were not for the grace of God you would be poor and needy and destitute. If it were not for the grace of God you would be depressed and would turn to other things to try and ease your pain. If it were not for the grace of God you could have been born into a very troubling family situation and in the world’s eyes would have no potential. If it were not for the grace of God you would be involved in all types of immorality and sin. Yet, God has given you His grace. Since God has given you grace, how much more so should we give grace to others!

(4) Partiality favors those who oppress us (v. 6-7). Often times those whom we think are more honorable and worthy of our respect are those who control us. James specifically mentions those who are rich as those who oppress us. I have seen it too many times in church life. There will be one person in the church that controls everything. They have their way. Everyone agrees with everything they say. Nothing can be done unless that one person is on board. You don’t dare cross that individual, because if you do they have a way of making life miserable for you. Why do we let them get away with it? Because they control the money. I have seen over and over again where churches will cave in to the wishes of that one person whom everyone thinks that without their money the church could not survive. So, we go out of our way to please them. We try to please them more than we try to please God. This is what partiality will do. It will lead us to favor the very ones who oppress us.

(5) Partiality is sin (v. 8-9). James points out in no uncertain terms that partiality is sin. This is why I call it the silent sin of the church. All of us are guilty of it in one way or another. All of us our guilty of partiality and prejudices. We must be willing to come to grips with the reality of our sin, confess our sin, and repent of our sin. We must pray and ask God to remove from us all prejudices and to help us to see people the way He sees people; to love people the way He loves people.

The totality of sin. As we come to grips with our sins of prejudice, we come to understand the totality of sin.

(1) How many sins does it take to make a sinner? This, of course, is a trick question. Most would say that it takes one sin to make a sinner. The truth is: it takes zero sins to make a sinner. You do not have to commit an actual sin in order to be a sinner. You sin because you are a sinner, you are not a sinner because you sin. You were born in sin. You inherited a sin nature, therefore, you were a sinner before you even sinned.

(2) One sin makes you guilty of all sin (v. 10-11). Sin is sin in the eyes of God. There are no levels of sin. Yes, some sins bear greater consequences. However, no one sin is worse than the other. When you commit a sin, you are guilty of all sin. Therefore, you are nothing more than an idolater, liar, cheater, murderer, adulterer, and the list goes on and on.

(3) Practice mercy over judgement (v. 12-13). This is the real crux of this entire message. How can we show partiality when we ourselves are just as guilty as anyone else? Why would we treat someone differently because of their sin or their lot in life when we ourselves are in the same boat? If it were not for the grace and mercy of God we too would be just like that person that we often discriminate against. The truth is we are just like that person, because we too are sinners. Therefore, instead of judgement, we should grant mercy. Instead of favoring one person over the other, we should give equal grace to all.

Partiality is the silent sin of the church. We all struggle with it. We are all guilty of it. May we repent of the sin of partiality as we understand the totality of our own sin. May the grace of God enable us to show no partiality, but to love God and to love people.



[1] Michael P. Green. (2000). 1500 illustrations for biblical preaching (pp. 286–287). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

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