“For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” James 2:2-4
James warns us not to show preferential treatment to anyone based on their wealth. We are not to give extra attention to the well-off who attend our worship gatherings and ignore the poor. We are to welcome everyone in, and make everyone feel welcome. No-one should feel like a second-class citizen when they are a first time guest at church. We should do all that we can to make all feel welcome when they visit church, doing nothing to put them off coming back just because we don’t think they are ‘desirable’ enough.
And it doesn’t just apply to wealth. Often we can find it easy to welcome those we deem as ‘cool’ or part of the in-crowd, while the more socially awkward, slightly difficult people or those we deem as having too much baggage can be shunned, left on the margins, not included in the group. James warns us not to make these distinctions but to love and welcome everyone in to the arms of the Father. That means getting involved with the messy situations rather than fleeing from them. It means not always rushing to the same comfortable group to socialise after church. It means going beyond the superficial and into a deeper, more intimate level of connection with others – even those who don’t have any social capital, who it isn’t beneficial to be associated with.
We are not to pick and choose who can get the Gospel – Jesus commissioned us to go into all the world – not just the rich world, not just the comfortable world, not just the “in good social standing” world but all the world. So we must show no partiality and make no distinctions but simply welcome all in to hear the message of hope made available through the cross.
Note also what James is not saying. He is not saying it is wrong to show special honour to some people – this is clearly shown throughout the Bible to be the right thing to do (see for example 1 Peter 2:17 where Peter tells us to honour the emperor). Certain people deserve honour because of their position or because of what they have done for God and it is right and fitting to honour God’s servants – James is not saying don’t give people special honour, he is warning us not to give people honour based merely on the fact that they happen to be wealthy. We are to follow the example of God; looking not at outward appearances but at the heart to determine if someone is worthy of honour. We are to get to know them as people made in the image of God first rather than judging when they walk through the door of the church if they look like someone who will be beneficial to have in our lives or simply will cause us too much hassle to be worth the effort.