These small group studies of James contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
James 2:1-13 Inductive Bible Study – Do Not Show Favoritism
James 2:1-13 Video Bible Study
James 2:1-13 Podcast Bible Study
James 2:1-13 Bible Study
I. Show no partiality (1-4)
II. Do not honor the rich above the poor (5-7)
III. Fulfill the law by loving others (8-13)
I. Show no partiality (1-4)
- What does it mean to show favoritism?
- Is favoritism common in your society?
- Why do people normally show favoritism?
- What are some of the motivations behind favoritism?
- Is favoritism common in the church?
- In what ways might believers show favoritism today in the church?
- How about outside of the church?
1 Corinthians 12:12-14 – Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
1 Samuel 16:7 – But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
John 7:24 – Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.
1. Show no partiality – Favoritism is common in the world. The way James describes this issue means to elevate or exalt a person based only on something external such as appearance (skin color or race), wealth, gender, social status, or position. Nations have shown favoritism by not allowing certain minorities to vote or oppressing segments of the population in other ways.
The slave trade was a disgusting demeaning of Africans whereby they were treated worse than animals. Even after African Americans won the right to vote according to the law, actually doing so was very difficult in many areas of the US. Women also couldn’t vote for a long portion of American history. Some nations still only allow the rich to vote.
In South Africa, Apartheid kept a division between the white ruling class and the black class for decades. Some countries’ majority has committed genocide against tens of thousands only because of a difference in race. In Rwanda in 1994, 800,000 minority people were brutally murdered in three months because of partiality. And Hitler massacred around seven million Jews under Nazi Germany in addition to countless mentally disabled, elderly, and those who were not of his supposed Master Aryan race.
Favoritism is not limited to one race or group of people. It is a sin that any person, any race, and any country can struggle with. And it is ugly wherever it rears its head.
On a personal level, favoritism is just as heinous. It causes neighbor to turn against neighbor and the rich to abuse the poor. It can stir up hatred and bitterness.
Partiality also frequently pops up in religion. During the time of Jesus, the Jews were extremely prejudiced. They looked down on women, Samaritans, tax collectors, the uneducated, and all outsiders, basically everyone but educated, male, Jews.
In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church launched over ten crusades, most for the sole purpose of killing the heathen. And Muslims also fought many wars against the infidel to expand their territory.
Partiality is not only a thing from the ancient past. Today I have heard stories of people going to church and those in the congregation looking down on them and making them feel so uncomfortable (maybe because of their past sins or their clothing or other reasons) that they never returned.
In this passage, we are commanded to show no partiality. We are to love all people with the love of Christ regardless of skin color, sinful lifestyle, or economic position.
2. What is the cause of favoritism?- I think there are several root causes.
A. Pride – Sometimes our pride about our own education, knowledge level, or maturity causes us to look down on others who haven’t achieved the same level we think we have.
B. External focused – Often we show favoritism because we are focused on man instead of God. We don’t want others to look at us and say, “Oh look who he is hanging out with.” We are worried that our spending time with a certain group or person will draw the negative attention from others. Peter faced this issue when he stopped eating with the Gentiles in fear of the Jews (Galatians 2:11-13).
C. Desire for praise – We do something kind for some people because we want them to notice and return the favor. This is what James describes in this passage. If a person is rich or has a high position, they can do a lot for us whereas if they are poor they can’t. If they are a pastor or esteemed member of the church they will recognize our service and think highly of us. Basically we show favoritism by being nice to certain people in order to win brownie points. Although these good deeds to curry favor may look good on the outside, God sees our hearts. We should please God rather than man.
Application: The problem for us is when favoritism starts to creep into our own lives and attitudes. Think about how favoritism may start to influence your thinking and actions. Share one or two times you might have been tempted to show partiality. What was the root cause? Why were you tempted? How will you improve in this area?
4. James’ example of honoring the rich in church (2-4) – The believers James wrote to fell into the sin of favoritism by treating the rich differently than the poor. They gave the best seats in the church to rich, but the poor were afterthoughts.
How might we fall into the trap of showing favoritism in church?
- Hanging out with the same group and ignoring others.
- Giving special recognition or plaques to those who make large donations.
- Currying favor with rich people who can give a larger tithe.
- Not paying attention to newcomers.
- Not being helpful to certain people whom we have a low opinion of.
- Being rude to a person because we think their motives are not pure.
Application: Train yourself out of favoritism. This week at church instead of going straight to your normal group of friends to chat, find someone new whom you may not generally talk with. Reach out to them and be friendly. Invite them to lunch or to your house.
5. Our ultimate example is Christ – Jesus was sent to die for the sins of the world, not just for one group of people. God created all people in His image. He values each one, poor or rich, healthy or sick, high or low IQ. Jesus gave His life for the peoples of the world. It is in this basic fundamental truth that the individual value of all people rests. Since Christ does not show partiality we must not either.
If Christ, who is the Almighty Creator, was not too good to show love and compassion to the lowest of groups, how about us? Obviously we are not either.
It is self-righteousness and pride that makes us think we are better than others or makes us want to flatter rich people to get something in return. God is just, fair, and objective. This is a fundamental attribute of His and we should strive to follow the perfect example of Christ. His ministry was primarily directed to the poor people and sinners of the earth, not Pharisees or important leaders. It is the poor who are more receptive to the gospel and we should emulate Christ’s compassion for them.
II. Do not honor the rich above the poor (5-7)
- Does God show favoritism?
- What does verse five teach us about God’s character?
- In what ways did Jesus give us an example of not showing favoritism? (Choice of lineage, birth place, ministering to Samaria, Galilee, poor, sinful, and sick)
- How can we follow God’s example of impartiality in our daily lives?
- What is Paul’s point in verses 6-7?
- Since the rich can be cruel, should we show special attention to the poor people?
- Why or why not?
Isaiah 1:17 – Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
Matthew 9:10-13 – While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
1. Do not favor the rich – James points out how illogical it is to strive so hard to please rich people while neglecting the poor. The poor were often the ones who were saved by God and belonged to God’s family while the rich often mistreated believers and mocked their faith.
Many poor people are among the happiest in the world and have strong faith in God. It is to the poor people of the world that Christ largely ministered to. But it did not take long for Jesus’ focus on reaching the poor to be forgotten.
The saints’ partiality was motivated by a worldly way of thinking, but even with a worldly way of thinking it was ridiculous for them to try so hard to please this group who mistreated them. Why focus most of your energy pleasing the rich person who will likely reject you and the word you teach?
Note that James is not teaching a kind of reverse discrimination, that is to discriminate against the rich.
God offers salvation to both. But because of the pride of their heart it tends to be less common for the rich to accept it. We must show love to all of our neighbors, poor or rich. James uses this as an example because most tend to try to please the rich. If it was the opposite, he would have used an opposite example.
III. Fulfill the law by loving others (8-13)
- What is Scripture’s royal law?
- Why is this called the royal law?
- How serious is showing partiality?
- In what way does failing the law at just one point make us guilty of breaking all of it?
- Since we have all broken at least one law, what hope do we have?
- When we are tempted to show partiality what should we remember from verse 12?
- What is the law of liberty? Is this the same law referred to in verse 10?
- If a person has no mercy towards others, what does this show about his heart?
- How are showing mercy and being impartial linked?
- Who is a person in your life that you need to show more love to? How will you do this?
2 Timothy 3:2 – People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy.
Deuteronomy 1:17 – Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.
Deuteronomy 16:19 – Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.
Galatians 5:1 – It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
1. Fulfill the royal law – The word law is used in each verse from 9-12. The law of God is against favoritism from the time of the Old Testament. One example of loving your neighbor is to treat him fairly regardless of his position in society. Of course there are many applications of this royal law.
Jesus said that the most important commands in Scripture are to love God with your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. In every situation when we consider what action God wants us to do, we should ask ourselves “what is the loving thing to do?”
- Should you scold your wife or not: “What is the loving thing to do?”
- Should you yell at your child or not: “What is the loving thing to do?” Sometimes it might be loving to yell at your child, such as if they are about to run in front of a car, but generally it is not.
- Should you visit your friend in the hospital or take a nap: “What is the loving thing to do?”
- So many problems you face can be solved by asking two questions, “Is this loving God?” and “Is this loving my neighbor?” If you learn to ask these two questions of yourselves regularly it will be a successful study.
2. What does it mean that the person who stumbles in one point becomes guilty of all? –
First, what does it not mean? It clearly doesn’t mean that if you broke one law that you actually broke every single law. Technically you can murder without committing adultery and vice-versa.
But the point is that no matter which law you broke, even the smallest one, you are a lawbreaker and are guilty. No matter which of God’s laws we have broken, we are a transgressor. We are guilty in His sight. He doesn’t divide commands and say, “Well you’ve only broken 27% of the commandments so you are 73% good.”
It doesn’t work like that. If we have broken even 1% of His commandments we are a criminal, a transgressor, guilty and deserving of His judgment. This is made clear when you see the summary of the law is to love God and love your neighbor. If you disobey this by showing partiality you have disobeyed the law to love your neighbor, and therefore have broken the entire law.
Why does James bring this up? I think his point is to stress the seriousness of partiality. Showing favoritism is serious. If you treat people different because of appearance or status then you are guilty in God’s sight and deserve judgment.
So if God’s law is like this, what is our hope? How can anyone escape God’s judgment? Obviously our only hope is to trust in Jesus Christ who can pay the penalty for us! He alone can save us from our sins.
3. What is the law of liberty – If you try to deserve salvation by obeying every law, you will make yourself a slave of it and can never fulfill all of it. But God’s grace sets us free from judgment. The pharisees tried to earn merit with God by rigidly following a set of rules. But their hearts were not transformed. And the burden was too great for any many to bear.
The New Covenant sets us free from the Old Covenant law and encourages us to serve the Lord with our whole hearts, not to earn merit, but as a loving response to His love (1 John 4:19). God’s commands are no longer seen as painful restrictions to freedom, but rather a means to the most joyous freedom, freedom of sin and a way to express our gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice for us.
Application: Spend some time in prayer. Thank God that you are not required to follow a set of rules in order to earn His favor. Thank God that He has shown grace by giving you a salvation which you did not deserve.
4. Judgement is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy – From the parable of the unforgiving slave, we know that a true believer will in turn forgive and show mercy to others while a false believer will not. If we have not forgiven others God will not forgive us.
If we do forgive others it is because God has forgiven us and enabled us to forgive them. This is directly connected to the idea of partiality. Mercy overlooks people’s flaws, weaknesses, and external appearance in order to extend God’s love to them.
Application: What is one thing you need to obey from today’s passage?
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