Sometimes our biggest problems are getting along with other people. Someone quipped, “To dwell above with those you love, that will be a glory. But to dwell below, with those we know, that’s another story.”
Christians treat others well. How we treat others is a direct indication of what we believe. James provided solid instruction on how to treat other people.
Treat All People Equally (vv. 1-4)
James instructed believers not to show favoritism or undue or unfair partiality toward others. The first century church was made up of poor people. It would be easy to cater to those coming into the assembly who were rich, influential or popular. James admonished the church not to practice preferential treatment. He didn’t want to see snobbery in the church. A snob is somebody whose nose turns up when their eyes look down, somebody who always thinks he or she is better than everybody else.
The church should be the one place where no discrimination exists, whether it is because of status, ethnicity, gender, age, appearance, affluence or popularity.
James warned that favoritism is sin (v. 9). We think favoritism is a small sin, but James reminded us that if we break one of God’s laws we have broken them all.
Instead of favoritism, we are to treat all people in the same manner. We need to look at everyone through the eyes of Christ. If we want to be like Christ, we can’t play favorites.
Treat All People Gracefully (vv. 5-7)
In James’ day, a two-class societal system was present—upper and lower. Christians generally were of the lower, poorer class. James contrasted the rich and the poor, making a theological point. The rich will be made poor because their wealth will not save them. The spiritually poor will be made rich because they will inherit the riches of Christ’s grace.
By the way, God always has had a special place for the poor. Christianity offered much to the poor and demanded much from the rich. The poor often are forgotten and marginalized, but those who mattered to no one else mattered intensely to God. Maybe that is why so many poor people flooded the early church.
As it relates to treating people, we need to treat people with grace. We need to treat them the way God has treated us. He has looked past our flaws and mistakes and has loved us with unmerited favor.
Treat All People Reciprocally (vv. 8-11)
James referred to the royal law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Jesus affirmed this statement as a part of the great commandment.) It’s a royal law because if we obeyed that one law, we wouldn’t need all the rest. We are to treat others as we want others to treat us.
I read about a junior varsity cheerleader named Hannah, who wanted to be on the varsity squad. Her best friend, Melissa, a varsity cheerleader, practiced with Hannah every day to help her make the varsity squad. After the tryouts, Hannah learned she’d made varsity, but Melissa hadn’t. Melissa had gone the extra mile to help Hannah make the varsity team so they could cheer together. Hannah wanted to swap places with Melissa.
Hannah drove to Melissa’s house. She wanted to comfort Melissa that night, so she slept on the floor next to her bed. Hannah knew the best thing she could do was to be near her friend during this difficult time.
When you swap places with others to feel how they hurt, you’ve taken the first step toward loving your neighbor as yourself.
Treat All People Mercifully (vv. 12-13)
James reminded his readers they will be judged, but mercy triumphs over judgment. Mercy is identifying with someone’s misery as God has done for us. God’s heart has gone out to us in our helpless condition. He has responded to our pain.
In like manner, we are to treat others mercifully, to see them as they are in their pain and hurt and respond with aid and help.
When we treat people equally, gracefully, reciprocally and mercifully, we will treat people as God intended.