James 2:1 My brothers, Show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 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, 3 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,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? ESV
James was noticing a problem occurring within the church. Rich people were being favored over the poor. Apparently, whenever someone who was affluent visited their assembly, they were given one of the best seats; while at the same time, poor people were often neglected and perhaps even shunned.
What makes us do things like that? No doubt a major part of the problem is our lack of genuine Christlike love. More often than not, our love is more ‘phileo’ than ‘agape.’ What do I mean by this?
The Greeks had several words to describe several different types of love. Two of these words are found in the New Testament.
One word is ‘phileo’ which refers to a friendship kind of love. Sometimes phileo love is based upon certain conditions we require others to meet. In other words – “If you do such and such, I will love you. But if you fail to do these things, I won’t.” Phileo love can sometimes be very self-centered.
The other word is ‘agape’ and it is very different. Whereas phileo love is conditional, agape love isn’t. There are no ‘if’s’ in the expression of agape love. In addition we should note that agape love does not focus so much upon what others can do for us, but what we can do for them. One of the greatest verses in all the Bible concerning the expression of agape love is John 3:16: “For God so loved (agape) the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God does not love the people of the world because they are lovely. God loves them because they need His love.
The church James was criticizing didn’t actually love the rich; they were just using them to get something. Perhaps they were thinking, “I wonder how much they can give to the church?” or maybe –“Hanging out with the rich people will make me look cool.” James tells us that such favoritism is sinful. “You have become judges with evil thoughts.”
In contrast, consider the mindset of Jesus –
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV
He who was rich became poor so that we who are poor could become rich.