v. 1. My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, with respect of persons.
v. 2. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment,
v. 3. and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool;
v. 4. are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
v. 5. Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him?
v. 6. But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment-seats?
v. 7. Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
v. 8. If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well;
v. 9. but if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the Law as transgressors.
It is a peculiar fact that history repeats itself, that the same conditions seem to be found in the Christian congregations after just about so long a time of Gospel preaching. The apostle does not hesitate to attack the evil with all the power at his command: My brethren, not in respect of persons hold the faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord of Glory. The Christian faith must not be abused, nor dare shame and disgrace be brought upon the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and the King of Glory. The reference is probably to the fact that the second person of the Godhead was present in the cloud of glory which accompanied the children of Israel on their journey through the wilderness and afterward appeared at the dedication of the Temple of Solomon. Such a condition of affairs, however, such servile regard of people, altogether out of agreement with the spirit shown by Jesus Christ in His treatment of men, had crept into the churches. Men were not regarded on the basis of their Christianity, their moral excellence, their personal piety, their usefulness to the congregation, but on the basis of the wealth which they had accumulated.
This is brought out with great emphasis and effectiveness by the apostle: For if there enters into your common assembly a man bedecked with gold rings, in a splendid garment, but there entered also a poor man in a sordid garment, and you (would) attend to the wearer of the splendid garment and say to him, Sit thou here in the best place, and to the poor man you would say, Keep standing here, or sit down at my footstool, do you not therefore discriminate among yourselves and become judges according to evil considerations? The text pictures a meeting, an assembly of worship, as it was held in those days. In steps a man whose wealth and influence is apparent at first glance. He is bedecked with gold rings, he wears the fine white garment which was assumed by rich Jews. Hardly has he entered the door, when the members crowd forward to meet him. With obsequious deference they place the best seat in the room at his disposal, their faces, at the same time, displaying the admiration for wealth and power which fills their hearts. But immediately after there steps in a poor man, clad in a simple garment, perhaps even soiled with the labor of his hands. There is no deferential ushering as he apologetically tries to find a place where he may stay. Instead, he is curtly told that he may stand in the room reserved in the rear; or, if that does not suit him, he may sit down on the floor. Note: History repeats itself also in this, that these very conditions obtain in many so-called Christian houses of warship to this day. But the apostle gives his opinion of such behavior in sharp words, telling his readers that they are thereby making a false distinction, a wrong and foolish discrimination, that they are dividing the congregation of the Lord into parties without the consent of the Lord, in a manner which in no way accords with His own acceptance of publicans and sinners. Incidentally, men calling themselves Christians and yet acting in such a manner become judges according to evil surmisings, according to false considerations. To judge a man by his outward appearance only and to condemn him on account of his poverty is to defame him both in thought and deed, an act very decidedly at variance with the Eighth Commandment.
In solemn warning the apostle calls out: Listen, my beloved brethren: Did not God choose the poor according to this world, rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom which He has promised to them that love Him? This fact the readers should consider, of that they should never lose sight. It is the poor people in this world's goods, the weak, the foolish, that God has chosen, 1Co_1:27-28. The wise and mighty of this world are inclined to sneer at the Gospel of the poor Galilean fishermen and of the Nazarene that died on the cross. Therefore the Lord has chosen the poor, not because their hearts by nature are any better than those of the wealthy and mighty, but because they at least have not the handicap which riches are apt to prove to contend with. And it is the Lord's choosing which has made the poor rich in faith, which has assured them of the inheritance of the saints in light, the glorious reward of mercy in heaven above, which God has promised to those that love Him. Reproachfully the apostle therefore writes: You, however, insult the poor, both dishonoring and despising them.
In this connection the apostle reminds the Jewish Christians of another fact: Do not the rich oppress you, and themselves drag you before their tribunals? Do they not blaspheme the excellent name which was laid upon you by your call? He speaks of the rich people as a class, characterizing them by the behavior which is commonly found where they have the power. They make use of violence, they oppress those that are not in their own class, they try to lord it over them at all times; they foster lawsuits, believing that their money will buy them the decision which justice would never render. And altogether too many of them will not believe that they are in need of the Savior and His redemption, they blaspheme the name of Him that called the Christians by faith, and added them to the communion of saints. The conduct of the believers, therefore, in acting with a false deference to all the wealthy people, is all the more reprehensible.
The apostle, then, offers this conclusion: If, indeed, you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, you do well; but if you have respect of persons, you commit a sin, and are convicted by the Law as transgressors. There is a royal law, a rule of the Kingdom, which should be heeded also by Christians as expressing the will of God, namely, the precept that they should love their neighbors as themselves, making no distinction between rich and poor, between fashionable and unimportant. Such conduct is well-pleasing to God. But if the Christians make such false distinctions as outlined by the apostle above, preferring the rich and influential merely on account of their money and not on account of their Christian life and moral worth, then they are transgressing the will of God and stand convicted by Him and by His Law, which will then apply once more. It is a willful, conscious sin of which they will be guilty, and there will be no excuse for them. It is a warning which will bear repetition in our days.