James is writing to distinguish the marks of true faith, and in this section he exposes ‘partiality’. Partiality means ‘receiving the face’ – showing favouritism to someone based on a mere external showing.
To treat the poor differently from the rich is to be guilty of partiality – and partiality is evil because it is contrary to God’s thought and actions.
Partiality is a fundamental breach of the Great Commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves. So our petty prejudices are extremely serious: breaking this one commandment we become guilty of all.
As Christians we are to build amongst ourselves a genuine counterculture in which the values of Jesus Christ rather than the values of the world are being lived out. We must be ruthless with false ideas but welcoming of all people.
Partiality is also a denial of the wonder of grace shown to us in Christ. When the needy come our way we do not thank God that we are not like other men, but cry out, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner.’