Back in the days of the apostle James, for some members of the church, the “in” style was apparently clothes showing wealth and the in colors were apparently gold, scarlet and purple:
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4).
The colors getting people’s attention here were not just gold and silver. In that day and age the most noticeable difference between a rich person’s clothing and a poor person’s was usually color. Only the rich could afford clothing made of finer materials like colored silk or linen died with expensive purple or scarlet dyes (Proverbs 31:21, Mark 15:17, etc.). So this wasn’t just about paying attention to those wearing gold rings. James puts equal stress on those focusing on the doubtless brightly colored clothing of the rich man (vs. 3), and he uses some pretty strong language about them – he says if they are guilty of gravitating to such a person at the expense of others, they are guilty of discrimination (vs. 4).
The problem wasn’t really about the gold ring or the brightly colored robe of the rich man, of course – the root of the problem was that some of James’ readers were seeing those who wore gold rings and scarlet and purple clothes as somehow better than others. Think about it. The people of the Church did not want to associate with the rich in the hopes of getting some of their money, but there were certain things about the rich man – we might think of them as distinguishing “colors” – that meant people gravitated to him. The wealthy man was simply the man to know, the man to be friends with, the man who was wearing the “in” colors.
So we must ask ourselves what “color” is in today, in our age, in our church. It may well not be the “color” of money. It could just as well be the “color” of “appearance,” “popularity,” “tech savvy,” or even “dedicated church attendance” or “missionary zeal,” depending on who is looking and how they see things. The fact is, just like the poor man James mentioned, every church congregation has those who are not wearing the “in” color. Sometimes they are the old, sometimes those in ill health, sometimes they are just those with poor social skills. But if we see others – any others – as more attractive, fun, or “in” to be around, we have missed the point of James’ warning.
It’s really a matter of perspective. Our physical eyes may see and sense the things that make people “in,” but we need to always look beyond what the eyes see. That, of course, was the point of God’s words to Samuel regarding the physically impressive Saul: “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). And notice an important detail of what James said that we so often read over without noticing it much – James begins his admonition to not be swayed by what is attractive by making an important point: “My brothers and sisters,” he says, “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism” (vs. 2).
Before talking about the rich man and his physical glory, James makes a comparison with the much more “glorious” nature of Christ. James prefaced his statement with that thought because he wanted us to remember that, if we have the right perspective, we will see that even those totally devoid of anything that could make them “in” physically still carry the image of God, which is far more glorious in every way than the "in colors" of human society.
It’s a point that may not apply to us personally, but if we ever find ourselves gravitating mainly to those who exhibit whatever “color” is “in,” spending time primarily with those who are the “in crowd” within our group, it does apply.