Updated: Mar 1, 2022
In the book of James, chapter two, James addresses a topic for which we
have all been guilty of at one time or
another: favoritism. We define favoritism as “the favoring of one person or group over others with equal claims.”
A simpler way to say that is favoritism is showing partiality. You may favor the rich versus the poor, women versus men, Republicans versus Democrats, etc. Other forms may include favoring your ethnic background, your denomination, or your favorite sports team. Often, we see coaches showing partiality toward their more gifted players, pastors preferring their more faithful church members, or waiters going out of their way for better tipping customers. In just about every situation, favoritism focuses on external characteristics and not on the heart of an individual. It also will sometimes be motivated by greed. So, for those reasons, it is condemned in scripture.
James starts off chapter two with a straightforward command: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” That is pretty clear, don’t you think? No wiggle room there. No explaining that one away. As believers, we are not to show favoritism. We are not to prefer one “fill in the blank” over another. We are to treat people equally. James uses an example of how people will treat the rich better than they treat the poor. They will save the good seats at church for the rich while requiring the poor to “sit at their feet” (verse 3). What is the motivation? In this example, I would say greed.
We will sometimes treat those with wealth better so that we can get a better “return” on our “investment.” Even if the money we hope they give us goes to our church and not to us personally, it is still wrong. Why? Well, for one reason, we are putting our hope in man and not in God. Who is our provider anyway? Isn’t it the Lord? So why are we bending over backwards for the rich person and treating the one that has nothing like a dog? You can see how this would infuriate the Lord. It has to stop.
I am ashamed to say that missionaries are sometimes guilty of this as well. If we are given two opportunities to speak – one at a large church with a large mission’s budget and one at a smaller church, unlikely to take us on with financial support – we will often choose the larger church without uttering a prayer for guidance. Of course, we can try to justify this choice. “We’re here to raise our budget and we have only limited time, so we have to choose wisely.” I would recommend, rather, that we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and go where he directs us. I can tell you that one of the largest single offerings we have ever received at a mission’s service was from a small ethnic church in the Bronx with less than 50 people in attendance. You never know who the Lord will use to bless you.
I read a story about a successful auto mechanic who, one day while he was driving, saw a car stopped on the side of the road with the hood up. It appeared that the car had seen better days. The apparent owner of the car was leaning against it, looking a little disheveled. So, the mechanic pulled over to try to help him get the car running. Being a good mechanic, he was successful and, afterwards, started making some small talk with the owner of the car. As he was about to leave, the man offered him money, but the mechanic declined. The owner asked him his name and where he was from, shook his hand with gratitude, and then they parted company. A week later the mechanic was notified by his bank that his mortgage was paid off in full. He came to find out that the man he stopped to help was a multi-millionaire and had just paid off his mortgage for him.
I love that story, but stories like this should not be our motive for treating people equally. We should do it for two main reasons:
1) Scripture commands us to and
2) we need to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
Jesus never based his treatment of people on their outward appearance, their social standing, or how much wealth they had accumulated. If we are truly led by the Holy Spirit, he will lead us in the same way - to love the unlovable, help the helpless, and honor those who perhaps do not deserve any honor. I was taught that I should treat the building’s janitor with the same respect that I have for the company president. People are precious to God and Jesus willingly laid down his life for every one of them, regardless of their wealth or social status.
Church, I want to echo James here: let us not show favoritism. Let us look to the Lord to meet our needs and not try to depend on man. Let us treat everyone, no matter who they are, with respect, loving kindness, and generosity. If we walk in the Spirit, we will be led by the Spirit and we will be filled with the Spirit. Remember that Jesus is our example: he did not show favoritism in this way, and neither should we.