1My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. James 2:1 NIV
James begins chapter 2 with a declaration or a formal announcement to all of his “brothers and sisters” in Christ. He’s not addressing biological siblings of course, but those who like him “believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ”. He wants to make sure that everyone who fits that description or profession is paying attention. The subject of that announcement is “favoritism”. James makes it clear that favoritism or the “practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another” is forbidden, especially by those who claim to be believers and followers of Jesus Christ. If anyone shouldn’t be doing it, it’s us. I know I’m being overly redundant, but James’ emphasis on who “must not show favoritism” is as important as not showing favoritism.
In a perfect world no one should show favoritism, partiality, bias, prejudice, or discriminate in any way towards anyone no matter what they believe, but for a Christian or follower of Christ it’s even more important because it is the heart of what it means to be a Christian. We have been commanded by God through Jesus Christ to not only “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Matthew 22:39) but even to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us” (Luke 6:27-28). If we read the Luke 6:27-42 we get a detailed description from Jesus on how we are supposed to treat others, specifically our neighbor who is anyone we encounter and those who are our enemies. Our enemies include those who oppose us for any reason whether it’s just a disagreement or all-out warfare. Jesus takes this a step further in Luke 6:37 when He says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.”. This directly applies to our topic today because if we are showing favoritism in any way, we are actually making a judgement about someone else, and in many cases, we are making a determination of their worth, which is what James addresses in James 1:2-7.
James uses the contrast between rich and poor to make his point in James 2:2-7, but there are no boundaries of application here. While the rich taking advantage of the poor is a common occurrence throughout human existence, the rich are not the only ones who are guilty of showing partiality or favoritism. It can be shown by anyone at any time towards anyone else. The possibilities are limitless because everyone has “favorites” or things that they like the best. In terms of humanity, favoritism is usually shown towards those who are like us, like-minded, or “our kind of people”. It is universal and crosses all lines of socioeconomics, race, ideology, religion, politics, etc. If someone fits into a mold or idea of existence, then they are more likely to receive favor from an individual or group. If not, then favor will be withheld.
James tells us point blank that favoritism is a sin. He also reminds us of the “royal law found in Scripture” in verse 8, to “Love your neighbor as yourself”, which is the greatest commandment given by Jesus in Matthew 22:30 that I mentioned earlier. James says that if we keep or obey this commandment, we are doing good, but if we show favoritism we sin and are “convicted by the law as lawbreakers”. (James 1:9) He also emphasizes in verse 10 that if we break any parts of the law, or stumble just a little bit with any part of it, we are guilty of breaking all of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s favoritism, murder, adultery, anger, lying, etc. If you break one, then you’ve broken them all.
It would be reasonable to assume that after however many years of human existence that we would have moved passed this issue of favoritism, and yet it seems we have never been more divided than we are today. So, why hasn’t our “evolution” as a species led us to a utopian state where there is no favoritism, partiality, bias, prejudice, or discrimination of any kind?
Well, the main reason is because we all have a different idea of what equality and impartiality, which is the opposite of favoritism, looks like. But if we go back to James 1:14-15 where it says, “but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death”, there is another reason why we can’t eliminate favoritism. It’s not just that we can’t agree on everything. There is something deeper at work that divides and separates us socially.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 5:12 that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned”. So, as long as sin and evil desires exist in the hearts of humanity then there will always be favoritism in some form. Sin doesn’t happen by accident. It begins with a desire or a thought that is entertained, nurtured, and allowed to mature until it becomes sin, or an action driven by those desires. While it may be easy to blame our evil desires and transgressions on outside forces like the devil or learned behavior, we are all ultimately responsible for allowing it to continue. We are unable to resist temptation or those evil desires therefore sin-evil is perpetuated. If we want a world free of favoritism, partiality, bias, prejudice, discrimination, and injustice, then we must learn to ”abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” (Peter 2:11 NIV) We have to stop sinning.
According to Jesus, James, and other Biblical writers the answer to this dilemma can be found in the word of God. But, before we can even think about changing our behavioral patterns, our mind has to be renewed or changed. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 NIV). The “pattern of this world” or pattern of behavior that Paul is referring to is sin and evil. In order to break or change that pattern, our minds have to be renewed and reformatted according to the word and will of God. Evil desires or thoughts have to be contained. However, that is only the first step. Just knowing or hearing the word as we have learned from James, is not enough. It has to be applied and lived out. We have to “do what it says”. (James 1:22 NIV) The renewal not only effects our minds but our actions as well.
James elaborates further on this in James 2:14-26 by comparing faith (beliefs) and deeds (actions). James asks in verse 14 “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” What good is it if we, those who profess to believe and follow Jesus Christ, just believe something without the actions or deeds to back it up. If I claim to be a great musician, I better have the ability to back it up or no one will take me seriously. No one will believe what I’m saying if I’m not living it out. Remember James addressed this in chapter one when he said, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” (James 1:26 NIV) Likewise if we show favoritism, which includes partiality, bias, prejudice, etc., our religion is worthless. This is perhaps the biggest reason why the church is in decline and the world is having a hard time taking Christianity seriously. Our faith and deeds don’t always match up.
Have a great weekend! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC