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James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
It’s been over two months since I wrote a part of this series. Hope you didn’t give up on me… let’s continue.
A basic principle of Christian living is to never play favorites. Never show partiality. Never.
What does that mean? Here’s what it doesn’t mean:
- It doesn’t mean you can’t have some friends that are closer than others.
- It doesn’t mean you can’t “like” someone more than someone else.
- It doesn’t mean you can’t do something nice for someone that you can’t do for everyone.
It means that you do not count one person AS MORE VALUABLE IN GOD’S EYES that another. And more specifically, James tells us that we do not show favorable treatment to someone JUST BECAUSE they have money or because it may result in personal gain or advantage for us.
Favoritism in general is elevating the status of another person based on superficiality: looks, family, money, position or race. It is based in selfish ambition when we do it for personal advantage, and pride when we think we can judge someone on external appearances.
Let’s take a look at James 2:1-13 (NKJV;emphasis mine):
James 2:1 My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.
Plain and simple… don’t practice your “faith” (refers to the Christian life as a whole) with partiality. Don’t let favoritism be part of your life. Ever.
James 2:2-4 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
Gold rings and fine clothes in that culture clearly announced someone of material success and social status. Unlike today, it was more uncommon and if a man walked in with those things, it would be instantly noticed.
Christians should never show favored treatment to the wealthy or powerful and ignore the poor or unimportant. That demonstrates the weakness of man’s perspective as God uses the outcasts of the world just as surely as He uses the talented and popular.
Favoritism can be blatant: giving a seat of honor or showing all the attention to the favored. It can also be VERY subtle where the favoritism is in your mind and heart but you are careful to not show it blatantly by your actions.
Favoritism starts with the attitude of your heart and thoughts in your mind regardless of how it is manifested. God is not fooled by mortal who harbor favoritism but disguise it outwardly through manipulation and schemes that our fellow humans don’t pick up on. There’s “in your face” favoritism… then there’s secret favoritism that may fool other Christians but not God.
When we show favoritism we become “judges of the heart”. Only God can see into the human heart and know the REAL person. For us to show favoritism is to claim to have the power of God to know the secret nature of another person. We can judge external actions but never internal realities. The state of the human heart is God’s domain alone. To show partiality is to “play God”. That’s why it is forbidden.
James 2:5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
James is not saying that God has chosen ONLY the poor, but ALSO the poor. It is human nature to think that poverty and low social status equates to uselessness and personal failure. We are reminded that externals are not trustworthy indicators. God sees pass that. The kingdom of God is promised to those WHO LOVE GOD… it is has nothing to do with the social standards of this world.
James 2:6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
We are reminded that most often it is the rich and powerful who oppress and cheat us, not the poor. So why do we show partiality to the rich anyway? One word: greed. We hope that by doing so, we might end up with some of that money, power and privilege. C’mon, you know it’s true. That’s why we get a big smile on our face and become ultra-friendly with the beautiful, success people… but (often) impatient and matter-of-fact with the “losers”. Let’s just tell it like it is.
On top of that, who in this world are the ones routinely denying and blaspheming God? The ones who are rich, popular and powerful. The poor can blaspheme and deny God too but we most often see the powerful and wealthy doing it because their success has caused them to elevate their opinion of themselves. Why would we honor someone who denies our Savior? For a chance at some personal attention from them? Please.
James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.
Huh? What does all that law stuff have to do with anything? James is saying this: you can’t be a “good Christian” in every other part of your life while showing favoritism… and pretend it does not taint your entire walk of faith.
It’s like I tell my kids, you can’t be a “liar” in certain situations. You are either a “liar” or not. If you tell lies at work or to your parents, YOU ARE A LIAR. You don’t get to pick and choose, or compartmentalize. In the same manner, you can’t show favoritism and claim the rest of your Christian life is just fine and dandy. If you openly engage in any sin, that sin permeates and stains your entire Christian life. We try to fool ourselves by thinking “well I’m a really good Christian except for this one little thing….”
James 2:13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Another aspect of favoritism is that it often involves showing less mercy towards the unfavored, even if it is just a by-product of our attitude and not a malicious choice. We are more patient, forgiving and understanding with those we favor.
We are more likely to be blunt and “tell it like it is” with the less favored while pretending it is just showing “tough love” and being realistic. Oh, the games we play in our minds.
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We should NEVER show favoritism, EVER. To accomplish this, you must continually evaluate both your attitudes and choices towards others. It is very easy to slip over into favoritism while justifying it with some holy motive.
Remember, we cannot see into the heart. We shouldn’t act like we can. Disregard material success, status, privilege and power as the means by which we regard others.
Favoritism is a proclamation that we are like God which is of course the first and most primary lie Satan would have us believe and is the foundation of all human pride and sin (Gen 3:4