Picking Favorites

“My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?” James 2:1-7, New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 . The Lockman Foundation: LaHabra, CA

James is clearly saying that we shouldn’t favor the rich over the poor. Considering that we live in a culture that values wealth as the ultimate sign of success, we would do well to listen. And if we stop there, treating rich and poor alike, we could easily pretend to have satisfied the full meaning of the passage.

The problem is that James continues.

“If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” James 2:8-10, New American Standard Bible

By dragging in the second Great Commandment, that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”, James’ attack on favoritism becomes a sweeping indictment of showing partiality to anyone for any reason that would indicate a failure to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.

I choose to only speak for myself, partly because I know my own heart better than anyone else’s, and partly to avoid hiding from the light of this indictment by shining it on others instead.

First, I show favoritism within my own family. Though I love all my children equally, the way I treat them and feel about them depends heavily on how much affinity I have for them. Unfair as it seems, I have more in common with several of my children than I have with the others. And this often translates into greater understanding and empathy, more attention, more affirmation, and more patience. I am effectively a better parent of the children I am most like. This is the sin of favoritism.

Second, I show favoritism toward my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am more likely to relate well to people with whom I have the most in common, or whose temperament is most comforting or appealing, or whose treatment of me is most pleasant. If someone is too different, too intimidating, too aloof, or too weird, I will tend to stay away. This is the sin of favoritism

Third, I show favoritism toward nonbelievers in essentially the same ways, and with similar effects. I have learned that non-Christians tend to be extremely sensitive to the integrity of a Christian’s faith. They have an uncanny sense of whether or not we take our confession seriously. By showing favoritism, I reveal just how little of the love of God moves through me, and nonbelievers can tell. This is the sin of favoritism.

Favoritism tends to play itself out in countless little decisions to act or not to act, to speak or not to speak. I am made more comfortable than I deserve. The feelings of others are hurt. Judgments are affirmed. The sensitive are offended. The innocent are rejected. My witness to nonbelievers is nullified. My credibility with my own children is forfeit. And God is grieved.

This is the barometer for my walk with the Lord. It is a call to change, a mandate for prayer, and a test of character.

- March 30, 2004

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