My brothers and sisters, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and a poor person dressed in filthy clothes also comes in, if you look with favor on the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor person, “Stand over there,” or “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” haven’t you made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? Yet you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the rich oppress you and drag you into court? Don’t they blaspheme the good name that was invoked over you? (James 2:1-7).
Every once in a while one of my children will slyly smile at me and say, “Daddy, I’m your favorite, right? I mean I know I am. You can tell me.”
Of course it’s a joke (I hope). That’s one of the cardinal rules of parenting when you have multiple kids – it is that though they are different and must be treated in different ways, they must nevertheless be treated equally. No favorites.
It’s so simple that we might wonder why James felt the need to include a section on favoritism and partiality in his book at all. Surely we get this, right? And yet we don’t. Not really. We might know not to play favorites with our kids, but we do that very thing in all other arenas of life. Which begs another question:
Is this really that big a deal? I mean, surely we are going to be drawn to and favor certain groups of people over another. That’s just human nature. Is it really that big a deal – a big enough deal to spend a fairly sizable chunk of biblical real estate on it?
The answer, of course, is that yes – it is that big a deal. And here are three reasons why?
1. Partiality neglects the image of God in fellow humans.
When we show favoritism to one person or group of people over another, we are, whether we know it or not, subtly neglecting the image of God that all human beings have been created in. Because all of us have been created in God’s image, every one of us is worthy of honor and dignity. When we remove some of that honor and dignity, even if it seems like a small thing, we are doing something more than exercising our preference for one group or another. We are, at a basic level, denying the image of God in the neglected party.
2. Partiality sees others as objects to be used.
Why might we show favoritism? Why might we show partiality? To look back at James’ illustration of the rich man and the poor man in the fellowship, the reason was simple: it’s because we can get something from the rich man. By showing favoritism, we might get his money, or a greater reputation because we are associated with him, or his approval which might increase our self-esteem. Whatever the case, we are trying to get something from him, which means we are using that human being rather than serving and loving them.
While we might trick ourselves into believing that showing partiality just means that someone gets a little something extra for us, as if we are doing the sacrificing, it’s really the other way around – our focus is on ourselves and what we can potentially use that person for.
3. Partiality sets us up as judge.
Finally, favoritism is a big deal because it sets us up in the place of God. We are determining the worthiness of someone based on some preconceived notion about them based on their clothes, or money, or reputation, or whatever. But we are not equipped to make this judgment. Indeed, only God looks at the heart.
When we show partiality, we are putting ourselves in place of God. We are judging the worth of another.
When, then, we see this trait inside ourselves – when we know that our tendency is to always favor one group over another – we would do well to remind ourselves that we are all on level ground at the foot of the cross. There is no one righteous – no not one. Not that group we tend to favor more than others, and certainly not ourselves. And then we can look and see that God Himself did not show favoritism, but instead is building His kingdom from unlikely places and sources. So also should our attitude be.