If you’re like most people, you’ve probably seen or experienced a situation where one person received special treatment but another person didn’t. This is called “favoritism” and it occurs whenever someone shows partiality to one person or group, but not towards others.
For example, you’ve probably found that people often form social groups based on certain standards that everyone in the group has to meet. These standards could include things like appearance, athletic talent, or similar interests. Unfortunately, if a person from one group tries to cross over into another group with different standards, they often aren’t accepted because each group shows favoritism towards others within their group.
While this can be an unhappy fact of life for many people, the Bible tells us that relationships between Christians should be radically different…
“My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim that you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people more than others?” (James 2:1 NLT).
The opening verses of James chapter two talk about this subject of favoritism. In this passage, James uses an illustration to show that relationships should be different among Christians from the way that they often exist in the world today. Here’s the hypothetical example that he uses to set up this illustration…
“For instance, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in shabby clothes” (James 2:2 NLT).
Now before we go further, let’s take a few moments to make some observations about the situation that we read about here.
For instance, what can you notice about the example given to us in these verses? Well, since James is speaking to “brothers and sisters” who are meeting together, we can first say that he must be talking to Christians, right? We can also say that the first person is wealthy because their clothing clearly shows that they have a lot of money.
However, the second person is much different because their clothing is old and worn-out. Other versions of the Bible refer to this second person’s clothing as dirty (NAS), filthy (NKJ) and threadbare (TLB). In the first century world, less well-off people usually only had one set of clothes that they had to constantly wear. So this second person’s clothing also says something about them- it says that this second person is poor, just as we’re told.
Now you should consider these observations very carefully because this hypothetical question is about to become much more than just a hypothetical question…
“If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but say to the poor one, ‘You can stand over there or else sit on the floor’ – doesn’t this discrimination show that you are guided by the wrong motives?” (James 2:3 NLT).
Did you notice that this verse starts by saying, “If you…” This means that this example is no longer just a simple theoretical question because you the reader have just been inserted into the story. James has just transported you into this story and given you the responsibility of seating each of these people for the church service.
So where will you choose to place each of these people for the meeting? Well, here’s one choice that you could make…
“If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but say to the poor one, ‘You can stand over there or else sit on the floor’…”
In other words, you make a choice to show favor and respect to the rich person by first giving them a good seat. You then choose to tell the other person to stand out of the way or sit on the ground. This kind of choice -the choice to show favor to the wealthy and disfavor to the poor- reveals something that’s not very good…
“…doesn’t this discrimination show that you are guided by the wrong motives?”
Someone who shows this kind of favoritism demonstrates that they care more about external things (like money) and less about the kind of things that are really important. James is not criticizing the courtesy and respect shown to the wealthy person but he is definitely criticizing the unfair treatment given to one person simply because they are wealthy and another person simply because they are poor.
The Bible speaks very clearly against this kind of attitude in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, Leviticus 19:15 says, “Always judge your neighbors fairly, neither favoring the poor nor showing deference to the rich.” Jesus also taught on this concept when He said in John 7:24 “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (NKJ).
So what’s the lesson here? Well, the lesson is that it’s wrong to exclude people simply because of some external reason. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of judging people on outward appearances and you should guard against the temptation to look down on others simply because of the way they may dress or appear.
“Yes indeed, it is good when you truly obey our Lord’s royal command found in the Scriptures: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you pay special attention to the rich, you are committing a sin, for you are guilty of breaking that law” (James 2:8-9 NLT).