James 2:1-13

Favoritism, 31 July 2011

Big Idea: God loves each of us equally and we are, likewise, to love others equally.

We all have preferences. That’s probably why there are dozens of different types of toothpaste to choose from when we go to the store. Jesus’ half-brother, James, had some strong words about favoritism.

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (2:1-4)

Last week’s message could be boiled down to three words:

Just Do It (obey the Word)

This week’s message could be boiled down to three words from another 80’s slogan:

Just Say No (to favoritism)

The message is pretty simple to understand, yet it can be difficult to obey.

Why do people show favoritism?

I’m continually amazed that in a nation whose Declaration of Independence reads “all men are created equal,” it was nearly 100 years later in 1870 that race was removed as a barrier to voting and it took another 50 years in 1920 for women to vote. Favoritism?

By the way, note that it says that all are “created.” Just a thought!

God originated the idea of love, of respect, and of equality. In fact, He loves the underdog, the humble, and the weak. Why? He hates pride!

Today’s passage in James 2 comes on the heels of the final verses from last week. It’s important to note that the Bible was not written with chapters and verses. They were added centuries later. Right before James talks about favoritism, he writes

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (1:27)

God loves the poor and the orphan and the widow. He cares for them—uses us to show that love. The next time you pray for God to bless the hungry, He may ask you to feed them. The next time you pray for God to bless the orphans, be ready to become a foster parent or even adopt.

There’s an old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover, yet we do. It’s our human nature to judge people by what we see or know about them, yet even if our assumptions are true, they are created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth.

One of the greatest examples of God’s concern for the underdog is found in 1 Samuel 16. Samuel is told by God to visit the home of Jesse where he would find the next king of Israel.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:6-7)

I love that last sentence.

Why do we pay so much attention to outward appearance?

I’m ashamed to confess this, but this week I judged someone by their outward appearance. I got my hair cut at one of those walk-in places where you get whoever is available to cut your hair. I was hoping for one of the trendy-looking stylists and was called into the chair of an older, not-terribly attractive person…who then proceeded to give me a terrific haircut.

One of the greatest examples I have ever seen of judging the outward appearance of someone happened two years ago on a British television program. You can view it

I have a friend who is a multi-millionaire. You’d never know it by the way that he dresses. He told me of a time when he entered a car showroom ready to buy a new car—or two!—with cash!—yet was ignored by numerous salespeople who gave their attention to better-dressed shoppers.

That’s an unusual case of a rich man NOT getting preferential treatment, but there was obviously no perceived wealth. James continues

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? (2:5-7)

Why are we drawn to the rich? There’s nothing evil about being wealthy, but favoritism is clearly a sin. It’s amazing to me how some of the most rich and famous people are the most miserable—and make others around them miserable.

James continues...

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. (2:8-11)

There are only two things we must do as followers of Jesus—love God and our neighbor. The Golden Rule is referenced here. Love your neighbor as yourself. James is saying that’s the true test of our maturity and obedience. Too many people will tell you that they’re going to heaven because they haven’t killed anyone, but James is saying that favoritism is a sin and all sin leads to death. Period.

The early church certainly had their issues or else James would not have needed to write these words, yet they became known for taking care of the poor and the widow and the orphan and the outcast. The Good News of Jesus Christ is alive and well 2000 years later because men and women and children before us followed the Golden Rule and lived radical, counter-cultural lives of faith, hope and love.

The next time you are tempted to pre-judge someone, show favoritism, or discriminate against someone, remember Susan Boyle. Remember James. Remember Jesus. Remember the Golden Rule. Imagine what would happen if we treated everyone we encounter with the dignity, value and respect that they deserve as being created in the image of God.

James concludes...

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (2:12-13)

James is referring to the Old Testament law that no one was able to follow perfectly, yet Jesus came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it. Mercy is not getting the punishment that we deserve and it’s only because of Jesus that we have the opportunity to experience both abundant and eternal life.

You can listen to the podcast here.