As is common with James, he starts this section with a simple, yet in-your-face statement: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism” (James 2:1). If these words were not cited, one would wonder if they were spoken yesterday and we were reading it “hot off the presses”. Instead, it was written about 2,000 years ago to Christians who struggle with the same thing we still struggle with today: favoritism.
James drew an example (to believers then) we can still connect with: 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?” (James 2:2-4).
In reading that we think, “well, of course you shouldn’t do that!” In the middle of life, however, we find ourselves choosing the “gold rings and fine clothes” over the “poor man in shabby clothes”. It’s just too easy for all of us to get caught up in favoring those who have more money, talents, or looks.
Let me give you an example. I was involved in a living nativity event at a church once and I was part of the “entertainment” for people in the church’s worship center waiting for their chance to join a group and go through the living nativity. When my turn came up, I sat at the piano and played/sang my songs. When I was finished and walked off the stage to sit and wait my time to do it again, there were all these people who started talking to me. Suddenly, I had all these “friends”. Mind you, I sat right next to these people for an hour without more than small talk from them but now that I had “proven myself”, they were suddenly very interested in me. While I was in my “shabby clothes”, I was just a person. When I had done something of interest (to them) and put on my “gold ring and fine clothes”, I was treated differently. How did it make me feel? Sadly, I have been on both sides of that fence. You?
James tells believers if you really “love your neighbor as yourself”, you won’t show favoritism (James 2:8-9). By its very nature, favoritism is choosing to love someone more than another because of some prejudice in our hearts. As James reminds us “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).
Instead of playing favorites, we should “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” (James 2:12-13).
How are doing with playing favorites? Are people important to you only if and when you think/know they can provide something for you? Are we speaking and acting as those who truly know freedom? Or, instead, are we putting others into the same bondage form which we ourselves have been released?
Playing favorites doesn’t honor the image of God that every human bears. Nor does it demonstrate the love of Christ for all of us. Neither does it demonstrate His love to them. May the Lord convict us of our prejudices and predispositions and create in us a heart to be givers of life to people.