“My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” — James 2:1
I was once in a Sunday school class where we studied James 2. Yes, the entire chapter. I don’t know why we talked about the whole chapter, because I had trouble getting past the first verse before I felt convicted.
Most of that conviction came as I felt God reminding me of the way I treat certain people. It seems I’m a master at showing favoritism. How easy it is to favor those who favor me, approve of my ministry or writing and have a similar sense of humor. And I’m always in favor of those who know me best and still, for some unknown reason, choose to not only love me, but also like me.
However, this flies in the face of the basic teachings of Scripture. James, in writing to his fellow Jewish Christians, shows how partiality, favoritism and discrimination breaks the law of God – the law that tells us to love our neighbor as our self. Furthermore, James uses a Greek construction in this verse that shows he is not prohibiting something they may do, but forbidding a practice that is already in progress.
Perhaps this is why the verse bothered me: I knew I was already in violation of God’s law.
I’ll admit that I take a bit of comfort knowing that most everybody I know shows favoritism in some way or fashion. Many of us find it compelling to become the friend of the richest person in church, for who knows what favors they could bestow upon us. A new job? Some financial help? The opportunity to meet other rich, equally important people? Conversely, I’ve watched rich people treated with disdain by those who envy them. Both responses lack the character of Christ.
Furthermore, I’ll confess right up front that I’m rather fond of those who are fond of me. I like people who feed my ego, are nice to my family, support my causes, laugh when I laugh and cry when I cry. I have no need to be with people who laugh when I hurt or mock my beliefs, ridicule my background or show contempt for my friends. Quite simply, I favor those who favor me, and by doing so, I’m simply favoring myself.
This, of course, is not the example set by Jesus. His attitude was to let go of His equality with God (Philippians 2:6) and hang around with sinners and lepers, the demon possessed and desperately frail. He did not shy away from those who did not support Him or doubted His words. He didn’t ignore those who questioned His sanity, gossiped about His upbringing, laughed at His teachings or falsely accused Him of blaspheming God. Instead, He chose to forgive them before they even had a chance to ask (Luke 23:34).
If I intend to adequately represent Christ to the people around me – at work, church, school, sporting events or grocery store – I need to remember these words of Paul: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Only by putting the needs of others above myself will I finally show the true love of God. Then, the next time I read James 2, I might be able to get past the first verse with a clear conscience.