We all have favorites. We have our favorite foods, favorite movies, favorite books or our favorite sports team. And if we are honest we also have favorites when it comes to people. Now, obviously there is nothing wrong with having close friendships, but what happens when we take our tendency towards favoritism too far?
This is what James addresses in chapter two of his letter. James describes a church gathering in which two very different people show up. One man walks in with nice clothing, jewelry, and an award winning smile. He clearly is a person of influence, education, and maybe power. And so, the people in the gathering are tripping over themselves to greet him, make him feel welcomed, and provide him with the best seating in the sanctuary.
But then another man comes into the worship gathering. People smell him before they see him. His clothes are dirty, mismatched, and worn. He is the opposite of the previous man in every way. The staff all debate on who will have to greet this visitor. One person draws the short straw and begrudgingly goes up to the poor man, extends a dutiful and forced welcome, and tells him to sit down on the floor at the back of the room out of the way of everyone else.
Sound appalling? James would agree. In fact James expends quite a bit of ink telling us why this mindset and action are not fitting in the life of a Christian.
Throughout this passage James reminds us that favoritism is not consistent with our Christian faith. It denies the true reality that those who profess Christ are sons and daughters of the King. Just because they may not meet the earthly standards we impose on them does not give us the right to judge them with our sinful expectations. We forget that though they may be poor in this life God is calling them to reign with Him for all of eternity.
Furthermore, when we show partiality towards others based upon our own sinful expectations we are going against the command to love others as ourselves. By doing so we are sinning when we commit such actions.
But now someone may say, is this really all that bad? After all, I attend church regularly, read the Bible, serve, I even tithe my income. Surely God won’t mind if I just show a little favoritism towards those I like more? Surely God isn’t going to get bent out of shape over something like this when I am obeying in so many other areas of my life?
To this James offers a sobering reminder. God’s standards are all connected. Because they are all authored by Him. When we fall short in one area, we violate the law as a whole. This is because we are ultimately offending and sinning against Him.
If we are honest, we can all be guilty of partiality, of playing favorites. We all have people that we prefer to be around and people that we prefer to ignore.
So, is there hope for us? Absolutely! James ends this passage by stating that mercy triumphs over judgment. Now this can definitely refer to God’s ability to triumph over our sinfulness. And this is echoed throughout Scripture.
But in this context it could also have a different meaning. James seems to be referencing our mercy in this passage. And so, our mercy triumphs over judgment by providing evidence of the inward transformation we have experienced. When we fight against our tendencies to show partiality we are giving evidence to the grace that is at work within our lives. When we extend mercy, compassion, love, and grace to others we provide proof of our own experience and comprehension of God’s grace in our own lives.
So, are there areas in your own life in which partiality and favoritism are on display? Take time to prayerfully ask God to reveal any of these areas to you. And then immerse yourself in the life changing truths of God’s Word. Ask God to remove these tendencies and ask Him by His grace and power to help you see others as He sees them.