The Test of Favoritism

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old 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?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: 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 dishonored 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 blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?”
(James 2:1-7 NIV)

As we begin chapter 2 of James’ letter to the churches, we see James providing another test of our faith – the test of favoritism or partiality.

James addresses this topic with care and concern for his readers, twice using terms of endearment:
– “My brothers and sisters…” (v. 1)
– “… my dear brothers and sisters…” (v. 5)

So why does James use this phrase twice?
I believe James intentionally uses this phrase twice to show his equality with his readers.  James is not setting himself up as judge, jury, and executioner over his readers.  Instead, he is applying this same standard to himself as to his readers.

And what is that standard, by which we measure, and are measured?  Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

When we look at Jesus’ life and ministry, we see He did not show favoritism based on social, economic, or any other status.  In fact, Jesus was accused of the opposite, of hanging out with the wrong crowd, of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Matthew 11:19).

James demonstrates the character and heart of God when he commands his readers to be impartial to others.  Listen to God’s words:
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality [favoritism] and accepts no bribes.”  (Deuteronomy 10:17 NIV, bracketed text mine).  Luke records Peter sharing this same thought as a foundational truth in the early church (Acts 10:34-35).

We tend to look at the package, what’s outside, while God looks at the content, what’s inside (1 Samuel 16:7).  The scriptures are full of examples of God’s impartiality: toward us, against sin, our interactions with one another, etc.

James specifically addresses the economic and social partiality that was being shown inside the churches.  He uses a hypothetical example of two strangers coming into their worship service.  The person who looked great on the outside was treated differently than the person who came in wearing blue jeans with torn knees and a flannel shirt with ripped-out elbows, having just gotten off work.

James reminds them (and us) that they don’t know the rich person’s heart, and chances are, the poor man has a greater measure of faith than the rich man does.

James also reminds his readers that the rich person is most likely the one who would, without blinking an eye, exploit or sue  anyone who gets in their way (v. 6), or blaspheme Jesus’ name (v. 7).

The word “exploit” is used in a negative context here – meaning, to actively abuse one’s power or authority over another person for personal gain.

The phrase “dragging you into court” literally means just that – pursuing a lawsuit against another with vengeance, not willing to settle out of court, but demanding both compensatory damages (actual costs or losses incurred) and also punitive awards (financial punishment for supposed wrongdoing).

Our God is a god of justice, who does not show favoritism or partiality.  He loves us unconditionally, and shows grace and mercy when we fall short of His standard (which is every day).  He is our guide and example.

How can we treat others any differently than how God treats us?