An Excellent Sermon on Favoritism
Christians Don't Show Favoritism
Any of us who have ever attended high school know a lot about favoritism. There are the popular kids that everyone wants to hang out with. Kids form cliques, where all the "cool" people get together. And, of course, there are the nerds that most people make fun of.
One of the things that amazed me when I got out of high school was the fact that, in many ways, things didn't change much in that area. It usually isn't out in the open, but it still exists. Among other things, there seem to be cliques where the rich get together, and look down on the poor. There are separations between people with a lot of education and those who don't have that much. And of course there is a separation between people of various races, also called racism. And these are just a few examples.
I don't know if you've ever been to a meeting where a lot of "normal people" go to see and hear someone who is considered famous. These are the people that everyone recognizes as popular, brilliant, or well connected. The well-known people are in great demand, while the "normal people" are, many times, treated with less respect.
I've been to conferences like this. People would talk to me and we'd be in the middle of a conversation, until the famous person walked by. Many times, as soon as the famous person appeared on the scene, the person I was talking with would suddenly become distracted and less interested in what we were talking about. In one instance the person walked away in mid sentance, so they'd be able to commune with the famous person.
My question is this: Is this the kind of model that we want to embrace for our relationships? It is my hope that those who read this will say no. But this is the model that we see over and over again in the world. Favoritism abounds all around us. But it is not how the Christian should behave.
I. Definition of Favoritism
Favoritism can be defined as: "The practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another." The word James uses in James 2:1-13, in his dicussion of this subject, is a very unique Greek word. It is probably a take-off of a Hebrew idiom which means "to lift up the face" or "to raise one's countenance." To put it in more crude language, it means that favoritism is to give one person face-time, while utterly turning away from another.
We can substitute the word favoritism with partiality or prejudice. It is a respect of persons, and includes discrimination of someone with some character-neutral trait such as being black or white, young or old, rich or poor, male or female, Asian or European, etc.
II. Favoritism is Inconsistent with Christian Faith
We've all been acquainted in some way with favoritism. Either we've known someone who is guilty of it, or we may have done it ourselves. While we can't do anything about what others do, we certainly can change our own attitudes. In the book of James we find out that it is something that is totally inconsistent with faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. In this case James is talking about the rich over the poor. He says this:
"My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place", and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?" (James 2:1-4).
James is describing a situation here of utter disrespect for someone based upon their socio-economic status. The rich person receives the best seat. The poor person is almost treated with disgust. They are told to sit at the feet of the person showing favoritism. The poor person is seen as being beneath them in some way.
III. Reasons that Favoritism is Evil
James continues to tell us why favoritism is inconsistent with the Christian faith. It goes against what Jesus did, how He taught, and how He behaved. That is why he tells us "not to hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of favoritism."
Rather than coming from faith, favoritism comes from evil thoughts. The treatment that we give to people begins with our thoughts toward them. Favoritism comes from sinful thoughts about the other person. (4).
It is wrong, also, because our God Himself doesn't show favoritism. In fact, in the case of the poor, James says that God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of His Kingdom (5). In another Scripture, we see that God is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11).
Further, favoritism dishonors the poor man (6). All human beings are created in the image of God and are worthy to be treated with honor and respect. In I Peter 2:17 it tells us to honor all people. There are no distinctions here.
James also said that it was some of the same rich people who were oppressing Christians (James 2:6b-7; 5:1-6). And yet they were preferring the rich over the poor. This makes no sense and points out the fact that it is character that counts and not some silly thing like whether a person is rich or poor.
The major reason not to practice favoritism is that it violates the royal law. That is the law of love, or loving your neighbor as yourself. It is called the royal law because it is the supreme law that is the source of all other laws governing human relationships. It is the summation of all such laws. Our Lord Himself said that there are two laws, on which hang all of the Law and the Prophets. The first is loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And then comes loving your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).
IV. Favoritism Will Be Judged
Ultimately, favoritism is a sin, and will be judged like any other sin (James 2:9-13). In this case, because the people whom he is talking to are Christians, James isn't talking about judgement for salvation. Rather, he is talking about losing rewards for a life lived for Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 3:11-15; II Corinthians 5:10) However, this doesn't make this sin any less heinous. God hates sin, so He hates favoritism.
God's nature is one of love, mercy and compassion. He saw all of us in our helpless and hopeless state and determined what was necessary to liberate us, and bring us back into a relationship with Him. This lead Him to send His one and only Son to die on a cross for our sins. None of us deserved His love, and He died for all without distinction. If that is true, then God sees intrinsic value and worth in all of us. And becoming a fully mature Christian is to become more and more like the one who died for us; our Lord Jesus Christ. If we love the Lord and want to be like Him, then we will love those whom He died to redeem. Let us do all that we can to eliminate the sin of favoritism from our lives. And may we treat everyone we meet with the love that God first gave to us.