My brothers, show no partiality [favoritism] as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory… Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? (James 2:1, 5)
In his second chapter, James writes on a topic that is familiar and problematic to us all: favoritism.
Favoritism in the context of this scripture is showing special treatment to a particular person or persons based on their social standing. In short, treating people with lesser financial means in a lesser way.
Does this Matter?
You might be wondering, why does James make such a big deal about this? Isn’t this just the way that the world is? We know that all throughout history, people in society have been treated differently based on the amount of money and status they have.
In our modern day, we want to impress people with money because we know that they often hold a great deal of power and influence. People in business will try their hardest to get people who are wealthy and influential to invest in their efforts. Colleges will often try and befriend wealthy alumni to donate money to their operations and funds or to set up a scholarship program to help those who meet their standards.
Now I am not writing to critique business models and approaches, but James gives us an alternative of how the church should view wealthy and poor people in the church. Here are three helpful points James points out regarding favoritism and special treatment based on wealth and status.
1. Favoritism Discourages Others
James paints us a small picture of a person who walks in with much gold and fine clothes and another person who comes in in rags. The rich person is given the seat and place of honor while the poor is asked to sit on the floor.
Churches in those days did not have much seating, often there were only a few benches, and the rest of the congregation sat on the floor. Pharisees were often the people who demanded to be sat on the benches and places of honor.
Placing rich people in the best places created a cast system within the worship service, as those sitting in the best places were the religious, educated, and wealthy and those sitting on the floor were the poor sinners, the ones that were not on the same level as those sitting in the good seats.
John McArthur points out in his commentary that James feared that people in the church were beginning to treat the poor as society treated them: as people who were to be shamed and looked down upon.1
James makes this point that if you contribute to and support this system in the church you are no better than society and your thoughts and intentions are not of God but are evil and vicious.
2. Favoritism Imitates the Wrong Thing
James keenly points out that all the pampering to the rich in the church was ironic since it was those same people who were exploiting the poor and vulnerable. There are many references all throughout the Old Testament where God commands the rich and those in a position of power not to take advantage of the poor and to come to their aid (Ezekiel 22:29 Proverbs 21:13 Isaiah 58:10).
James 2:7 points out that they are the ones dragging you to court and not only taking your money but running your reputation down. James wants them to see that this is not behavior you should be pampering or lifting up. Rather, this should be rebuked and addressed. Not only is this something we should be conscious of in our church but in our lives as well.
How often do we cater to people in our lives and treat them with special treatment simply because of their wealth?
Christian, don’t treat your church like the rat race the world is running but focus on something of greater value and that is the eternal welfare of people.
3. Favoritism Is Antagonistic to God’s Rule
God has blessed every Christian with a certain degree of wealth and resources. However, the amount of wealth one possesses will not affect their salvation. When all believers enter heaven, there will not be people who will be more blessed then others.
There will be no VIP room where some can enjoy Jesus more. The fact is that those who enter the kingdom of God have done so because God judged them on whether their names have been written in the book of life (Revelation 20:12).
God judges not based on wealth, but rather whether we put our faith in Jesus Christ. When we are loving those people in our churches, their financial status should not play a role in how we treat them.
After all, if Christ loves and embraces the poor just as He does the rich, shouldn’t we? Are we better kings than the King?
What are ways in your life where favoritism hurts your relationships with family, fellow church members, or people with whom you work?