Way back, not long after Jesus lived, there was a problem in the church. The problem is addressed in the book of James. James is considered by many to be the oldest book in the New Testament. It was probably written about 12 years after Jesus walked the earth.
From the beginning of Christianity, people received special attention due to wealth and status. This would seem improbable, since many of Jesus’ followers were still alive and had walked alongside the most memorable figure in human history. Jesus scorned the special treatment that religious leaders of His day commanded. His followers should have been cringing at behavior that was so counter to Jesus’ ways. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, they were guilty of partaking in this behavior.
The unchecked partiality of the young church turned Jesus’ teachings upside-down.
Here is what James 2:1-8 said to Jesus’ followers;
“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? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”
James narrates a story that happens everywhere, all of the time.
James first explains how the early church had an open-door policy, where people from all walks of life could enter church meetings. This is what Jesus wanted! He never discriminated and welcomed all. Tragically, equality didn’t make it over the church threshold, however.
In Matthew 11:28 Jesus’ kindness comes through; “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” These beautiful words radiate the acceptance that should characterize His church. The actual picture that James paints is antithetical to Jesus’ model.
Aware that the church’s current environment was not conducive to rest for those who were “weary and burdened,” James asks, “If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes…. have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:3-4)
James calls it what it is; judgement based on evil measuring tapes.
“Listen, people!” James continues with verse 5. “Don’t you know that God has ‘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?’” He then reminds them of the unrighteous behavior of the very same people whom they are bending over backwards to accommodate, while “dishonoring” the poor. (verses 6 and 7)
What had become acceptable and common was categorized with adultery and murder.
This is not a one-line admonition. He could have said “Don’t show favoritism,” and moved on to another topic. Instead, he approaches this from several angles, describes common scenarios and forbids such behavior. He is attacking favoritism vehemently. This is because his intent was to rout out a practice that had become tolerated.
The bottom line is that it’s easy to be seduced into favoritism. It’s human nature to be attracted to success, wealth and power, for the three of these attributes usually go together. We are drawn to people who seem to have the highest likelihood of sharing their good fortunes and situations with us. We want to associate with beauty, accomplishment and influence. We feel built up when such people choose to be part of our fellowship.
The bottom line is that it’s easy to be seduced into favoritism.
All of us can quickly list the most successful, the wealthiest and the most powerful people within our churches. We all judge nonchalantly, a grave mistake, because we call that judgement back on ourselves (see Matthew 7:1). Our judgements bode well for, and benefit, those who measure up, but result in tragic neglect for those who don’t.
When we show favoritism, we give to the ones who least need what we offer. We may not be literally bumping the poor people to floor seating, but we may be unwittingly giving the privileged people our best while giving the people who need more from us, much less.
Way back in the book of Job (which may be the oldest book of the Bible), it was written in verse13:10, “He would surely call you to account if you secretly showed partiality.” Partiality, public or secret, has been an issue for a long time. Partiality will be surely called to account.
Take it from James and don’t mess around with favoritism. If an influential person or large business owner walks into your church, it’s wrong to give them special attention to keep them there. Romans 2:11 says, “For God does not show favoritism.” Jesus wouldn’t do it, and neither should we. And for those of you who refuse to be partial, good for you! Thank God for you! May we all be more like you, and like Him.