Everyone has favourites – favourite colours, favourite foods, and favourite places – we all have favourites. Though these may be legitimate determinations of one’s desires, there is a kind of favouritism that is dangerous and divisive when it comes to the Christian life. In this post I want to raise the issue of favouritism in the church. This is a practice that is ungodly and contrary to what the Lord requires of His people. Whether it be seen in forming of certain groups of “fellowship” that purposely exclude others that don’t cut it, or in the act of giving prominence to certain people in the church, the sin of partiality is a damaging witness of the gospel.
In James 2:1-13, James raises the issue of favourtism in the church by looking at three things it does to us. His point is that favourtism ought not to occur in the church because it makes us judges (2:2-4), inconsistent (2:5-7) and transgressors (2:8-13).
FAVOURTISM MAKES US JUDGES (James 2:2-4)
James begins by providing a scenario in which two individuals walk into the assembly – one is “wearing a gold ring and fine clothing” and the other is a “poor man in shabby clothing” (James 2:2). The wealthy man is shown honour whereas the poor man is shown dishonour (James 2:3). Whoever shows this kind of favourtism becomes a judge “with evil thoughts” (James 2:4). Favourtism is sinful because it turns you into a judge. Christian, that is not your title!
FAVOURTISM MAKES US INCONSISTENT (James 2:5-7)
To discriminate against the poor by showing favourtism to the rich is inconsistent with God’s dealings. Generally speaking, God has primarily chosen those who are poor to be saved (James 2:5). James reminds his readers that they “have dishonored the poor man” (James 2:6) by showing favourtism to the rich, even though it is the rich who are oppressing them (James 2:6). It is horribly inconsistent to apply favourtism to those “who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called” (James 2:7) and yet ignore those who are your brothers.
FAVOURTISM MAKES US TRANSGRESSORS (James 2:8-13)
In this final section, James reveals that the sin of favourtism makes you a transgressor guilty of breaking all of God’s law (James 2:9-10). Because God’s law is unified, the breaking of one aspect of it (in this case not loving your neighbor), you have broken all of it and thus become a transgressor (James 2:11). In-order to prevent this, the Christian is to speak and act in accordance to the law of liberty, which refers to their freedom and ability to obey God’s law (James 2:12). In that final Day of Judgment, there will be no mercy to those who didn’t show it, but for those who did, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12).
The believer ought not to display favouritism with people because it is not compatible with who they are in Christ. It is the duty of the Christian to fulfill the royal law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8). Don’t play favourites in the church, but take the opportunity to enjoy the rich fellowship with a variety of people that the Lord has placed in the body.