Jamesby Douglas Estes
Religion that is ″pure and faultless″ involves tangible expressions of loving others and loving God (James 1:26-27). Starting in Chapter 2, James develops further examples of how we are to live in order to love others.
One way is avoiding ″favouritism″ (2:1). Here, favouritism refers to privileging those who appear to have wealth and power over those who do not. James says that we are to avoid favouritism because we are ″believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ″ (v. 1). We are not to be partial to others, just as Christ was not partial in His treatment of us. Christ's sacrifice was made for all who believe, not just a privileged few (John 3:16; Romans 5:6-8).
After James establishes the principle and the rationale, he then suggests a hypothetical situation that believers may face. In this scenario, two people enter a church, fellowship, or other Christian gathering; one is ″wearing a gold ring and fine clothes″ and the other is ″in filthy old clothes″ (James 2:2). If, seeing this, we offer the one with nice clothes a special seat up front but tell the one with shabby clothes to stand in the back, we would be showing partiality based on external appearances. If we do that, James says, we would have become like a biased judge who stacks the scales to favour one party over another (v. 4).
There are two implications of James' wisdom. First, we cannot privilege some over others. All believers hold an equal place among each other before God. Just as the Bible condemns unjust scales (Proverbs 20:23), it also condemns unjust treatment of others (see Leviticus 19:15, Exodus 23:3).
Second, we cannot make assumptions based on the way people appear. In James' scenario, since the two people are guests, all we know about them is how they are dressed. But external features can be deceiving. God considers the internal, not the external, and we should be very careful to do likewise (Matthew 23:25-26).
Does this mean it would be right to give the poor person the nice seat and make the rich person stand in the back? This may sound just, but it would also make us stack the scales in favour of one party over the other. Every age has different views of what seems right, but if we want to honour God, then we must hold on to His wisdom, not the world's (1 Corinthians 1:20).
Even though all this is hypothetical, it is a common-enough scenario that can apply in many situations. The circumstances may change, but the principle-do not show favouritism-remains. We can rejoice that no matter who we are or where we come from, we shall all receive an equal seat in God's house.
What situations have you found yourself in when you were tempted to show favouritism?
In what ways does God avoid showing favouritism? How does God show grace and love to all people?