Playing Favorites

Favor, favorite, favoritism. They sounds similar but can be very different. What does it mean to show favoritism and how can it be a problem?

Written by Mike Biolsi on .


In our house, we joke around about favorites. Tyler will sometimes joke about Conner being our favorite because we have more photos of Conner, especially as a baby. I tried to find a photo of Tyler to prove he was wrong, but I couldn’t ?

Favoritism is “the practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another”

I think the word that is most significant in this definition is “unfair” preferential treatment. For instance, I can and should favor my wife above all other women. That would be the fair, smart and God honoring thing to do!

Jesus had favorites but was not guilty of favoritism. He spent much more time with the 12 disciples than he did with the masses. He had two disciples that he spent more time with than the other 10 and then there is the one that is known as, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Spending more time with one group than another does not necessarily equal favoritism.

In our passage we are reminded that the way we treat people is a looking glass into the heart.

James 2:1–12 || 1 My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? 2 For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. 3 If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, 4 doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? 5 Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? 6 But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? 7 Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear? 8 Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. 10 For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. 11 For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law. 12 So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. [NLT]

I know the first reaction we have when we read a passage like this is to declare that we do not have issues like this in our church and in our society. Of course, we would never give unfair preference to:

  • An officer over an enlisted soldier
  • A doctor over someone on public assistance
  • Someone with a Bugatti over someone with a Chevy Spark
  • Someone who has the same skin color as we do over someone with different skin color
  • PhD over high school grad
  • Clean and good smelling over someone who has poor hygiene
  • Someone who owns a home over someone who is homeless

While we all have groups or types of people that we naturally get along with better than others and that we might prefer to spend our time with, we must be careful of the trap of favoritism. By now you know that if it is a trap, it is a temptation to sin and not from God, right?

The scattered Jews that James was writing to may have been meeting in a synagogue or in a home, we are not really sure. What we are pretty sure about is that there was a problem. The problem is that they were giving special treatment to the wealthy, and unfair treatment to the poor and unwashed. When someone who was clean and had nice clothes and expensive jewelry came in, they would give them the “seats of honor”. Back then, that was the front – in Baptist churches that would be the back, right? ? When a poor, unbathed person came in, they would put them out of the way, or even below them, on the floor. Now, I am pretty sure that we cannot imaging this happening in our church service today!

So, imagine your living room. You have a group of people arrive for a time of prayer and reading the Bible. Someone who is nicely dressed and smells nice, shows up. You seat him on the couch. Why? Maybe for the pure motives of wanting him to be comfortable. Maybe so that his clothes will not get dirty. Maybe because you want to make a good impression on the person that “has it all together” or that has more than you?

Then, someone else walks through the door. They look like they have not had a bath in a long time, and they smell like it, too. Their clothes have never seen the inside of a washing machine. Of course, you would want to sit this person on the couch, right next to the guy in the fancy clothes, right? Most likely, you would not. The question is, why not? Perhaps because you are afraid the couch would get soiled. Maybe because you were concerned the rich person might not come back or might be offended?

Have we thought that the person with the dirty clothes might also be offended? Why would we give more weight to the feelings, likes and comforts or someone with clean, nice clothes over someone else?

1 Samuel 16:7 || 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” [NLT]

It is not the look, smell, income, or vernacular of a person that gives them value. We are very quick in our society to judge based upon outward appearances. That is why we have power suits and power ties. We understand that the way we dress can influence the way people accept us.  But as Christians, as Jesus-followers, we cannot view people this way.

The Heart of Judgment

James says that when I view people based upon their possessions or looks I am judging them, and it reveals a heart condition.

  • When I show favoritism, I have evil motives [vs 4]
  • When I show favoritism, I have dishonored others (treated them shamefully) [vs 6]
  • When I show favoritism, I have sinned [vs 9]

James lays it right out there. How can you say you follow God and then NOT treat people the way God does? That is crazy!

James 2:1 || 1 My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? [NLT]

If we are going to wear the label of Jesus-follower, then we must make sure we are following the example of Jesus.

James does not just give us the diagnosis of the problem, he also helps us see the way to cure the problem. Favoritism is a choice; a choice fueled by wrong mindsets, selfish attitudes and wicked motives.

To counter act these things we need to change the way we think. We need to adjust the lens by which we view ourselves and others so we can see them the way God sees them.

The lens of the laws

There are two laws that are mentioned in this passage in James. The “royal law” and the “law that sets you free”.

The royal law

James takes his Jewish audience back to the “royal law” and reminds them of the command of God:

James 2:8 || 8 Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [NLT]

The royal law, we are told by the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans, is there to remind of our sinfulness and our inability to keep God’s perfect law. When we show favoritism, we are breaking god’s royal law, which is why we have sinned.

Perhaps there are some questions we need to ask?

If I have given people unfair treatment because of their clothing, wealth, looks, education then what have I believed? I believe that some people are more valuable than others. I believe that some people deserve more or better than others.  That means that I have somehow believed that God values some people more than others.

The law that sets us free

What is the “law that sets us free”? Is it not the gospel of grace?

James 2:12 || 12 So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. [NLT]

As we studied last week, our motivation should be the gospel and the centrality of it in our lives. Though you and I have broken the royal law, as Jesus-followers we are going to be judged by the law of freedom. That means that you and I will be judged through the lens of Jesus and what he did for us on the cross. The law of freedom is the gospel, and if we are going to be judged by that law, we should make sure we live according to it.

So how does viewing others through the lens of the gospel change my perspective and my actions?

God sees each of us as equal in value.

Last week we said that the gospel must be central to our lives. Today, we are given a very practical application of that principle.

Do we treat other people the way God treats us?

Every life matters to God. He gave his Son for each and every one. He loves the world He created.

John 3:16 || 16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. [NLT]

The Father loves each and every one of us so much that he sacrificed his very son so we could be reconciled to Him. While we were still sinners, while we were the enemies of God. While we were trying to make our own deeds seem good enough though they were just dirty rags and unclean garments.

Do we treat other people the way Jesus treated people?

Jesus loved by giving his very life. You and I put him on that cross. We were the mockers. We were the reason he hung there, and yet he did it willingly; obediently he died. For each and every person.

1 John 2:2 || 2 He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. [NLT]

Jesus not only died for all people, he lives his life among the outcast, marginalized and poor. He was the friend of tax collectors and notorious sinners. He ate with prostitutes and healed beggars, lepers and even a man that was so possessed with demons that he ran around naked and cutting himself.

Do we treat people the way the Spirit of God treats people?

The Spirit of God indwells all believers. When we place our faith in Jesus as our savior and receive forgiveness and are adopted into the family of God, we are sealed in the Spirit of God who dwells in us. He does not just indwell the rich or poor, the washed or unwashed, the young of old, born or unborn.

God, the godhead, is no respecter of persons.

Job 34:19 || 19 God is not partial to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of his hands. [CSB]

We must value people the way God does.

We must have the same perspective of others that God has. To have a gospel-centric perspective on life means to think about who God is and what he has done for me and for others. THEN I must think about who I am in Jesus and what I must do or become in order to imitate God – to reflect His image.

God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves is a command to value people the way God values people.

  1. God is the creator and lover of my soul.
  2. He valued me enough to send Jesus to buy my freedom from sin and restore my relationship to him.
  3. I am an adopted son of God, made in his image, valued and loved by God.
  4. I must love others the same way God loves me.

Galatians 5:13–14 || 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [NLT]

Let’s use the freedom we have in the gospel to serve others in love – not because of the way they look, smell or act, but because of the way god loves us: unconditionally.  

Playing Favorites

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North Country Fellowship Church
NCF was started in 1987 to minister to the growing population of Fort Drum and Jefferson County. Located in Carthage, just minutes away from Ft Drum, Lowville and Watertown, it is a blended congregation of local and military folks, single soldiers, young families and grandparents.