My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,the Lord of glory (James 2:1)
If there is a favourite in your family and you’re not it, you know the pain of being sidelined. Perhaps you watched a sibling get special treatment: singled out for praise; showered with love and gifts, while you were left to live in the shadows to enjoy whatever crumbs came your way.
It is hard to know which is worse: parents who do it and deny they do it, or those who boast about their favourite. For some, the last nail is when the will is read out and they are not in it.
Favouritism causes so much grief which is why God hates it, as do most of us.
Favourites don’t always welcome the attention—some even feel guilty for what was really the sin of their parents. Favouritism causes so much grief which is why God hates it, as do most of us.
Five Problems with Playing Favourites
So what exactly are the problems with favouritism?
1. Unlike God
First, it is so unlike God himself who emphatically declares that He shows no favouritism. His plan of salvation is to bless all nations (Gen12:3, Acts 10:34). Everlasting life is for “whoever” believes (Jn 3:16). This was beautifully reflected in the ministry of the Lord Jesus whose table fellowship was radically inclusive (Mark 12:13-14). God expects that his people will be similarly open-handed and open-hearted.
2. Self-Appointed Judges
Second, when we show favouritism we take it upon ourselves to play the judge when God alone is the glorious Lord of Glory. Human judgment rarely gets beyond superficial appearances. The gospel reframes the poor, the sick, and the difficult as children of God and rulers in waiting to inherit the Kingdom of God.
Don’t misunderstand: it’s not that every poor person is going to heaven. It’s not a new gospel of justification by poverty—it’s “the poor who love him” who will inherit the kingdom of God (James 2:5). The point here is not that God chooses the poor over the rich, but that God chooses from amongst the poor even though the world does not value them. God takes favouritism very personally. When we insult those whom God has chosen, we insult God himself.
3. Resisting God’s Plan
Third, God may choose but he chooses from every category of humanity including the poor. When we favour one person over another, it undoes what God has done. It reverses God’s purposes, and that is why it is evil. (James 2:5) In essence, God is saying, “The poor may have just joined your church, but I have loved them from before the creation of the world so don’t dishonour them.
Before we move on let’s consider the elephant in the room. How can God say he has no favourites when he unapologetically states, that “many are called, but few are chosen,” or “Jacob I loved and Esau I hated.”
When God says that he does not show favouritism, he means that God’s people will come from every category of humanity. Christianity covers all classes, all cultures, all personality types, and all kinds of politics, those who are same-sex attracted and those who are opposite-sex attracted. Peter explains, “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. (Acts 10:34-35:NIV)
Christianity covers all classes, all cultures, all personality types, and all kinds of politics, those who are same-sex attracted and those who are opposite-sex attracted. No category of humanity is exempted.
God still chooses, but no category of humanity is exempted. That is why when we have a peek into heaven, it is filled with those who come from every language, nation, and tribe. So if God has no favourites, we should do the same.
4. Undermining the Gospel
Fourth, favouritism undermines the gospel. By showing preferential treatment to one group over another, we relate to others, not in terms of the gospel of grace, but in terms of how they can advantage us. We become utilitarian where people are reduced to objects for consumption. This is the challenge after church whenever we look over the shoulder of the person we may find a touch boring hoping to be rescued by a more interesting person who shares our interests, or humour.
5. Destroying our Witness
Fifth, it destroys the church’s witness to the world. Favouritism drags the values of the world into the church of God by rubbing the poor man’s nose into his poverty. The result is that the church ends up looking less and less like our glorious Lord Jesus and more like the patterns of the world (Rom 12:1-2)
Cliques and Beacons
The church will never be neat and should never be neat. Whenever someone says, our church is a “cliquey” church, it should feel like a knife being plunged into our heart. Because a cliquey church is a church where favouritism has taken root. And when favouritism takes root it attacks the broken, the sick, the poor, and the awkward. A healthy church which consciously works against favouritism has a diversity that generally reflects the wider community: most often it has a quota of rich and poor, healthy and sick, extroverts and introverts, single, married, divorced, separated or widowed, with the cultural mix of its neighbours. Favouritism poisons diversity, resulting in an anaemic church where everyone is the same.
And yet, when the church culture resists favouritism we become a beacon of light in a world filled with bias, and where prejudice and preferential treatment are the norm.
When the church culture resists favouritism we become a beacon of light in a world filled with bias, and where prejudice and preferential treatment are the norm
The world addresses the problem of bias by anti-discrimination laws and equal opportunity policies. God solves the problem by going to the heart and wanting us to love whoever God places as our neighbour within our home, work, sport, church and neighbourhood. Alongside preaching the gospel we ought to be modelling its inclusiveness by being known as that person who talks to every kind of person at work from the CEO to cleaners.
Christ’s Amazing Community
Each Sunday I get to talk to a doctor, a factory worker or someone on unemployment benefits. I can talk to an introvert or extrovert. Conversations can span the range of ages from 7 to 70. They can be single, married or divorced, and of course one of 70 different ethnic groups. What an amazing community God has created around his Son the Lord Jesus.
So who did God plant in the seat next to you? Don’t ignore them. You are to be known at work and school as the person who hangs out with every kind of person. You are to love and respect those over you, beside you, and those over whom you have been placed. You are to love those who are popular and those who are not.
I remember the first time I preached this passage in James on Favouritism. Joe, who was a young Christian came up to me after the sermon. He said, “Ray, I really felt that the Lord was convicting me of this word”. I said “Oh, that is beautiful, Joe.” He said, “Yes, Frank asked me to go motorbike riding this afternoon after church, and I said, ‘yes’, and I meant it.” It was a big break through for Joe, but I didn’t get it. I said, “Joe, I don’t understand what is the big deal?” He said, “Frank rides Hondas, and I’m a Harley rider, and Harley riders don’t ride with Japanese bikes. It is very embarrassing.” What a great application of this passage! How will you apply this word?