What is Favoritism?

This question has plagued me for a really long time. I have read this line several times before “My brothers, hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ without showing favoritism.” which is the first line of the second chapter of James.

If you were to just stop there some obvious red flags are raised. Wait a second, didn’t our Lord show favoritism to the disciples? And even more so to the ‘select 3’ that he took to see the transfiguration? What does it mean when God shows ‘favor’ to people?

These were the questions that really put a block in my understanding of what favoritism is. Let me see if we can dive a little deeper and figure this out….

The rest of the chapter shows what favoritism by giving a practical example. The example goes something like this:

“For suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring, dressed in fine clothes, and a poor man dressed in dirty clothes also comes in. If you look with favor on the man wearing the fine clothes so that you say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or, “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,”

Of course, when answering this question, the example above is an obvious case of favoritism and probably one of the most common forms of it. How easy it would be to show favoritism to some one because of their notoriety.

I once heard a man speak and he said something to the matter of “If Bill Gates walked in here, this place would go crazy, but Jesus is here, and this is how you act.” I’m certain the man was trying to show how we ought to treat Jesus better than we would treat the most ‘well to do’ in society.

Ironically, both are wrong.

Paul wrote in Romans…
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
Romans 8:17

Isn’t it that incredible! We are co-heirs with Christ! Let that sink in. If Christ, the begotten son of God is heir to the thrown, and we, the created sons of God are also heirs to the thrown, this means we are all first born.

If this is the case, perhaps our definition of favoritism is rather limited. In James 2:1, the word used for favoritism is the greek word ‘prosōpolēmpsia’.

This word is only used three other times in the New Testament:

“There is no favoritism with God.”
Romans 2:11

“And masters, treat them the same way, without threatening them, because you know that both their and your Master is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him.”
Ephesians 6:9

“For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism.”
Colossians 3:25

According to the Blue Letter Bible, this word means:

  1. respect of persons
  2. partiality
    1. the fault of one who when called on to give judgment has respect of the outward circumstances of man and not to their intrinsic merits, and so prefers, as the more worthy, one who is rich, high born, or powerful, to another who does not have these qualities

Correct me where I am wrong, but it looks like the word favoritism is not strictly limited to the example in which James supplied, but favoritism can in fact can be applied to anything that is not spiritual.

Perhaps this is the reason why God shows ‘favor’ to people, as apposed to ‘favoritism’, throughout scripture (including his son):
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people.”
Luke 2:52

However, the ‘favor’ used in this verse is the greek word ‘charis’ and means:

  1. grace
    1. that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech
  2. good will, loving-kindness, favour
    1. of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues
  3. what is due to grace
    1. the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace
    2. the token or proof of grace, benefit
      1. a gift of grace
      2. benefit, bounty
  4. thanks, (for benefits, services, favours), recompense, reward

Then James continues his analysis of favoritism with a series of questions:
“Haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
“Listen, my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?”

Then James tells us the consequences of favoritism
“But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of [breaking it] all. For He who said, Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder. So if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you are a lawbreaker.”

May I be so bold to state this simple fact:
Showing ‘partiality’ to someone else, for any reason, other than a spiritual one, is sin.

If I am wrong, please, show me the way…

peace & love,
david

6 Comments

  • jrust says:

    fantastic conclusions, david. i love the distinction you draw between favor and favoritism. i came across this quote in studying ‘gentleness’ and think it’s interesting when applied to what you have written:
    ‘Intelligence is derived from two words – inter and legere – inter meaning ‘between’ and legere meaning ‘to choose’. An intelligent person, therefore, is one who has learned ‘to choose between’. He knows that good is better than evil, that confidence should supersede fear, that love is superior to hate, that gentleness is better than cruelty, forbearance than intolerance, compassion than arrogance, and that truth has more virtue than ignorance.’
    – J. Martin Klotsche

    what i take away from that, combined with what you’ve said, is that we have the ability to choose between being the ‘respecter of persons’ or the ‘respecter of A person’, which is Jesus Christ. the former causes us to be ‘tossed around by every wind of teaching’ and unstable in all we do, while the latter gives us life and enables us to do every good work in Christ. thanks for encouraging us in the way of love.

  • Jamal says:

    David,
    Thanks for writing this. This is on the $. You are right, favoritism is sin because is ascribes worth to people based on something else other than their identity. The fact is, as believers, we are all royalty now. We should treat people as such. Age, economic status, or anything thing else for that matter, should not factor into the value we place on a person. They are very valuable because of their identity. Thanks so much for writing!

  • Matt says:

    I like it. There was nothing about the persons of the disciples for Christ to show favoritism to by the world’s standards – for example, some were fishermen and tax collectors. So it was his choosing of them that set them apart from everyone else. Why did he choose them specifically? Because he knew since the foundation of the world that they of all people would fulfill the calling and they would serve and love by dying to their lives and agendas and following him even to the point of death. Their serving has allowed me to know the savior of the universe, and in the kingdom it is those who are lowly and servants that are to be lifted up. Christ himself is the complete picture of that, and the apostles followed right behind him. Very cool!

  • Ed Braswell says:

    Hey David,

    You are right… favoritism in any form is sin! There is never, according to God’s Word, a right occasion to show favoritism.

    The only issue I have is that we are not all Firstborn along with Jesus. Yes, we share in His inheritance as Children of the Most High God, but we are not equal with Jesus. Colossians 1 says that Jesus is both “the Firstborn over all creation,” and the He is “preeminent in all things.” These two phrases mean that Jesus is 1) more important than anything or anyone (firstborn) and 2) that He has no equal (preeminent). Also, it states that Jesus is the firstborn over ALL creation. That includes us. We do share in His inheritance, but there can only be one Firstborn, one supreme, and one over all… Jesus.

    Love and Peace,

    Your brother Ed

  • Gwenn Traverso says:

    I would love to hear your thoughts on how this would relate to the role of women in leadership in the church! I am amazed and greatly disturbed by the hierarchy structure in the body of Christ.

  • A. Soka says:

    Thant you David for an insightful analysis. Surely those who teach favour as something similar to favouratism are error. May the Almighty richly bless you

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