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.”
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.”
“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.”
“For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism.”
According to the Blue Letter Bible, this word means:
- respect of persons
- 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.”
However, the ‘favor’ used in this verse is the greek word ‘charis’ and means:
- that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech
- good will, loving-kindness, favour
- 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
- what is due to grace
- the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace
- the token or proof of grace, benefit
- a gift of grace
- benefit, bounty
- 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,