It has been said, “birds of a feather flock together.” Our natural inclination is to gravitate toward those who seem and look the most like us. Not only this, but we tend to align ourselves with people whom we view as having something to offer us, whether it be a rich relationship, wealth, popularity, or something else. This is one of the reasons that people hound celebrities. It is also the reason that “favoritism” insidiously infects our lives and society.
James had something to say about favoritism. The original Greek is difficult, but the New American Standard Version captures it well, “My brother, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, with an attitude of favoritism (James 2:1).” In plainer language, favoritism is inconsistent with faith in Christ.
James gives a practical application of favoritism, before discussing the reasons we ought not practice it. What if a gold-ringed person in shiny clothes came into your religious gathering followed by a poor person with shabby clothes. What if you spent a considerable amount of time talking to the gold-ringed person and offered him the choice seats, but you simply said to the poor person you stand in the back or sit on the floor. Would you not be showing favoritism? (James 2:2-4) None of us would likely do this on purpose. But, we may do something similar. We might simply gravitate to the person who seems to have more to offer and passively avoid the person who seems to have less.
James gives us some reasons for why we ought not practice favoritism. First, the Kingdom of God belongs just as much to the poor person as it does to anyone else (James 2:5). Second, those with wealth frequently exploit those without (James 2:6-7). They may not do so on purpose; however, if current policy favors their financial condition, the wealthy are unlikely to be motivated to change the policy, even if it disenfranchises the poor. Lastly, and most importantly, favoritism is inconsistent with the law to love your neighbor as yourself (James 2:8-11).
Apart from Christ, we are as spiritually poor as anyone might be materially poor. Because Christ has shown us mercy, offering us gold that we did not earn and clothes that we did not sow (Revelation 3:18), we are to demonstrate mercy to all people. Who will you reach out to this week that you may not have reached out to last week?