The Folly of Favoritism

Bible Book: James  2 : 1-7
Subject: Favoritism; Pride; Arrogance; Christian Love

James 2:1-7

God is faithful in all things. He's faithful in the little things of life, faithful in the big things of life, faithful in the mediocre things of life. He was faithful to me as a teenager. One of my first jobs was working behind a counter looking at people just like you and me. They came in and they were seeking to make choices. Oh it was so difficult for them to make choices because you see I had 31 flavors; and they were all in front of me! As I visited our local Baskin Robbins this week, I asked, "Could you give me just a tempting visual to help my people to understand more of what I'm trying to say to them?" I know this is awful to do for those of you who are waiting on lunch! But here it is! Now I'm not advertising for any particular place, but I'm just reminding you that we all have choices.

Choices! Once they made the choice, then you know what I did? I looked at them and I asked this vital question, "Oh by the way, now that you've made your choice, do you want that in a waffle cone or a sugar cone or a plain cone; and if you can't make up your mind about which cone, why don't you just put it in a cup?"

Choices, they are all across our world. We're seeking to choose our favorites. What's your favorite? Well I'm not asking about ice cream today, and thankfully people are vitally different from ice cream. You see, God doesn't choose favorites; and He doesn't want us to either.

As we've been studying the book of James, I'm inviting you to make the journey with me to James 2:1-7. The title of this message is simply, The Folly of Favoritism." God speaks to us about when we play favorites with people and He gives us an example of His own life so that we won't do that which would break us rather than build us, as a church. Here's the way the scripture reads beginning with verse 1, "My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here's a good seat for you', but say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet', have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? But you've insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of Him to whom you belong?"

Let's look at the three "P's" we need in our lives:

I. The Prohibition (v. 1)

The first is this: I believe in that first verse we isolate what I call the prohibition, something we are told that is prohibited.

A. Stop Showing Favoritism

The Bible reads this way in that first verse, "Don't show favoritism." But you know the literal way that it was written here? It is simply this, "Stop showing favoritism." "Stop it!" It's written in the imperative mode, which ought to have an exclamation mark at the end of it. Just stop it! And if you have to stop something, it must mean that you are involved with it; and indeed we are. We have favorite flavor people all the time don't we? We don't like other flavored folks. They just don't taste the same. They just don't look the same. They don't smell the same. They just don't feel right. We like what we like!

Jesus said, "I have a better way for you." You see they were involved in favoritism in the early Jewish world. Verse number 6 tells us that, "you have insulted the poor." They were insulting those who were in their midst in their worship experiences. In that Jewish culture, in that day and time, they coveted recognition and honor and they vied with one another for praise. Is it that different today? I think not. I think every one of us is playing, in some game or another, a one-upmanship. We want a little bit more than our friend has and we don't necessarily want our friend to have any more than we have. It's an awful kind of pyramid climbing that's going on.

Let me share with you what favoritism means. Here are some of the ways that we can express it. It literally means that we can lift up the face. In other words, no eye contact. Just lift your face up and keep on going down the hall. Ignore that person at school, at work, in society and even in the church house. Or, it could mean a haughty countenance. You are just looking down at them. Your eyes are  so squinted with haughtiness because you feel that you have something better than the other person has to offer you. Or maybe you just understand it this way - it's looking down on others, literally looking down at them.

In Shakespearean plays, and at other times throughout history, there have been glasses that come with a stick on them so people could literally hold them and see with their eyes what was happening. Well I looked all over town and I couldn't find a pair of those. They just don't sell them any more. The closest I could come were opera glasses; so I just made my own! They are sunglasses because when we look through them at other people, it's as if it were cloudy anyway. We just can't see them the way that we ought to see them.

You know perhaps a grandmother said it best as she was talking about what that example was. She called it a "sneer on a stick." Could it be that we look at people that way? Oh I think so, in many cases we do.

B. Jesus Looks At The Heart

But I know that Jesus doesn't look just on the outside. I know that Jesus looks to the heart. When Jesus looks to the heart of an individual, He sees something that we can't see. He sees somebody that is absolutely invisible on the outside. And when Jesus looks at the heart, what He's doing is what He exemplified as He began to choose some of those who were closest to Him.

He looked at Simon and He didn't just see Simon. He saw Peter, and He named Him that. He called him Petros, the rock. You're the rock, Peter; you're going to stand for me.

Then He looked also at the life of Matthew, who at that time was Levi, a tax collector, and a publican. Jesus didn't see a cheat; He didn't see a thief. He saw a faithful disciple. He saw some body whom He could trust, whom He could lean on.

Then He surrounded Himself with the woman at the well. Do you remember that and an adulterous woman? She'd not just been married once or twice, but multiple times; and she wasn't even married to the man she was living with at the time. The disciples came back from getting bread in the city and they said to Him, "What are you doing with her? Do you know who she is? Do you know what time of day it is?" Of course He knew; but you see He didn't see in her just somebody who society had rejected. He saw in her a vital witness because when she came to have faith in Christ, she became  a vibrant witness within the community.

C. It's Compassion, Not Compromise

What does He see in you? What does He see in me? When God looks, He sees our heart. Some people today criticize, even as they did then, that Jesus was a friend to sinners. My friend, some of us would say that as He was a friend to sinners it was a compromise of His faith and His stance for God. But it was not a compromise. It was compassion in action. What I'm saying to you today is that we need to become compassionate and non-compromising. When we think that we come into our holy huddles in our own church places, so well protected and so confined and sometimes so insulated and isolated from the world, I'm saying to you that sometimes we need to break the mold and get around those who just don't know what real life is all about. Do you know why? Because we can infect them with godliness and wholesomeness and righteousness; and you can't do that when you look down at other people.

Some in the early church were disturbed because Saul of Tarsus was asking to be included in the church. They began to say, "Do you know who he is! He persecuted Christians! He watched as they were being stoned! He held the cloak of one who was our own, a leader in our midst." Barnabas had to go on the account of Saul and say, "He's okay, he's no longer Saul of Tarsus; he's Paul. He's been changed. His life has been radically changed. He once was blind spiritually and even physically, but now he can see both physically and spiritually. Let him in." I wonder how many Saul's we may have turned away because we decided that their past was too clouded, and we didn't want them to be a part of our present?

II. The Practice (vv. 2-4)

My friends, I'm asking you to examine the prohibition; but I want you also to note with me that in verses 2, 3 and 4 we have what we call "the practice." It's a hypothetical situation, but nonetheless it could be very real within the context of our church today. The practice, what happened and what could happen today. Well the verse began this way in verse 2: Suppose a man comes into your meeting and suppose that one man is dressed in fine clothes, (Hart Schaffner & Marx suit, Gucci shoes, Tommy Hilfiger shirt; everything looks just right). Then suppose another man comes in and he's got jeans on, he's got holes in them, he's got a tee shirt on and smells like he's been wearing it all week long, and we say to the one who looks better, smells better, feels better, tastes better, "You come up here, you sit right here," but we say to the other one, "You sit back there, in fact you just sit quietly and out of sight." The practice is still true. It happens today.

A. Prejudice

In my youth growing up there was what we called the "filthy five". They were those things that we would never want to be caught doing and certainly didn't want anyone else to know that we did them, even when we did do them. They were those things... well you know... you remember them. They were smoking, drinking, movies, dancing, card playing or anything that we sort of put up there and said that's not what a Christian ought to be doing.

Somehow or another, though, we left prejudice off the list because we somehow said that prejudice is involved in every person's life. But Jesus looks at our prejudice today and He knows that that's the starting point of the kind of discrimination that we have against people. In fact the scripture teaches it this way in verse number 3: "You have shown special attention, you have looked with favor upon some." That word or phrase "looked with favor" is the same phrase that's used in Luke, chapter 9, as the father who had a demon possessed son called out to Jesus and said, "Would you please look at my son... would you please look with favor on my son?" He was asking for healing. But you see what some of us are asking for is that we would be removed from the problem, looking on favor of those who are better, we think, than others.

But I've noted that God ignores several things...two at least. In a day and time when we're in turmoil with other nations, and particularly when we could become extremely prejudice and lose the potency and the power of our witness, I note that, first of all, God ignores national differences.

Do you remember what happened with Peter? Peter said that the message of the gospel was for the Jews only; the Gentile world didn't deserve to hear about Jesus. So God gave a vision to Peter, a dream; and he saw unclean animals coming down in a sheet. He didn't understand what all that meant. "Eat of this," and he said, "No I can't eat of that, they're unclean." Then God led him to a man named Cornelius and when he and Cornelius connected, Cornelius was a Gentile. Cornelius  needed Jesus as a Savior. Peter began to understand that God was opening to the world, in spite of all the national differences, the gospel of Christ. He said in Acts 10:34 that Peter began to speak, and he said these words, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts men of every nation who fear Him and do what is right.

Are we treating Arabs the same? Are we treating people from Afghanistan the same? Could it be that we, in our prejudice, have said there's no way that they are ever going to get the Good News? In fact, if you were ever put with someone, would you say you wouldn't even share it with them because of  the hatred and the hurt that you have in your life and the prejudice that you carry?

God ignores national differences because He made all people. God also ignores social differences. We note in Ephesians, chapter 6, verse 9, that there's a difference between those who are called "masters" and those who are called "slaves." Contemporize that with me - those who are employers and those who may be employees - those who are moms and dads and those who may be children. Could I read the verse that way: "Masters and moms and dads or employers, treat your children, treat your employees in the same way. Do not threaten them since you know that He who is both their master and yours is in heaven and there is no favoritism with Him." Who is that? It's God. Social differences are those which we have come to make up within our prejudiced lives.

B. Pride

But you know what? Prejudice is amplified because of pride in our life, pride. Sometimes we're just too proud to say, "I want a different kind of cone, I want a different flavor." We just say, "I want what I want and I want it the way I've had it for years and I don't want you to change anything in my life," and pride destroys Christian witness.

C. Partiality

It moves in a downward spiral from prejudice, to pride and ultimately it's acted out in partiality; and we become partial with other people. We begin to say, "You sit here, you sit there, I want to be your friend, I don't want you to be my friend," and we begin to rearrange and group people. We do this sometimes at parties. Some come a little bit early and they look at nametags and if their name- tag  is toward the rear, they might just pick it up and put it toward the front because they want to be seen. It may be a business occasion, it may be a social occasion, but somehow or another even if you've never done that, you've thought about it! Then in our prejudice, surrounded by our pride, somehow or another we become partial toward people that we don't like, thinking that we are better than they.

III. The Promise (vv. 5-7)

There's the final part of what I want to share, and it is the promise. You see it's not all bad. There's a powerful promise that comes from God. In verses 5, 6 and 7 we read of this promise, particularly as we listen to verse number 5. The promise comes "to those who love those who love Him.

"To every one of us who love Him, whether we're rich or poor, God gives the fulfillment of that promise. But here's what a part of that promise involves. An early church writer said it better than I as he was exemplifying the life of Jesus. Here's what he said and I quote: "When our little Father (that's Jesus) went about on earth, He disposed on one, but He sought unto the simple folk most of all. He was always among the poor folk. Those disciples of His too, He chose most of them from among our brothers laborers like unto us, simple folk." Why? To make them great.

A. Our Poor Are Rich - It's A Faith Issue

You may think you're simple. But you know what? God can make you great! You may be the least of these, but God is saying to some of you, "I want you to be the greatest of these." The truth of the matter is this, folks: Our poor are rich. The scripture teaches that. How so? It says to us, "Has not God chosen those poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised them?" Yes He has; and some of you who feel so desperate, wondering whether you'll make it from paycheck to paycheck or whether you'll even have a paycheck, can be rich in faith. I want you to rally in that!

B. Our Rich Are Poor - It's An Exploitation Issue

You know what? If it's true that our poor are rich, as a faith issue, then it's also true that our rich can be poor! Here's the way that works. It's that we can have so much here that we're not investing anything there in the kingdom work. "There are those", the scripture says, "among you who are exploiting the poor." That word for exploiting is a strong term describing brutal and tyrannical deprivation of one's rights. You're taking away their rights! Not only that, the scripture says you're dragging them into court. The way that the New Testament reads is that you are, physically, with your own hands, dragging them into court.

Not only that, the worst of these things is that you're slandering the noble name of Christ. Oh how poor we can become, even when we have so much, materially, if we're involved in any one of these things. That word for slander there is the word, ‘blasphemo’. It's the New Testament word from which we get of course our English word, which is blaspheme. We blaspheme the Name of God when we are so prejudiced against those who have less than we do.

C. Our God Loves Both - It's An Inheritance Issue

The truth of the matter is that our God loves both. He really does! He loves both the rich and the poor. It's really a matter of our inheritance. It's an issue concerning our inheritance. Why do I say that?

Because you see you can be poor in this world and rich in the next. You can be rich in this world and poor in the next. You can be poor in this world and poor in the next. You can be rich in this world and rich in the next. It's all a matter of what you do with the wealth and the well being that God has given you.

Now, we know that God plays no favorites. He's looking at every one of our lives right now. Some of you feel like you're nothing more than plain vanilla in a plain cone. Some of you feel like your pistachio ripple nut, triple-dipped, in a waffle cone stacked from here to the ceiling. But God knows you and He loves you just the same. He wants us to do the same for a world waiting to hear our response.


I have several questions.

The first is this and it's pretty personal, but I wonder, is there a snob in you? If there is, today you can get him out. You can make a difference.

The second question is this. I wonder, do you care who you crush? You see as we climb the pyramid of what we term "success", corporately, academically, socially, even spiritually within the church, sometimes we're stepping on and crushing other lives. Do you care who you're crushing? I believe that Jesus would have us to give a hand up, not just a handout - but a hand up.

The final question is this. Will you welcome everyone into your life? Jesus did that. He really did. He opened His arms and He said, "Father forgive them... forgive them." "Today," He said to the thief on the cross, "because of your faith you will be with me in paradise.

"I don't know who you are or where you are, but I do know this, God knows you and He loves you. And just as He wants us to welcome others into His kingdom, He's wanting to welcome some of you.

Some of you have pushed Christ out of your life for a long time and today He's saying, "I want you to welcome me in; I want you to invite me to become your personal Lord and Savior." "I want you to open your arms to me, as I will open mine to you." You can do that!