James 2:1-13 (AD 48)
Have you ever been a victim of favouritism?
It’s hard to imagine that everyone hasn’t, at some point, been on the receiving end. But it’s equally hard to imagine that we haven’t all at some point been the perpetrators of it.
James wrote to a poor Christian community. Society was more or less split between a few increasingly wealthy merchants and landowners, and everyone else, who were living hand-to-mouth as labourers, tradespeople, fishermen and so forth. During a time of persecution, Christians were sued more than most when richer people were trying to get repayment of debts, as believing in Jesus as God had people labelled anti-Jewish and immoral. Kind of like Christians are regarded by many in England as having anti-British-values and being immoral. Except back then it was far worse.
What was galling for James was seeing rich people – more or less by definition the neglecters of the poor and abusers of power – fêted by Christians whenever they visited a church. The prospect of money was enticing, and meant that seekers who looked as poor as the Christians themselves were treated with less welcome and interest.
That attitude, James pointed out in verse eight, was the opposite of “love your neighbour as yourself”, the principle espoused by Jesus. Some Christians felt like showing favouritism was probably bad, but not that bad – not like, say, theft or adultery. James pointed out that any sin – every sin – is a sin against God and disqualifies us from his presence. We are to show love to everyone – often manifesting itself as mercy (v.13) – regardless of what we like or don’t like about someone.
Most people are not as poor as the early church Christians, so there isn’t quite the same feverish excitement at the appearance of a well-off person in church. So how might we show favouritism?
How likely you are to try and tell someone about Jesus, based on how they look or sound?
Who gets the benefit of the doubt from you when questions of misconduct arise?
What kind of person are you willing to gossip about?
What kind of person are you willing to believe, when theirs is the minority report?
What kind of person do you complain about, when you stay silent about others who behave in the same way?
Ask God to help you understand your weaknesses in this area – the kind of person you are likely to favour at the expense of others. And let’s deliberately love people not because of how we judge them but simply because, like us, they were created by God.