The Facts About Favoritism

Bible Book: James  2 : 1-13
Subject: Favoritism; Pride; Selfishness

Joel Engel, a Los Angeles based writer, who writes frequently for the New York Times, tells of an experience he once had aboard a Los Angeles bus: Considering the large crowd inside, the lack of voices startled me; only a rustle of newspapers and the groaning diesel engine broke the silence. Several well dressed men stood in the aisle, so I assumed all seats were taken. But, as I moved to the rear, I spotted an empty aisle seat on a double bench, and wondered, to myself, why it was unoccupied.

The young man next to the window was breathing heavily, his face was covered with what appeared to be fibroid tumors. His long, filthy,

matted hair, and tattered clothing also made him unappealing. He was obviously homeless, and it was easy to guess why. He sat with shoulders hunched and eyes fixed through the window.

Nearly paralyzed by pity, I gave silent thanks that my young daughter wasn't with me, asking her inevitable questions about him in a none-too-discreet voice. But, it was because of her that I finally sat down. The kind of man I wanted my daughters' father to be sits in a bus next to someone whose only crime is extreme ugliness. I can't pretend that I relaxed. My left shoulder and arm scrunched involuntarily. He continued to stare out the window without acknowledging my presence.

The bus made one more stop before entering the freeway. Several people boarded. An elderly woman walked toward the rear. I waited for anyone else to offer her a seat. None did, so I stood and motioned to her. Suddenly I heard, "No, I don't want to sit there, next to him," she said with no concern for who might hear.

It is painful to hear this story. We are appalled at the insensitivity of the elderly woman. We can't believe that this would happen in this great country of ours. But, what if I told you, that it not only happens in our country, but, also, in a lot of our churches.

In fact, it was happening so much in the small churches to which James addressed his letter, that he had to devote an entire section to this problem. Thus, he uses the early churches' error to make his point, and to show us "THE FACTS ABOUT FAVORITISM!"


In these four verses, James defines the first fact about favoritism, that it is ungodly, or it is unlike the character of God, and he does that by giving us:


James seeks to explain to us what he is referring, and what was going on in the early church. In this explanation, we see the:


It is important to note that James is referring to believers. The problem didn't exist on the outside, but it was on the inside. He's not merely trying to focus their interest, but he's underlying the intimate relationship that he shared with them.


RESPECT(lit.): "to show partiality, or favoritism"

IDEA: Of laying hold of one's face

PICTURE: Of judging someone by how they appear on the outside

Thus, James sees an inconsistency here. They were playing favorites, they were showing partiality, they were showing favoritism. These people were flattering the rich in hopes of getting something from them. They thought that "flattery would get them everything!"

Blanchard: "Gossip is what we say behind someone's back that we would never say to their face. Flattery is what we would say to someone's face that we would never say behind their back!"

James was saying, "Stop being partial, stop showing favoritism."

Our example is mentioned by James, as the "Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.." The Lord Jesus loved the "ins", and the "outs". He loved the rich and the poor. He looked not on the outward appearance, but on the heart. Status meant nothing to him. c.f. Romans 2:11—"For there is no respect of persons with God."

James is defining the problem, the inconsistency that he saw was Favoritism, that's the explanation.


In verses 2 and 3, James makes his point by use of a very practical illustration:

A church, or worship service is in progress, all of the sudden, in walks two men: one rich, and the other poor. The rich is decked out with the finest clothing, and a ring on every finger. The poor man is a bum, whose best is the "vile raiment" or filthy clothing that he has on.

James makes his point, by asking a very powerful question in verse 4. He asks, "If you live preferential treatment to the rich man, and let him have the best seat in the house, and put the poor man in the worst place, are you not showing favoritism?" In this verse, he shows that this kind of favoritism has the:

1. WRONG MOTIVE "Are ye not them partial…."

PARTIAL(lit.): "to distinguish, to separate, or discriminate"

SAME ROOT WORD AS 'wavereth' in 1:6

IDEA: Of uncertainty, unsettledness, or inconsistency.

Thus, James says if this kind of behavior goes on, then we are guilty of the wrong mixture of favoritism. These Christians professed to be putting their trust in the Lord, but they were in fact also relying on their ability to gain whatever rewards they could by flattery, and favoritism. James says that this has the wrong motive. c.f. Galatians 3:28—":…for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."

At the foot of the cross all the ground is level!!

In the early days of the church it was sometimes known for a slave to be served by his master at the Lord's table, as a public showing of their equality.

2. WRONG MIXTURE "…and are become judges…"

JUDGES(lit.): "one who decides, makes a judgment, or renders an opinion"

These people had set themselves up as having the right to pass judgment on other people in a manner plainly forbidden by the Word of God. When favoritism is shown, whether we admit it or not, we make ourselves into a "judge" of other people. That kind of behavior involves the wrong mixture, and the wrong manner.

A man took a small, struggling church, and began to visit and hand out information about the church, trying to build it up. He went into local clubs, public houses, homeless shelters, etc. When the church members heard of this, they gave him an ultimatum: either he stopped doing this kind of thing, or he would have to leave the church. Their reason was, "We don't want you going into places like that. The next thing you know is that some of those people will start coming to our church, and we don't want them worshipping with us." As a result of his conviction, he honored God, and left the church.

God forbid, that we think that we are in the position to make ourselves judges.
c.f. Romans 14:13—"Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or occasion to fall in his brother's way."

3. WRONG MOTIVE "…of evil thoughts."

THOUGHTS(lit.): "to reason out"

PICTURE: Of one weighing out the pros and cons before coming to a decision

The implication is that when we begin to judge, we already have the wrong motive. We have already made our mind up, and put up our defenses based upon our preconceived notions, or stereotypes. One of the most subtle dangers in the church, is that we tend to cater to people that can help us, rather than to those we can help!

Moody placed a sign over the door of his church in Chicago that read: "Ever welcome to this house of God are the strangers, and the poor.

Favoritism is Ungodly, and unlike the character of God, because it is contrary to the teaching of His Word. It involves the Wrong Mixture, Wrong Manner, and the Wrong Motive.


Here in verse 5, James seeks to again discourage favoritism, by demonstrating to us that it is unreasonable, because it:


James argues his case against favoritism not on the ground that God doesn't choose, but that God does choose. However, don't make the mistake into thinking that being poor makes a person one of God's favorites.

POOR (lit.): "to crouch, or cower with fear"

PICTURE: Of a man who is humble in the presence of God and others.

Thus, James is saying that God has chosen and selected those who have humbled themselves to be rich in faith. c.f. Matthew 5:3—"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." James' point is that favoritism, particularly toward the rich, takes away from God's sovereign right to do what he wants to do with his own creation.


James delivers another reason that favoritism is unreasonable. Showing favoritism, in this context, toward the rich, disputes the wealth of God. Notice, the:

1. RECIPIENTS "…heirs of the kingdom.."

HEIRS(lit.): "to possess or lay hold of"

Those who have trusted Christ have already gotten ahold of and possessed their inheritance. Though they be rejected in this world, they will rule in the next. c.f. Romans 8:17—"And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ…"

2. REWARD "..promised to them that love him."

PROMISED(lit.): "to proclaim, or to announce"

IDEA: Of making a public speech, or address

The recipients are all who have trusted in Christ. The reward is the promise that God Himself has given. c.f. II Cor. 1:20—"For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen…"

Adoniran Judson went to Burma as a missionary captured by natives who strung him up by the thumbs and flung him in prison. Then they asked him, "now what of your plans to win the heathen to Christ?" Judson replied, "My future is as bright as the promises of God!"

James wasn't saying that it was impossible for a rich man to be saved. But, that those who, by the world's standards didn't possess much, yet, were saved, were as rich as Christ himself in heavenly terms. Showing favoritism intervened with God's sovereign right, and it Disregard the Work of God, and Disputes the Wealth of God.


James seeks to prove that the third fact about favoritism is that it's unlawful, showing us that the law of God is:

A. A ROYAL LAW (v. 8-9)

ROYAL(lit.): "noble, excellent, or preeminent"

Thus, the law of God is perfect, excellent, and royal. It is royal because it has god as it's author.

Nearly 4,000 times in the Old Testament alone, and 700 times in the Pentateuch, the claim is made, "God said," "God spoke," or the "word of the Lord came." It needs no revision, or correction, this law is perfect, and royal, because it has the King of Kings as it's author. Therefore, one who shows favoritism breaks the royal law of God.

TRANSGRESSORS(lit.) "lawbreaker, one who violates the law"

PICTURE: Of a man who has a prescribed course to walk, but steps over the line

When we show favoritism, we step over the line as far as God is concerned.

B. A REQUIRED LAW (v. 10-11)

He now stresses his point even further, by showing us that this is a required law. Relating to favoritism, James is saying, even if we commit that sin, we violate the whole law of God. James is not saying that the man who commits one sins is to be held guilty of committing every other sin. But, that, because the law of God is an entity, an unity, even one sin, even the sin of favoritism, results in the whole law being broken.

The law of God isn't like an examination paper where only six out of ten questions must be answered. It is like a pane of glass, just one crack and the whole pane is broken. To be a violator of the law, one doesn't have to break all of the laws----JUST ONE!!

C. A REVENGING LAW (v. 12-13)

James offers a two-fold warning: to the unbeliever who thinks that he will be EXCUSED, and to the believer who thinks that he will not be

EXAMINED! He's referring to the judgment('beama') seat of Christ.(c.f. II Corinthians 5:9-10) It is there that our works, and our words will be judged. c.f. Matthew 12:36—"But I say unto you, That every idle word that man shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment."

He again shows the importance of what we say.

Verse 12 is a CALL TO ACTION, we're to "speak and do" as those who are going to be judged.

Verse 13 is a CALL TO ATTENTION, for as we have judged others, we will also be judged.

What a startling thought! What a reality check! How we ought to live in a way that would not cause us to be ashamed at the judgment. It's a Royal Law, a Required Law, and a Revenging Law!


When the saintly old Puritan theologian Thomas Hooker lay on his deathbed in 1647, a dear friend said to him, "Brother, you are going to receive the reward for your labors," to which Hooker replied, "Brother, I am going to receive mercy, because I've tried to show mercy!"

May the Holy Ghost help us not to show favoritism based upon one's appearance, income, or influence. May we realize that from God's standpoint, FAVORITISM IS UNGODLY, FAVORITISM IS UNREASONABLE, and FAVORITISM IS UNLAWFUL! These are "THE FACTS ABOUT FAVORITISM!"