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? Gut you have insulted the poor. It is 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?
When I read this passage, I immediately think of the local church and body of believers of which I am a part. The good news is that I don’t see much in the way of discrimination against others based on their social class. Yet, we still need to take this passage seriously so that we don’t become like the Pharisee who prayed, “Thank you, Lord, that I am not like this sinner.” As soon as we look down on anyone for any reason, we have sinned by showing favoritism.
We may feel proud of ourselves that our churches don’t openly discriminate against those of other social classes, but this verse can be extended into many other areas. Are our churches open to those of other races and other cultures? Do we prefer to welcome those who look most like us – perhaps even discriminating the other way against those who have more money and are of an upper class?
In our area, racial discrimination seems less of an issue because most people are Caucasian. Nonetheless, there is a significant Hispanic population that doesn’t seem well-represented in our church. Are we too lax in our outreach to this population? Yet, I know that our missions team sees this population as one that we could reach better. What about your church? Does everyone seem to look like you? Is this OK? How can the body of Christ truly reach these other populations that don’t show up on our doorsteps?
James is trying to get us to see here that we are all one in Christ – a sentiment echoed throughout Paul’s letters (Galatians 3: 28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”). I think in our current church culture, we may transgress this commandment by gravitating toward those who seem to have a particular gift that can be used in a worship setting – e.g. musical ability, speaking or teaching ability, etc. Yet, we are all one in Christ, and we all have gifts that are necessary to the Body of Christ. We can’t afford to play favorites. Someone who plays an instrument is no more necessary to the proper function of the Body of Christ than someone who sits with the grieving family or someone who makes it their job to pray regularly for those in need.
As an individual, I can make it my business to expand my circle of acquaintances into those who are different from me. I can also make sure that I am using my spiritual gifts in the way God wants me to. As a church, each church body needs to regularly make sure that they (we) are open to using everyone and their gifts and that no group of people gets special treatment. This may also mean expanding outreach to make sure that every segment of the local population has the opportunity to hear the Gospel, not just the ones who come to church on Sunday.
Lord, help us to love everyone, no matter their color, social status, bathing status, hair color, etc. and give us the courage and words to share the Gospel with all – not condescendingly, but lovingly as people whom God has saved.
Thoughts? What more can we, as individuals, do to avoid showing favoritism?