Playing favorites. It isn’t right, but we all do it. With our children. With our friends. With our family. With our church family. Today, God speaks to us about showing favoritism. Simply put, he says, “Don’t show favoritism, instead exercise love, mercy and forgiveness – to all.”
In our Old Testament reading God illustrates a number of things that may cause someone to sinfully favor one person over another: Peer pressure. Pity. Hatred. Bribes. Distrust of a foreign people. All these things can lead to sinful favoritism.
Old Testament...................... Exodus 23:1-9 (NIV)
1“Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness.
2“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.
4“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. 5If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.
6“Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.
8“Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.
9“Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in
In our Gospel reading, God shows how faulty information and preconceived ideas leads to sinful favoritism.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day hated Him for no good reason. They didn’t really try to see who Jesus was. They didn’t really seek to compare His teachings with God’s Word. Their preconceived ideas about Him led them to discriminate against the Savior that God had sent to rescue them.
gospel Reading..................... John 7:40-53 (NIV)
40On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”
41Others said, “He is the Christ.”
Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from
45Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46“No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared.
47“You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48“Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”
50Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51“Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”
52They replied, “Are you from
These so called experts in God’s Word had overlooked the fact that the prophet Jonah had come from
The letter that we call “James” was written by an important leader in the young Christian church. James wrote to Jewish Christians. That means people who were Jewish by birth, but who had become Christian through the work of the Holy Spirit.
The faith that the Holy Spirit had planted through the message of Jesus, He would now nourish and cause to grow. Through the words of James, the Holy Spirit would mold the lives of Jesus’ followers so that they would resemble Christ more closely. They would then radiate Christ’s love and power through their changed behavior.
Letter reading..................... James 2:1-13 (NIV)
1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If 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,” 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5Listen, 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? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
These are the words of the Holy Spirit. May He enlighten us and lead us in the path of righteousness, to the glory of our only Savior Jesus Christ.
James is very direct. He states his major teaching point right away, “Christians, Don’t Show Favoritism”. Don’t shower forgiveness on the people you like, but not on the people you don’t like. Don’t help the people dear to you, but ignore the people you don’t care for. Don’t play favorites with people.
Our natural sinful instinct is to smile on people who treat us kindly, and to frown on people who don’t. We Christians can even justify this vengeful attitude in our minds. We may think, “If someone is bad to me then I need to show them what they did was wrong by the way that I react to them.” In truth, we’re may not actually be trying to help them see their sin and repent. We may just be repaying them evil for evil.
“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9 NIV).
God doesn’t have this sinful instinct to smile on people who treat Him kindly, and to frown on people who don’t. That’s why He is kind, even to those who hate Him.
There are plenty of people in this country who fight against God every day, but the sun still shines on their houses in the morning. The crops still grow in their fields. Their employers still pay them their wages. They grow old and live to see their grandchildren. The air still fills their lungs and their hearts continue to beat.
Jesus told His followers,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48 NIV).
When Jesus said those words He wasn’t teaching anything new! He’s was just teaching what the Father had always said. God tells His people not to differentiate between those who love us and those who hate us. Our Old Testament reading said:
“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. 5If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it” (Exodus 23:4-5 NIV).
Our sins of favoritism may very well spring from false ideas in our heads. When we look at others we see differences in blessings that God has given. When we see these difference we are tempted to judge people.
The Jewish people of James’ day sometimes viewed riches as being a reward from God for good behavior. Conversely they then saw poverty as God’s judgment for bad behavior. But this wasn’t necessarily true! Having lots of money doesn’t necessarily mean that God is happy with you. Having just enough to get by doesn’t necessarily mean that God is unhappy with you.
When we judge people by mere outward circumstances we judge very poorly. When we then rank them as good or bad, better or worse, our favoritism is not only incorrect, it’s wicked.
Treating people with differing love because of our perception of their worthiness is certainly NOT treating them like we would want to be treated. We want and even expect people to mercifully forgive the “little sins” that we commit. We don’t want them to keep a running tally of OUR sins and consult that list whenever dealing with us. Yet that is what we do when we measure out the mercy that we will give others in proportion to their past dealings with us.
We may view our sins of favoritism as “little sins”. But James blasts that idea to pieces when he reminds us that every sin shatters the will of God. Murder is just as evil as adultery. Lying is just as evil as theft. Favoritism is just as wrong as genocide. We cannot overlook our favoritism as minor and to be expected. We must take it as seriously as God takes it.
James directed the Jewish Christians to take their sins of favoritism very seriously, and to look forward to when they would stand before God to be judged.
When unbelievers and believers stand before God He will not show favoritism. Those who don’t have Jesus in their hearts will be judged by their own personal record. A scary thought indeed, since all have sinned and fall short of God’s expectation.
Those who have Christ in their hearts will also be judged, but not according to their own personal record. Instead those who trust in Jesus will be judged on the basis of the personal record of Jesus. In mercy the Son of God lived His life for sinners, and that life will triumph over the judgment that sinners deserve.
James points us to the forgiveness that we have in Jesus as our great comfort and as the source of power for weeding out the sinful favoritism that is in our life.
Since God will judge us by Christ’s personal record, let us do the same to the sinners around us. Christ suffered the consequences for the sins of every person you will ever meet. View them with this in mind. When they sin against you, think to yourself, “Christ has already suffered for them and forgiven them. As Christ’s follower, so will I. His perseverance and mercy will shine, in mine.”
There’s a little phrase that you can use to remember everything that the Holy Spirit teaches us here. “Keep it level.”
People want to grade others and plot them on a graph as good, better, best and then treat them accordingly. God says, “Keep it level. No favoritism allowed.”
People want to grade sins and then plot them on a graph as bad, worse, worst. But God says, “Keep it level. Every sin is breaking my will.”
Christians sometimes want to divide the world into believers and unbelievers, and then love the believers and hate the unbelievers. God says, “Keep it level. I love them all, and want them all to know my Son.”
The message of James is all about putting everyone on the same level. All sinners. All loved by God and offered full forgiveness in His Son Jesus. But there is one place where we can’t keep it level. When it comes to God, we want to put Him high above the world’s advice. We want to consider His word far above our heart’s instinct.
May the undeserved love of Christ, fully expressed in His painful cross and empty tomb, compel you to follow Him. May His Spirit enable you to show favoritism to none, but great love and mercy to all, to the glory of the Father.
The peace which comes from God, which far exceeds all our understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.