Our community has expanded with new buildings due to large gifts from wealthy people with generous hearts. Recognition for those gifts by giving the building their names and giving them the best seats in the house when attending events is appropriate. Perhaps their generosity will inspire others. However, recognizing great things that happen in the community by certain people and favoritism in the church are two very different things.
For those who have been redeemed by trusting Jesus, God can expect a different kind of life. James saw some of the favoritism. He is used by God to make a believer’s lifestyle more Christlike. In God’s eyes all people are important because of who they are and not by what they have accomplished. The gift of a philanthropist can be acknowledged in the community, but it does not make him more precious in God’s eyes, nor should he be treated with favoritism in the church of Jesus Christ because of his social status and his generous spirit.
We are all guilty in the church of showing some favoritism. A special worth seems to be assigned to people in the church for sundry reasons. Our city has been blessed the last few years with buildings that make it a nicer place to live. There is a new library, a fine arts building, and two athletic facilities. None of these buildings would have been constructed if it had not been for large gifts from wealthy people with generous hearts. I believe the community is correct in making their gifts known and in some way giving these major donors recognition. It would be proper that favoritism be shown to these friends by identifying the buildings with their names or by reserving the best seats in the house for their use. Perhaps their generosity will inspire other wealthy people to share some of their money with the community.
However, in our text James writes, “My brothers, as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, do not 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” (1-4)?
James is being used by God to make the believer’s lifestyle more Christlike. God created all of us in His image. When we fell into sin, He sent his Son to die as a payment for our sins. For those who receive Christ as Savior and Lord, He calls us to be his ambassadors. In God’s eyes, all people are important, because of who they are and not by what they have accomplished. The gift of a philanthropist does not make him more precious in God’s eyes, nor should he be treated with favoritism in the Church of Jesus Christ because of his social status.
However, James detected favoritism as he walked among the people of God in his congregation. A special worth seems to be assigned to certain people in the church for sundry reason. Let me give you a few examples.
Fifty years ago the members of the congregation I served often celebrated with large dinners and elaborate open houses when a son or daughter was confirmed. My wife was very careful to write down the invitations as we received them and then we visited the families in order that the invitations were received. Our first visit was to a dinner at the home of a confirmation student whose parents were very affluent and lived in a large expensive home. The second invitation came from a family with meager means and who lived in a modest house. She asked if we would come to dinner. My wife explained that we had accepted an invitation to dinner but would be delighted to come for supper. When we arrived at the supper hour, the mother announced to the other guests that “In our church, we have a pastor for the poor and one for the rich. We should not have the senior pastor for dinner, but he was willing to come for supper.”
Both my wife and I were crushed. While we were innocent in this case, this woman has expressed a hurt that had come from another time. We just laughed it off at the time, but during the week I visited with the family and told them how badly we felt. We loved them and wanted to be the pastor of every member of the congregation.
The mother apologized for her remark and then began to weep. She assured me that it was nothing we had done, but through their many years in the congregation they had felt like second-class members. They had never been asked to help in Sunday school. They had never served on a committee in the congregation. She said those opportunities were given to the more prominent members in the church, those who families had been members for many years.
Shortly after our visit, we received into membership fifty or more new members. After the service, a member stated, “Isn’t it thrilling to have Dr. So and so? I hope we can feed him and his family with God’s Word and give them an opportunity to serve the Lord through our congregation.” But I was just as thrilled to have the other forty-eight people who became a part of our fellowship this morning and had the same wish for them.
The hurt mother of the confirmation student had interpreted God’s Word to me in such a way that I haven’t forgotten in fifty years later. “As believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, do not show any favoritism.” It is one thing to acknowledge large gifts in the community. However, there is no place for favoritism in God’s family.
James continues, “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 loved him? But you have insulted the poor” (5-6).
Think about it. Why did God choose Mary to be the mother of Christ in the flesh? Why was it not the daughter of some prominent leader? If Herod had a daughter, why was she not chosen?
Why did Jesus choose the disciples he did? Why were they not the prestigious leaders of society in his day? Wouldn’t he have had a better chance of being accepted by the populace had these people who surrounded him not been fishermen or a tax collector but members of the Jerusalem establishment?
Jesus looked for people with certain abilities, personalities and used them in different assignments, knowing each one was equally as precious to His father as the other.
While Jesus showed no favoritism among his disciples, he realized that some had different talents than the others. Peter was more of a leader than his brother Andrew and was used in that way. However, this by no means gave him preferential treatment. St. Paul was the dynamic leader of Jesus Christ in the Gentile world. However, he deserved no more favoritism than his coworker, Silas.
Consider a loving family who has many children. Their children are different. Some have talents in athletics, others in the academics, still others in music, and one is disabled. Should the family show favoritism toward any of them? No. The disabled child will need more attention, but no more favoritism.
Rose Kennedy has had the admiration of millions in our world. She had a son who became President of the United States, two sons who have served in the U.S. Senate, several daughters who have been leaders in their own right, and one who was born mildly disabled and today lives in a care center. Rose Kennedy loved them all, not least her daughter with limited ability.
In a secular society, to show no favoritism is pure nonsense. We wine and dine those who have the ability to do us or the cause we represent some good. We operate with the philosophy expressed in the saying, You scratch my back and I will scratch yours.
It is because we live in this culture that James warns there shall be none of this in the Church of Jesus Christ so once more the inspired writer says, “As believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.”