“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law.”
- James 2:8-9
I was blessed to attend high school before the days of Columbine and
Sandy Hook. It was, in many ways, a much more innocent
time. As a teenager I attended youth group just about every week. And at one of
those events, the speaker shared a story about an armed man who barged into a
church service one Sunday morning. He stood in the middle of the sanctuary with
rifle in hand and yelled, “I’m giving you all ONE chance to get out here. If
you don’t really believe this foolishness about Jesus Christ, I’ll let you
leave right now.” Ninety percent of the congregation left the building. The
gunman turned to the pastor and said, “All right, preacher. I got rid of all
the hypocrites. You can continue the service now.”
As a teenager, I remember thinking about that story and wondering: “Am I a hypocrite? I’ve heard the Bible verses that say I’m supposed to stand up for my faith in Christ, and I believe those verses. But do I believe them enough to actually die for my faith?” As the book of James reminds us, following Jesus has never been a matter of simply listening to God’s word. It’s about doing God’s word, obeying God’s word, living God’s word.
At the beginning of chapter 2, James gives his Christian readers a very important command: In order to be doers of God’s word, we cannot discriminate. We cannot play favorites. He writes in verse 1: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” Notice that before James gives this command, “Don’t show favoritism,” he reminds us who we are: “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus,” the Savior of the world who saved us from our sins. James is essentially saying: “As I give you this command, remember that it is the Savior of the world’s command.” And this is his clear command: “Don’t show favoritism.”
The word translated as “favoritism” in the NIV is the Greek word prosopolepsia, which literally means “receiving the face.” Favoritism involves looking at someone’s face and identifying characteristics of their physical appearance or status or race—and based on the characteristics we see, choosing whether to receive them or reject them. When I show favoritism, I accept some faces and reject others based entirely on what features I like and which ones I don’t like.
I hope that most of us don’t cut people out of our lives based on their appearance. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all struggled with favoritism at some level or another. The CEV translates Jesus’ command in verse 1, “Don’t treat some people better than others.” And the Good News version paraphrases the command, “Don’t treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance.” The truth is, in this day and age people talk a lot about equality and tolerance, but most people—even most Christians—show some favoritism. We don’t practice what we preach. We receive the faces of some, but we don’t receive the faces of others.
Now, let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute. We may say, “So, I’m more likely to talk to a guy in a suit than to a homeless guy who smells like last week’s garbage. And I’m more likely to be nice to a lady who looks like Barbie than a girl who’s tatted up and looks like a gang banger. I’m only human, right? What’s the big deal?” Well, it’s a big deal … because we are God’s representatives here on earth, and when we play favorites, we imply that GOD plays favorites. We imply that some people are less important to God and less loved by God than others. And that implication leads people to doubt that God and His word are true.
Years ago an older and wiser Christian taught me that when we are doing ministry, more is “caught” than what is “taught.” In other words, people will be more influenced by our actions than our words. It doesn’t matter how much we say, “I love you” if we treat people like trash. And it doesn’t matter how much we quote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” If we treat someone like a reject, he or she will likely come to the conclusion that God has rejected him: “John 3:16 is for everyone else—except for me.” When we show favoritism we completely misrepresent God to our lost and dying world. And that, my friends, is a sin.
In order to be doers of the word, we cannot discriminate. We cannot play favorites. We must treat all people with kindness and love. Whether you are at home or at church or at work or walking down the sidewalk, don’t show favoritism. Show kindness and compassion to everyone equally. Show mercy to everyone equally. And no matter what someone looks like or talks like or even smells like, love your neighbor as you love yourself. James calls this second-greatest command “the royal command,” reminding us to treat every person we meet like “royalty.”
Warren Wiersbe says it well: “We only believe as much of the Bible as we practice. One of the tests of the reality of our faith is how we treat other people. Can we pass the test?” Good question! Can you pass the test?
Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Join us for our worship service Sundays at 10 a.m. at the new Dr. Ralph Baker School in Victorville. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.