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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am Svc, 2013-02-24

Text: James 2:1-13

Favouritism goes on everyday. It exists to varying degrees in almost every place. It exists in workplaces where promotion is not just a matter of being competent and productive, but of getting into the good books of certain people. Favouritism is found in board meetings where decisions are not directed entirely by the will of the majority, but by the whims and fancies of a very influential minority. Favouritism is commonly found in classrooms: A student endears himself to a teacher so well that he gains an unfair advantage even though he performs no better than the rest.

Favouritism is also found in families: Children receive biased treatment based on certain qualities they have no ability to change. And as we shall see in our Scripture text shortly, favouritism is sadly also found among Christians. In fact it has been a pernicious problem in churches right from the time of the early church when James wrote this epistle, and it continues to be a problem in churches today.

What makes favouritism such a serious matter is that it brings suffering and unfair treatment to many. People are neglected, marginalized, despised or rejected because of it. Perhaps their social status is not as high as that of others, or perhaps they are not as well-off as others. Or perhaps they happen to be of a gender, nationality, race or language that is not preferred and they are unfairly disadvantaged because of it.

Favouritism also creates a lot of distrust, jealousy and intense resentment. Ask any number of employees who work in places where favouritism reigns supreme, and they will tell you how stifling the environment is and how unpleasant working relationships have become. Everyone’s morale is low and some who can’t take it will quit to find another job.

And so, if we are practising favouritism we need to stop it. If we are receiving undue favour in a manner that is unfair to others we also need to put a stop to it. And if we are suffering the adverse effects of favouritism, we need to learn how to respond to it in a biblical manner. Let us therefore turn to our text of scripture in James 2:1-13.

 

I. Why You Should Not Practise Favouritism

A. It is Undue

Firstly, I want you to notice the words ‘respect of persons’ in v.1, which is also mentioned in v.3 (‘and ye have respect to him’) and in v.9 (‘respect to persons’). This has nothing to do with showing respect to our superiors. God’s Word tells us to “Render to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” (Romans 13:7) It is always good and right for us to show respect wherever it is due. But what the words ‘respect of persons’ in our text mean is to give respect notwhen it is due, but when it is undue.

In the example given in vv.2-3, respect was given to a man who walked into a church, all because he was wearing a gold ring and was dressed in finely embroidered clothes. This respect was based only on his outward appearance. Bear in mind that he was only a visitor to the church. But because his appearance attracted so much attention he was given much better treatment or respect than the other visitor. Such respect is clearly out of place. It is an undue respect. This is what favouritism is all about. It is the giving of unduefavour to someone.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with showing favour to someone when it is due. For example if two people were to walk into our church at the same time and one is an elderly man with crutches while the other is a healthy young man, what should we do? We should help the elderly man to find the most convenient place to sit and let the healthy young man find his own place to sit. Is this favouritism? No. The same thing is done in our public buses and trains: There are special seats designated for passengers who are elderly, who are handicapped and who are expectant mothers. This is not favouritism at all, but kind consideration. Everyone understands that some people deserve special treatment because of their infirmities.

B. It is Unfair

But everyone also understands that no one deserves unfair treatment. This brings us to the second reason why we should not practise favouritism – it is utterly unfair. We see this in James’ example, in the treatment that the other visitor received. How different was he from the first one? Only in his outward appearance. This visitor was dressed in vile raiment. If only he had been politely ushered to a good seat just like the first visitor, there would have been no favouritism but complete fairness. But what treatment did he receive?“Stand here! Sit here under my footstool!” Can you see the huge contrast here? Doesn’t it show how unfair favouritism is? It makes unjustified distinctions between people. By doing this, it stratifies them unfairly into upper and lower classes.

C. It is Self-Centred

But what is it that makes us do that? Why do we make such distinctions between people? Isn’t it often because there is some selfish gain to be made out of it? In the example given by James you will notice that the clothing of the two visitors gave the perception that one was rich and the other was poor. The rich man wore a gold ring on his finger. In ancient times a gold ring was a symbol of authority, as such rings were used to seal decrees and official documents. And self-centred thinking would make people show the rich man more favour so that he would one day use his authority and influence in their favour.

But what about the poor man? Well, following the same self-centred thinking, there is nothing to be gained from showing him any favour because he has no influence or authority at all. Let us realise that such self-centred thinking is evil. As v.4 says, those who make distinctions like this become ‘judges of evil thoughts.’ They have become like judges who decide the outcome of a court case not on its own merits, by considering what they may stand to gain personally from the outcome.

Thus we have seen that favouritism should not be practised because it is undue, unfair and self-centred. And everyone, even unbelievers, will agree that all these put favouritism in a very bad light. But despite that, it is still practised very widely because the world tolerates it. Favouritism is tolerated by the world and even though people may frown and complain when it is practised, they still permit it to go on. That’s the way of the world!

But the Word of God plainly says that we cannot adopt the world’s attitude of tolerating favouritism. Look at James 1:27 – “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” This is followed immediately with the stern warning against favouritism in 2:1 – “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.”

This tells us that faith in Christ cannot co-exist with favouritism. They are simply incompatible, and diametrically opposed to each other. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28). Throughout His earthly ministry, Christ showed no favouritism at all (Luke 20:21). He ministered to all kinds of people – men, women, and children. He showed compassion to Jew, Samaritan and Gentile alike. His purpose of salvation was not just to remove the enmity that sin had caused between God and man, but also to break down the wall that separated Jews from Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14). All these bring home the point that faith in Christ is incompatible with favouritism.

And thus, while favouritism is practised so widely by the world, we who believe in Christ must keep ourselves unspotted from the world. We must treat our fellow man the way God wants us to treat them. We who have faith in Christ must follow God rather than the world in the way we look at others.

 

II. How You Should Deal with Favouritism

A. Change the way you look at others

How does the world look at people? It looks at their outward appearance. We are judged according to our looks, our personality, and our public image. That is why people spend thousands of dollars on beauty treatment and body building to enhance their appearance. The world also looks at our accomplishments. We are judged according to our wealth, our social status and our possessions. But in God’s sight all these are worth nothing. God does not look at our outward appearance or worldly accomplishments. He does not value those who own more properties than others, or those who are more impressive-looking than others.

When God decided whom He would save before the world was made, He did not use these things as the bases for His choice. Listen to what 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 says on this: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”

It is in the light of this that we should now understand what James wrote in v.5 – “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world…?” This does not mean that God favours no one else but the poor. It means that unlike the world, God includes the poor in His choice because He does not value people according to their material wealth. As followers of God, we too must not value people according to their material wealth. Everyone must have equal importance in our eyes, regardless of their social status, wealth or appearance. Everyone, whether rich or poor, bears the exact same image of God. That is why it is so wrong todespise the poor, or to favour the rich over the poor.

And everyone whether rich or poor, are sinners who are worthy only of God’s judgment. Some people tend to think that the poor are most sinful and deserving of judgment because they are more likely to steal, to cheat and lie in order to get out of poverty and debt. But the rich are just as sinful, as James points out in v.6. They have been known to abuse their wealth and power to oppress the poor and drag them to court to make false charges against them. Moreover in the time of James, the ones who persecuted Christians severely were the rich unbelieving Jews. And James uses this to show how ironical it is that these rich Jews should be treated so much better in church than the poor.

The plain truth is that everyone is just as sinful regardless of wealth, status, race, age, education or gender. Belonging to a certain race or class or tribe does not give you any advantage or disadvantage before God, nor does it make you more worthy or less worthy of God’s judgment than others. As God’s Word says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that includes every one of us.

Perhaps some of you here may have been thinking all this while that you are a little better than others because of your good family background, upbringing or education. Well, the Bible says that in God’s sight you are actually no better than the worst of sinners. You are as much in need of salvation from sin and eternal death as everyone else. And the way to be saved is the same for you as for everyone else – repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Take Him alone to be your Saviour and Lord. If you have not done this yet, please do not delay as this is your greatest need.

And after you have come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the way you look at others must change – to see everyone, great or small, rich or poor, the same way that God sees them.

B. Love others as yourself

This is mentioned in v.8 of our text – “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.” There are two things we need to note about this love. Firstly, it must be unconditional. This is brought out in the Greek word for love that is used here – agapao. It refers to the same unconditional agape love that God has for unworthy sinners like us. Hence we are to love people, not because of anything that is worthy in them or because of what they can do for us.

Jesus illustrated this unconditional love very well by using the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). The Jews had always looked down upon the Samaritans and considered them as outcasts. But in this parable, the one who went out of his way to help a Jew who had been robbed and left to die on the road to Jericho was not a Jew but a Samaritan. Love overcomes all barriers of discrimination, and thus it eliminates favouritism.

Secondly, I want you to note that the love we have for others is given as a law we must keep. Therefore any failure to love our neighbour as ourselves violates a law of God. And this is not just any law of God, but the only one that has ever been called the royal law. This means that this particular law is the king of every law which governs human relationships. For by loving our neighbour as ourselves we automatically keep those laws in the Ten Commandments on our duties to our fellow man – like ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ ‘Thou shalt not steal’, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against their neighbour’ and ‘thou shalt not covet…any thing that is thy neighbour’s.’These laws plus all other laws of God on human relationships are summed up in the royal law: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (cf. Galatians 5:14; Romans 13:9).

What all this means is that this is not a matter of personal preference. The royal law must be kept. We must love our neighbour as ourselves whether we feel like doing it or not. It may not be hard for us to keep this law when it comes to dealing with people we are comfortable with. If they are your close friends it will not be hard for you to love them as yourself. But what if they are people you are not comfortable with? What if they are those you are most prejudiced against? How about those who make life difficult for you? Can there be any exceptions – any instance at all where you don’t have to love your neighbour as yourself?

Please look at v.10 – “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” I think the answer from God’s Word is clear – There aren’t any exceptions. Making exceptions will only make a distinction which leads to favouritism.

This then is the greatest challenge we face – How to apply this message in our own lives. Consider all your relationships at home, at school, at work and in church – are you practising favouritism in any of them? Are you really fair in dealing with all your subordinates, or are you biased toward anyone? Have you made unjustified distinctions between people? Are you trying to win someone’s favour just because he is rich and influential? Are you receiving favour in a manner that is unfair to others? And how have you treated those who do not seem to be blessed as much as you are?

We have learned why we should not practise favouritism. And we have learned that to have victory over it, we must change the way we look at others, and love them as ourselves. If all this is not translated into concrete action, then we become nothing more than hearers of the Word. The final call to obey is given to us in verse 12 which says, “So speak and so do, as they that will be judged by the law of liberty.” What you have heard today constrains you now to speak and act accordingly.

How about those who are suffering the adverse effects of favouritism? Perhaps you are being treated unfairly and you can really emphatize with the poor man in v.3. But how should you respond to this treatment in a biblical manner? I want you to look at v.5 and observe what it says. Here we are told that God has “chosen the poor of this world rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him.” Let this be your comfort: God has great compassion for those like you who endure unfair treatment. He wants you to know that though you may be poor in the eyes of this world, you are far richer than all the wealthiest men on earth. He has promised to give you an eternal kingdom, “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).

So lift up your eyes of faith to behold that kingdom, and you will find all the strength and courage you need to persevere. And please make sure that you keep loving God with all your heart, soul and mind, because the promise in v.5 is given to those who love Him. And since He has said that those who love Him will keep His commandments, don’t neglect to keep the royal law – To love your neighbour as yourself.

This includes loving the ones who are responsible for the unfair treatment you receive and giving you a hard time. No matter how difficult it is for you to be a doer of the Word, you must do it: Get rid of all the resentment you feel against them, and learn to love them instead by forgiving them. By doing this you gain the victory as this glorifies your Lord Jesus who loved and forgave those who nailed Him to the cross. May the Lord help us all to have victory as we strive to live for Christ and glorify Him in a modern world.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25