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Lesson Five: The Sin of Favoritism

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A few hundred years ago, Israel needed a new king. Saul had proven unreliable and the prophet Samuel was sent to the tiny town of Bethlehem to anoint his successor. When he arrived, he invited Jesse and his sons to attend a sacrifice. The father and his sons – seven huge hunks – made their appearance. Each of the boys was paraded past Samuel. Each looked like the stuff of which kings are made. Samuel was impressed. In his opinion, any one of these boys would have been adequate for the job.

God rejected all of them. Instead, He chose the son that Jesse ignored – his youngest son David. Both Jesse and Samuel made the same mistake. They judged the potential of the boys by what they saw on the outside. They were partial to big, brawny men and snubbed skinny, pimple-faced boys. Without realizing it, they were guilty of the sin of favoritism.

At that point, God gave Samuel a reminder that we would do well to remember: the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. God is not impressed with a man’s social status or financial portfolio. He’s not influenced by the number of home runs he hits, or the sticker price of the car he drives. God only looks at one thing: what’s in a man’s heart.

Apparently, the early believers had forgotten that truth. James suggests that they had developed the unChristlike practice of showing partiality to those who appeared more influential. When a wealthy visitor came to the church, he was treated like an honored guest while the poor were practically ignored. With a bluntness we will soon become familiar with, James wrote, If you play favorites, you commit sin (verse 9).

In studying this section, we will look at three different contrasting ideals to which James draws our attention.

I. Grace or Glamour? Verses 1-4

  1. The Exhortation – verse 1
  2. Addressed to "brethren," those sharing faith in Christ.
  3. Appeals to the example of Christ.
  4. The glamour and glitter of this world easily influenced these believers. They were easily impressed by designer labels and expensive jewelry.
  5. James reminds them that the object of their faith was the Lord of glory

In 2 Corinthians 8:9, Paul wrote, For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich. Even though all the glorious wealth of heaven was His, Christ in grace left it behind to redeem mankind. It was more important to Him that He extend grace to sinners than cling to His glory.

  1. The Example – verses 2-3

James vividly illustrates what he is talking about. Two men visit a service. Both stand out - one for his wealth, the other for his poverty. James draws a picture of the wealthy visitor wearing a gold ring and fashionable clothing. The poor visitor is dressed in rags. The ushers roll out the red carpet for the wealthy visitor. He is seated where everyone will be able to see him. The poor man awaits similar treatment, and doesn’t get it. AND THAT’S THE PROBLEM!

There was nothing wrong in extending a warm welcome to the rich visitor. The sin was in treating the poor visitor differently. When the ushers told him to stand at the back or sit on the floor, it revealed they were more interested in attracting wealth than ministering grace.

  1. The Examination – verse 4

James asks two questions that cause us to examine the implications of such an action.

  1. Are you not partial in yourselves?
  2. In other words, you believe that the wealthy members of your congregation are more valuable than the poor ones.
  3. If you are more interested in reaching the upper classes of society, then you are saying that their contributions (gifts and talents) are more important to the church.
  4. Are you not … become judges of evil thoughts? (Judges who have evil thoughts)
  5. James informs us that it is an evil thought - wicked and ungodly - to judge the potential of men to contribute to the Kingdom of God by outward appearances.
  6. What is more important? Having a glamorous church, or a grace-filled church?

II. Earthly Wealth or Eternal Riches? Verses 5-7

  1. The sovereign choice of God – verse 5
  2. A man can lack the things this world considers valuable, but be enriched by faith.
  3. Not every believer can be described as "rich in faith." The issue here is not the possession of salvation, but the blessings that accompany salvation.
  4. Often, those we despise have a better chance of excelling in faith because they have so little to cling to.
  5. In this regard Paul wrote, God hath chosen the base things of the world to confound the wise." SEE 1 CORINTHIANS 1:26-29
  6. A man can lack the things this world considers valuable, yet be an enjoy. heir of the kingdom – having the promise that all the wealth of heaven will be his to

Nine-year-old Phillip was in a Sunday School class of eight-year-olds. The other children did not welcome Philip to their class. They often made fun of him, not because he was older, but because he was "different." Phillip suffered from Down’s syndrome. He had the physical characteristics, slow responses, and mild retardation that accompany his disability.

On Easter Sunday, the teacher gave each child one of those plastic eggs that pull apart in the middle. She instructed her students to go outdoors, find a symbol of "new life" and place it within the egg. The children eagerly complied. Afterwards, the teacher opened each egg, giving the children a chance to see what the other students had found. One had placed a pretty flower in the egg. The children showed their approval. Another egg revealed a tiny butterfly. Everyone agreed that it was beautiful. Finally, the teacher opened the last egg, and it was empty. "That’s stupid," said one of the little boys in the class. Then the teacher felt a tug on his shirt. It was Phillip. Looking up he said, "That’s mine. I did it. I have new life because the tomb is empty."

A hush fell over the class. From that time forward, Phillip became a part of the group. Whatever had made Him different was never mentioned again.

That summer, Phillip died. In his own way, he had been poor [in] this world, but rich in faith. God chose him to teach others the meaning of the resurrection. At his funeral, nine 8-year-old boys and girls filed past his casket, each placing an empty plastic egg alongside the flowers already there.

  1. The sinful conduct of the rich – verses 6-7
  2. Instead of using their wealth to benefit others, they used it to bully others.
  3. The poor often borrowed from the wealthy at excessive rates of interest.
  4. When the poor couldn’t pay, they would be taken to court and cast into prison. It was common for family members to be enslaved to pay the debt.
  5. Their wealth blinded them to their own need and emboldened them to blaspheme the name of Christ.

The point James is making is that the poor will often embrace the gospel and the rich reject it. Yet these Christians were guilty of despising the poor – treating them with contempt – and possibly isolating them from the one person who could enrich their lives for all eternity.

III. Compassion or Condemnation? Verses 8-13

  1. The Law of Love – verses 8-11
  2. The simplicity of the royal law. Verse 8
  3. Let compassion rule your actions. Love your neighbor as you love yourself, and you will always be doing the right thing.
  4. This is the royal law because it is the fulfillment of all the Law.
  • SEE ROMANS 13:9-10
  • The man who loves his neighbor as himself will not steal from his neighbor, covet his goods, lie to/about his neighbor, murder, or commit adultery.
  1. The sin of respecting persons. Verses 9-11

Imagine a pole thrusting out over the Grand Canyon. Attached to the pole is a chain consisting of ten links. Now, imagine yourself sitting in a chair attached to the chain. 5000 feet below you, the Colorado River winds like a silver thread. Suddenly, one of the links of the chain breaks. How far will you fall? Get the picture? If just one link breaks, you’re history. All the links do not have to break before you will fall.

That’s the way it is with God’s Law. Most people will never commit adultery or murder. Yet, these laws are just expressions of the royal law. Although the law consists of ten separate commands, the person who violates even one of them becomes a "transgressor" – one who has broken the Law and subject to the judgment imposed by the Law. And certainly, if you violate the royal law upon which the individual laws are based, then you have committed sin and are condemned by the law. That’s why John would later write that the person who hates his brother (extreme partiality) is a murderer (1 John 3:15). Favoritism is a sin!

  1. The Law of Liberty – verses 10-13
  2. The Law of Liberty - the Word of God - will judge our words and actions.
  3. James identified the Word of God as the Law of Liberty in 1:25.

The believer is not under law, but under grace. We do not live under the rigorous demands of the Old Testament laws. In Acts 15, James agreed that that Law was a yoke of bondage. Instead, we are guided by the Law of Liberty – the completed Word of God. It is a Law of Liberty because it reveals that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made [us] free from the law of sin and death. When we walk in the Spirit, we are freed from the enslaving lusts of the flesh. When we know the truth, it sets us free.

  1. But the Law of Liberty does not grant irresponsibility.
  • It tells us that we are accountable for every idle word. Matthew 12:36
  • It states that our deeds will be judged. 2 Corinthians 5:10
  1. The Christian who shows no mercy will meet with unmerciful judgment.

Whether we deal with others in cold legalism or carnal favoritism, the result will be the same. Because of our lack of compassion, God, in His day to day dealings with us, will judge us by the same standard. If we show no mercy, we will receive none. If we neglect compassion, we invite condemnation – justice with no appeal to mercy.

Obviously, James is not talking about losing our salvation, but loss of fellowship and reward. When believers show favoritism by snubbing the poor, broken, suffering sinner, he is walking contrary to the Lord of Glory who was known as the friend of sinners.


Ask yourself this question: Do you treat others differently than the Lord has treated you? That’s the sin of favoritism.

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