Warding off favouritism, by Rev. John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg
Bible Study material on James 2:1-13

One of the sensitive issues in contemporary times relates to the phenomenon of showing favouritism. It could be observed that favouritism is usually based on character-neutral traits. That is the temptation to show partiality thrives on attributes such as a person’s skin colour, ethnicity, place of origin, level of income, educational background, health, gender, age and popularity. These attributes are said to be character-neutral attributes and so they do not deserve rejection. They have nothing to do with a person’s character. Today’s lesson on James 2:1-13 looks at James’ instruction about the temptation to show favouritism. It highlights some important arguments that, in the thought of James, should help us avoid showing partiality.

The urge against favouritism
In James 2:1, James urges the believers of glorious Christ who he addresses as brothers and sisters not to show favouritism. James seems to imply that being a disciple of Christ and living a life of favouritism do not go together. Favouritism has to do with showing partiality or prejudice. The KJV describes partiality as “showing respect of persons.” To James therefore, discriminating against people merely because of some character-neutral traits is incompatible with professing faith in Christ.

Favouritism illustrated: The case of the rich and poor in the congregation
James gives an illustration to support his urge against favouritism by creating a scenario. To James, suppose there is an assembly and a person comes in wearing a gold ring and fine clothes. This person appears to be wealthy and so receives special attention and sitting place. Another person who is poor comes in and is then told to sit on the floor. What is interesting from this scenario is that there is no description of the spiritual states nor the character of these two persons who come to the meeting. Rather whereas one who appears to be rich, the other appear to be poor. On the one hand, the rich guest is given better hospitality, warm reception and of course a nice place to sit. The poor person, on the other hand, is told to stand there or sit on the floor. James concludes this scenario in the form of giving a rhetorical remark in James 2:4 that “have you not discriminated among yourselves …?

Arguments against showing favouritism
James presents some arguments against favouritism. Five of them could be stated here.

1. Being believers in Christ and showing favouritism is inconsistent (James 2:1). The life and teachings of Jesus demonstrate that he showed no favouritism. That is Jesus was the friend of the poor, rich, women and the sick. In this light, Jesus’ behaviour does not justify favouritism.

2. Favouritism demonstrates discrimination and thus makes us judges with evil thoughts (James 2:4). In the opinion of James, by showing favouritism, we treat people based on the thoughts we have about them. These thoughts are inspired by evil and as such are often insulting and dishonouring. To James, therefore, they are not good thoughts.

3. God does not show favouritism (James 2:5). That is to say that God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34; Eph. 5:1; 1 Pet. 1:17). To James therefore, a life worthy of being God’s children desists from showing discrimination.

4. Showing favouritism insults and dishonours the disadvantaged such as the poor (James 2:6). All people deserve equal honour and dignity. Thus, people should not be dishonoured simply because of their income level and status in society. In a similar instance and perspective, James argues that it makes no sense to favour the rich more especially because they oppress the poor (James 2:6-7).
5. Favouritism contradicts the royal law of love (James 2:8-13). Partiality is against the law of love. To James; therefore, the law of love for God and neighbour is disturbed when we practice favouritism. In relation to the royal law of love, showing favouritism according to James is a sin.

The practice of showing partiality serves as a tendency to feed the human ego. For partiality thrives on offering assistance or preference based on one’s prior thoughts which are evil and self-motivated. Among the many reasons that James gives against discrimination is its incompatibility to the royal law of love. Since Christ’s life and teachings epitomise true love that knows no boundaries, being a follower of Christ invites us to stand against all forms of favouritism.

1. State three character-neutral traits that caution us against favouritism.
2. Recall any tendency of showing favouritism in the Church.
3. Under what circumstance have you been a victim of discrimination and how did you respond to it?
4. With reference to the household of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 27, what can we learn from the dangers of domestic favouritism?
5. To James, it makes no sense to show favouritism. Explain.

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