A. The problem of favouritism
In today’s passage, James speaks to us about favouritism, it’s there at the very beginning,
In verse 1, ‘believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism’
and in verse 9, ‘if you show favouritism, you sin’.
Maybe, like me, you’re wondering why did James choose this to speak on this?
Amongst all the other things that he could speak about, why favouritism?
James began the letter by assuming that Christians face troubles and trials
And that’s true: whether its troubles associated with living in a broken world.
In small ways and large, troubles will be our common experience in this life,
and we need to know how to face them in light of our faith in Jesus. For our whole lives, we’re around people all the time. So, how do we relate to one another through the lens of faith?
James thinks this is one of the big issues that we have to deal with, and what he says is, ‘Don’t show favouritism’.
Favouritism means to discriminate; to show partiality. It means to treat different people in a different way according to a particular criterion, to the advantage of some, but to the disadvantage others.
And James gives an example of it from verse 2, with an illustration that would be familiar to his readers. Two new persons arrive to church, yet they’re treated completely differently.
One is welcomed, the other is barely tolerated. One is treated like he’s of great value, the other is not.
Now of course, we don’t just show favouritism to the rich and famous. Favouritism happens in all sorts of ways, we treat people differently by their looks, their education, their career, their family, their power, their achievements, their social background, their personality, their usefulness to us. We even treat people differently according to their spiritual accomplishment and involvement in ministry.
But look at what James tells from the outset. In the Greek, he literally says, ‘Don’t have faith in Jesus Christ with face reception’ or in other words, ‘Don’t think you can have faith in Jesus, yet treat people at face value’. Showing favouritism is absolutely inconsistent to faith in Jesus.
Favouritism can be so common and subtle, that we’re often unaware that we’re doing it.
Yet, it can be so poisonous, because we’re judging someone’s worth by some worldly value
and it is completely inconsistent with faith in Jesus, because it’s contrary to how Jesus has treated us.
James wants us to remember four things to solve the problem of favouritism.
B. Solutions to the problem of favouritism
1. Remember God’s glorious Son ( verse 1 )
In verse 1, James says, ‘My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism’. Notice that James uses the word ‘glorious’ deliberately, he wants us to think about how Jesus showed his glory.
How did Jesus choose to show his glory?
Jesus was born in a small town, in an inconsequential part of the world, to a poor couple.
He spent his life outside of the centres of power and he spent his time with sinners and the outcasts of society. He was poor, He wrote no books, led no governments, and commanded no armies. He even ended his life in humiliation and shame, abandoned by his friends, crucified.
What does the Bible say about how Jesus showed his glory?
The Apostle John said, the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son. 2 Corinthians 8, he became poor for us; Galatians 3, he became a curse for us; 2 Corinthians 5, he was made to be sin for us.
When we think of Jesus’ glory, we could think of Jesus as he is right now. The resurrected, ascended, reigning, and glorified king of all things, and that would be right. But during his ministry, Jesus’ glory was seen in his humility, He came to us in humility and related to us with humility.
Think for a moment about how we normally relate to one another. We normally relate to one another through comparison. We can look up or look down at one another. Our actual self-esteem, actual identity, is based on some other criteria, that’s always working to undermine your identity in Christ.
Instead of relating to one another through humility, we relate to one another through pride.
But Jesus’ way of relating to people was completely the opposite of how people normally relate with others. He related to us in humility, He sought our needs before his own, to the extent of laying down his life for us, that’s how he showed his glory.
When we think how we should relate to others, we look to how Jesus related to us. When we think how we should accept others, we look to how Jesus accepted us. Hence, we should remember God’s glorious Son.
2. Remember God’s salvation ( verse 5 )
In Verse 5, ‘Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: 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 love him?’
James is reminding his readers of their spiritual experience, every relationship with Jesus owes its origin to one thing: God’s choice. James said God chose those who are poor in the eyes of the world. James is describing a historical and demographic reality, the majority of Christians in the early church were filled with poor and nobodies, not the rich and powerful.
The Apostle Paul said the same thing to the Corinthians, ‘Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.’
James and Paul aren’t saying that the church is only filled with the poor and lowly,
and that the wealthy and influential never get into the kingdom of God. But they are showing us a pattern of how God works, God doesn’t choose people because of any outward achievements. He never has, that’s how it’s always been.
We can go all the way back to when God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt
Moses says to them in Deuteronomy 7, ‘The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.’
Do you see that?
God didn’t choose the Israelites because they were the greatest nation; they were the least.
In other words, God’s people are His chosen people; they’re not His choice people.
For God to say you’re chosen by Him is incredibly humbling. He’s saying, ‘You would never have a relationship with me on your own’. ‘You would never have achieved it. There’s nothing in you that’s different or better.’ , ‘The only reason you have a relationship with me is because I chose you.’And that’s the message of the gospel. It’s that there’s nothing we can do to save yourself, we are spiritually bankrupt, absolutely poor and Jesus has come to do everything for us.
The doctrine of election teaches that it is entirely God’s grace for our salvation, not because we are better or superior. It’s difficult to believe in the doctrine of election but you have bigger problems if you deny it. But if you believe deep in your heart that you didn’t choose God, but that he chose you, that you didn’t do anything to merit forgiveness, that you’re a sinner saved by grace. Then that not only completely changes how you relate with God. It also completely transforms your attitude towards others. It removes any sense of pride, or superiority, or favouritism.
3. Remember God’s commands (verses 8 to 11)
In verse 8, ‘If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.
When James says, favouritism breaks God’s law. He’s taking us back to the Old Testament
To the commandment given to the Israelites in places like Leviticus 19 ‘To love your neighbours as you love yourself ‘. Look, this law that James quotes that we’re to love our neighbour is not random. It’s the verse in the Old Testament that Jesus quoted the most often. You could say it’s his favourite command. Maybe that’s why James calls it the royal law, it’s the law of the King. That’s the pattern: God loves us first, and we respond by loving those around us.
But notice that James says there’s no room for selectivity. Selective obedience to a command is actually disobedience to the whole thing. James uses the example of adultery and murder. You may avoid one sin, but if you commit the other, you’re still a lawbreaker.
If there is someone comes along your path and you see that they have a need and that you can meet that need, do you show love to that person, even when it’s difficult to? Remember what James is saying: If you love just some people and not others, you’re not keeping the whole law. James says, ‘You’re a law-breaker’.
4. Remember God’s mercy ( verses 12 to 13 )
In verse 12, ‘Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.’
When we hear the word ‘mercy’ we usually think of nice, and kind, and forgiving.
In the New Testament, it denotes a more specific meaning.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells the story of two Jewish men and then the Samaritan who meets the physical, medical, and economic needs of a man.
In Matthew 9, Jesus is walking past and the two blind men call out saying,
‘Son of David, have mercy on us’, ‘Jesus, we’re blind. Please heal us. Please miraculously intervene and restore our sight’. That means showing mercy can also mean meeting people’s specific needs.
What James means by showing mercy becomes clearer when in verse 15, whenever you can, to meet the physical, social, and material needs of those people in need. James is saying, ‘You must be merciful. You’ll be judged if you’re not merciful’.
Why’s he saying this so directly? Because showing mercy to others demonstrates that you have understood the gospel and received God’s mercy. Mercy is at the very heart of what Christ did for us.
Jesus humbled himself and associated with the poor, the outcast, and the sinners, but more than that, on the cross, he became sin for us. Taking upon himself what we deserved.
He took our condemnation, so that we might receive forgiveness and mercy. He loved us extravagantly, although we were spiritually poor and wretched, He loved us before we loved him.
So, what is showing mercy look like for you? In one respect, it should certainly involve seeking to meet the material needs of the poor and exploited in your community. So, get to know the needs in your community; get to know a Christian organisation that seeks to share Jesus’ love to the poor and vulnerable; Also, think about how you can show mercy in our church community. Our churches should be communities of mercy, they should be the most impartial places on earth.
James gives us a word of comfort and assurance, because if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we’re not always merciful or loving our mercy is inadequate and stained with selfishness. To ease our doubts about the consequences of our imperfect mercy
James directs us once again to the perfect mercy of God. He says, ‘Mercy triumphs over judgement’.
At the cross, justice was finally and fully done, its claims were fully met by God’s mercy to us through Jesus. In Christ, we receive full acquittal before God’s throne of judgement.
For everything we have done, including our imperfect mercy to others. So, we resolve to remember to our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, the one who showed overwhelming mercy towards us, therefore we seek to love and show mercy to one another.
Our Loving God and Heavenly Father,
thank you for your extravagant mercy showing to us at the cross,
at the cross your judgment against sin, that your mercy towards us meet.
Thank you for choosing us, not because of anything we have done or accomplished, not because of anything we can contribute to your salvation, but entirely by your Grace.
We ask for forgiveness, because we don’t response perfectly and adequately to your Grace.
We often understand it as intellectual reality but we do not show as it has penetrated in our hearts, because we do not respond to your grace by treating others with grace; we won’t respond to your mercy by treating others with mercy; We show favouritism.
Lord, by your Holy Spirit, would you show us those relationships and area in our lives we’re not honouring you and not treating people with mercy. We pray for individual, church and community for mercy, so that we will show to the world, the beauty, glory and wonder of Jesus. We ask these things in His name. Amen.