My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?
For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?
I often struggle in sermon preparation to come up with concrete examples of ways to live out the teachings of scripture. I’m not particularly good at the application and exhortation parts of preaching, though I believe good preaching should guide people from Biblical truth to practical application. Sometimes, it’s hard to describe how we should put scripture into practice without getting too personal or without referring to an issue people may feel hits too close to home. I would never point to someone sitting in the pews and use them as an illustration of some sin to avoid or talk about how they should change their ways. That would make everyone uncomfortable. So, I sometimes struggle to apply Biblical truth to daily life.
James didn’t have this problem! He jumped in with both feet ready to describe exactly what favoritism looks like, and I imagine he may have been telling an actual story from a real experience in the life of a church meeting he attended. James had no qualms about pointing fingers or calling people out for their foolish, even sinful, behavior. James was bold, and the Spirit used that quality to help him write these words of scripture that need to be read and heeded in the church. Playing favorites, discrimination, prejudice, racism, classism – whatever we want to call it – have no place in the Kingdom of God. James even questions the faith of those who show favoritism.
These issues have plagued the church for 2,000 years, and we know they are alive and well today. To treat someone poorly because of their clothing, their financial status, their skin color, their language, their political views, or any other personal characteristic is to deny the truth of the gospel that Jesus died to offer all people the free gift of eternal life. Playing favorites is a sin that diminishes the unity and fruitfulness of the church. When we read passages like this, it’s easy to nod our heads in agreement (or shake them in disgust), as though we would never act in such rude and hurtful ways. I hope we agree that favoritism and discrimination are wrong, and even more, I hope we take this opportunity to allow the Spirit to search our hearts, our words and our actions for any offensive ways in us. As our failings come to light, I hope we are humble enough to repent and ask Jesus to help us love better.
Jesus, I know You love all people and came to offer salvation to everyone. Forgive me for treating some people better and others worse. Teach me to love as You love, and use me to help Your church become a more welcoming and compassionate place. I ask this in Your merciful name. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian