God’s Word for You
James 2:1-4 Favoritism
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, July 18, 2020
Warning Against Partiality
2 My brothers, have faith in Jesus Christ our Lord of glory without any connection to favoritism. 2 For example, suppose a man enters your place of worship wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man also enters wearing tattered clothing. 3 If you look with favor on the man wearing fine clothing and say, “Sit here in a good place,” but you tell the poor man, “Stand over there” or “Sit down at my feet,” 4 haven’t you begun to doubt yourselves and become judges based on evil motives?
James the coach has something to say about favoritism (Lenski pulls no punches here by calling it, ‘Toadying to the Rich’). Verse 4 makes it evident that his illustration is based on a true present condition, and it shows an attitude that we should all take care to avoid. In the illustration, everything centers around outward appearances: fine clothes or tattered clothes. True justice is often depicted as wearing a blindfold, but sometimes even a blindfold isn’t enough.
When I served at a little church called Salem in the 1990s, a congregation in the inner city of Milwaukee, some members of ours were homeless men, others were drug addicts, and still others were old Germans still remaining from the heyday of Milwaukee’s brewing empires. It was quite a mixed bunch. What impressed me was how the church integrated everybody. Even though some of the homeless men smelled bad and were poorly dressed, they cared about their church. Some of the men pushed around their belongings in shopping carts, and when they came to Salem, they tried their best to park the carts on the grass in neat rows. They had pews informally reserved for them on one side of the church (this was done for their own self-respect, as one of them assured me on my first Sunday there), and the other members did not turn up their noses in any way. It was easy for my family to pick up the cues from everybody else: These were valued Christian souls. Don’t do or say anything that will make them feel unwanted but treat them with dignity and respect. In turn, we found that they influenced other homeless people, a few of whom might have resorted to breaking and entering and theft from time to time, urging them to leave our church alone. My experience at Salem in 1997-1998 profoundly affected my attitude about ministry ever since. I can only pray that I’ve conveyed at least a small fraction of this to my present church.
The word krysodaktylios is interesting, since it means “gold ring-wearing” as an adjective, a term we just don’t have in English. It would be in the same category as “elegant” or “opulent.” The attitude of giving a good seat as opposed to a poor one, or no seat at all, is almost heart breaking. Having made this point, James moves away from the illustration and on to the real problem. Aren’t the scattered Christian Jews making judgments just like these, based on evil motives? Isn’t that what the Jews of Jerusalem did to Jesus, judging him over outward matters and jealousy and not on his message or his true office?
Notice that James also tells them that they are beginning to doubt themselves. Here again is the coach, giving a pep talk at halftime. The scattered Jewish Christians had begun to look at themselves as the ones with tattered clothing, make-shift synagogues rather than the brick or stone churches of the Jews out in the cities of the world. It’s an easy kind of doubt to fall into: We look small and run-down and cheap, so maybe we don’t really have God’s favor. Maybe the big splashy church is the one that’s got their religion right. Maybe it would be easier to join them. But what does Jesus say? “Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). We have the gospel of the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ alone. If the devil giggles while he makes some false church prosper to make our gospel seem brassy and cheap, the best thing we can do is be faithful. At the same time that the devil hates our gospel he also fears it, and so never let go. “Hate what is evil,” Paul said. “Cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). And as you take care not to show favoritism at the expense of other Christians, don’t forget not to show favoritism when it comes to your own precious faith.
Ev’ry eye shall now behold him
Robed in glorious majesty;
Those who ridiculed and sold him,
Pierced and nailed him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, Deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see. (Christian Worship 29:2)
Pastor Timothy Smith