The Foolishness of Favoritism

August 24, 2017

by Brandon Crowe

James has much to say about the problem of showing favoritism (or worldliness) in the church, particularly as it relates to one’s financial status. In 2:1, James states that we are to show no partiality to those who have great wealth and are more honorable in the eyes of the world. Indeed, James points out that favoritism toward the rich is inimical to the gospel itself, since God has seen fit to choose the poor to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom (2:5). The rich do not have a greater status in the kingdom, and in fact, the gospel is often described as the gospel of the poor, a state that is illustrative and indicative of one’s dependence on God for salvation (Luke 4:18; cf. Deut. 15; Ps. 68:5; Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20). The church therefore has strong theological reasons to love and care for the poor. The message of the kingdom of God includes an element of reversal and surprise: the poor are often favored more than the rich and powerful. Richard Bauckham observes:

What [James] requires is behavior consistent with God’s choice of the poor as the heirs of the kingdom. The poor are the paradigm heirs of the kingdom, paradigmatic both in their lack of social status and economic security and in the wholehearted
dependence on God in faith that accompanies it. [Bauckham, James, 102]

Do our sentiments most often line up with those of the world, or with the truths of Scripture?

How, then, practically are we not to show favoritism? The rich are not to receive preferred treatment to the poor in the church (James 2:2–4). We are all under the same authority and in need of the same Savior. To put it another way, the rich are not to be treated as celebrities in the church. Could it be that some showed favoritism to the wealthy because they were looking to gain something for themselves? Additionally, if there are those among us who are in need, we ought to help them in practical ways (2:16). We should also be warned that friendship with this world (and with the money of this world) is enmity with God (4:4).

This is something to take note of in a celebrity-driven culture dominated on many fronts by mass media. Are we in the church seeking to be accepted by the world and its standards? Do we seek first the approval of God or the approval of websites, newspapers, and TV personalities that may not reflect the priorities of God? Do our sentiments most often line up with those of the world, or with the truths of Scripture? These proclivities can all be related back to the favoritism that we may be inclined to show to the rich, if we are living according to the world’s standards and not according to the wisdom of James.

Read More On General Epistles, james, wisdom

Brandon Crowe

Dr. Crowe (PhD, Edinburgh) is associate professor of New Testament at WTS.

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