My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (James 2:1-9)
This week, we’re taking a closer look at James 2:1-9, where James strongly commands that “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.” Right off the bat, James gives us an example of favoritism from his own cultural context, comparing how first century Christians might treat two very different people who show-up to the same church gathering: a rich man “wearing a gold ring and fine clothes” and “a poor man in filthy old clothes.”
It’s clear that James is referring to favoritism based on something deeper than the physical appearance of these men. James is pointing out something that hasn’t changed in the centuries since he authored this letter: There will always be two groups of people in our lives—those that have the power to serve us (the rich) and those we have the power to serve (the poor).
In our modern context, the rich man might not be flashing a gold ring as he walks in the door, but he might have two million Instagram followers and be connected to someone on LinkedIn that we really want an introduction to, while the poor man could be someone who, on the surface, has nothing to offer that would advance our careers or social status. Or the poor woman might be the intern at our office that has little to offer our careers today, while the rich woman might be a boss we are trying to impress.
In this passage, James is encouraging us to view the world through the lens of those who can serve us and those we can serve. And he’s saying crystal-clearly that showing favoritism to the rich and powerful is nothing less than sin. What exactly is the offense? The sin is not loving our neighbor as ourselves (verse 8). The sin is paying particular attention to those who can serve us, while neglecting to serve those we are in a position to help.
Obeying this command to not show favoritism to the powerful is far from easy. After all, God often uses the rich and powerful to pull us along in our careers. This can lead us to justify showing favoritism to these people. But all throughout Scripture, Jesus and authors like James instruct us to focus first on serving those who can’t do a thing for us in return, while trusting that God will provide for our every need. Often times, it is that type of “servant leadership”—of spending noticeably more time and energy serving those less powerful than us—that is noticed and rewarded at work.
Every day, we are faced with multiple opportunities to show favoritism to the rich and powerful. Be mindful of those opportunities today and look for opportunities to love and serve both the powerful and the powerless well.