by Pastor Anthony Pranno
By the end of James chapter one, James writes something that serves as a thesis for the rest of the letter. The verse is James 1:22, “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” A loose translation of this statement is this… practice what you preach.
James then starts in on the examples… the real life situations that illustrate his thesis…
- If you consider yourself a religious person, keep a tight rein on your tongue. You can’t have a quick temper and an unbridled tongue and expect people to believe your claims of piety.
- If you want to practice pure and faultless religion, help people who can’t help themselves. James uses orphans and widows as examples, but this includes any marginalized or oppressed people.
His third illustration is actually quite a bit longer and makes up the first 13 verses of chapter two. This example deals with the subject of favoritism…
The gist of this section is very simple: Don’t show favoritism. The construction of the original Greek shows that James was forbidding a practice of favoritism and discrimination that was already in progress. You can imagine it… the church was made up of many poor outcasts and those of little class or social influence. Then, a rich person was converted and many people in the church made a big fuss, pandering to and being unduly influenced by him/her. This was offensive to James. He knew that Jesus died so that we would rid ourselves of these kinds of petty distinctions. Christ broke down the barriers of race, class, gender, and religion.
What was the basis for James’ prohibition against favoritism?
Impartiality is an attribute of God
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
God does not judge by external appearance.
Impartiality was an attitude Jesus practiced
They [the Pharisees] sent their disciples to Jesus along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are…”
Scripture warns against favoritism
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.
It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the innocent of justice.
James stood on solid ground when he instructed people to stop showing favoritism, but his teaching was more than just heady/philosophical commands. He also gave intensely practical examples… like when both rich and poor people attend the same church.
- Does our church show favoritism?
- How closely does our congregation reflect the socioeconomic and racial neighborhood in which we gather?
- Would a poor person feel welcome? A homeless person? What about a rich person?
- In what ways do we consciously or unconsciously favor some people over others?
The thesis of the Book of James is that we should not only be hearers of God’s Word, but doers of God’s Word. Keeping a tight rein on our tongues is a good start. Looking after those who can’t look after themselves is another great way to let your belief come to life. Because discrimination, partiality, and favoritism were rampant in the early church, James tells people to stop it. Faith in Jesus and showing favoritism just don’t go together.