Read: James 2:1-13

We all have our favorite things. For instance, there is a link on my cell phone that is simply identified with the word “favorites.” It lists all of the names and phone numbers of people that I call most frequently. This same phone has another link titled “favorites” that list my “favorite” websites and my “favorite” articles on a reading list. I’m sure that if I talked with some of my “techy friends” I could create a list of “favorite” restaurants, “favorite” authors, and “favorite” TV shows—all to be accessed within seconds. The reality is that I have a lot of “favorite” items that influence my life every single day. And so do you!

Our preferences are so common that we don’t think twice about the possibility that we have “favorite” people as well. Consider where you sit in church on any given Sunday morning. Chances are that you look for seating in the main auditorium, and realize that you have many seating options. But if you are like a lot of people, you are most inclined to sit in the same row or the same section with people you like to be around. 

Or what about the person on the commuter train you ride on any given morning? You can choose from a number of seats, but you deliberately walk past the guy with the greasy coat, and sit next to the clean-shaven man in the business suit. Even now as I describe this scenario, you will protest and say that everyone does this sort of thing. “What’s the big deal,” you ask.

As a matter of fact, it’s no big deal…UNLESS you are a Christ-follower. 

Our preferences matter when it comes to God and how we relate to people created in His image. 

Yes, we all have our preferences when it comes to restaurants, sports teams and seating arrangements. But read today’s text one more time. As you do, keep in mind that the original readers could have protested the harsh indictment that came from James. After all, many of those readers were facing trials and financial hardships. If they could do anything to better their lot in life, they would do it—even if it meant showing kindness and partiality to someone who might eventually give them a helping hand. This is standard procedure for most people. But it is problematic in the eyes of God. How do we know?

Our text starts with a command, “My brothers, do not show favoritism!” The command presupposes that favoritism was going on. Otherwise, why would James give the command in the first place? Then the author follows the command with a series of statements that give evidence that the command is valid. By the time the reader gets to verse 13, it is clear that favoritism is not simply an everyday practice—it is SIN!

So what’s the alternative?


Let’s take a minute to unpack this principle. First off, what is the ministry of mercy? According to verse 13 it is the opposite of judgment. And at the core of any act of favoritism is the “judgment call” that some people can help us and some cannot (cf. vv. 2-4). So if we assume that a person has no value in helping us in times of difficulty, we tend to dismiss their needs and make every attempt to accommodate the needs of the person who might eventually serve us. Mercy, on the other hand, is any intentional act to serve another person no matter what that person can do for us.

There is a second question. Why is this issue of “not showing favoritism” so important? It’s because of the character and actions of God. For instance…

  • God chooses. According to verse 5, God has chosen to bestow an added measure of faith on poor believers. This does not mean that the “rich” in this world are never the elect of God. No, the author’s point is that when God brings poor people to faith, He is also inclined to give them greater faith to trust Him for all things. And since this is so, all Christians should be merciful to those upon whom God shows mercy. To do anything less is to work against the practices of God.
  • God reveals. According to verses 8 and 12, God reveals what is right and just in what James identifies as the “royal law” and the “law of freedom.” He is most likely referring to Leviticus 19:18 or Mark 12:33, two great texts that extol love as the centerpiece of the law. But at the same time, God also reveals that showing favoritism is sin, because it runs counter to God’s call to love.
  • God judges. If James is speaking to Christians in these verses, then he cannot be inferring that a believer can lose one’s salvation. So what is this reference to judgment in verses 12 and 13? It most likely refers to what Paul calls the “tribunal of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:10 (HCSB). There is coming a day when we will be rewarded for righteous acts done on this side of eternity. But for those who fall into favoritism, there will be the loss of reward and mercy in the life to come. 

Favoritism must be avoided, because it is an affront to the very character and actions of God.

That leads to a third, and extremely important question. What can we do to avoid the practice of favoritism? There are a lot of things, but allow me to identify two.

  • A good place to start is to make God the focal point of every appeal and every need we face. Hebrews 13:6 declares, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” No individual can bring harm to us without the permission of God. And no individual can rescue us the way God can. Therefore, He must be our “go-to person” whenever trials come. This must be our daily practice. In so doing, we will be less likely to engage in favoritism as a way of life.
  • In addition, we would do well to look for people who are deeply in need of mercy, the kind of mercy we can give. It might be the downcast person walking in our direction, who could benefit from a sincere smile. It might be the home-bound person we know from church who hasn't received a phone call from anyone else in days. And it might be a spouse, a son, or a daughter who needs a listening ear after a very trying day. The mercy we give can be tangible or intangible, but it must be intentional. For when it is, we will forsake favoritism, and extend to them the glorious grace of Jesus.

Yes, we can be swept away by favoritism at any given moment—and that does great damage to our souls! But it is also within our power to extend love and mercy in the name of Jesus. So be merciful, even as Jesus has been abundantly merciful to you (Luke 6:36).

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