My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear? Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law. So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you. James 2:1-13
Inherent in the sin of favoritism is the idea of reciprocity. We have a tendency to show honor to those we feel can benefit us in some way: the rich, the powerful, the famous, the beautiful, the intellectual, the talented, etc.
In the world, people are valued for what can be seen and judged on the outside. Those who are poor, who have disabilities, who are elderly, who are sick, who are the wrong ethnicity, or who are inconvenient at the moment, often find themselves marginalized, devalued, and even abused to some level.
This is not the system under which God operates, and it is not how His people are to operate.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
I love the story of Amy Carmichael, especially her years as a missionary in India. Some of the missionaries Amy met up with when she first arrived in India treated the native Indians as servants. It greatly disturbed Amy. She saw the people of India as human beings no different than her…not servants…and she wanted real relationships with them.
Amy rejected the idea that she should separate herself from the people of India as if she was better than them and, instead, immersed herself in Indian life.
Additionally, the Indian culture strictly adhered to a cruel caste system and didn’t recognize Indians of the lower castes as holding the same dignity and value as Indians of the upper castes.
In a culture which didn’t recognize the inherent dignity and value of every human being, the sincere love Amy showed the Indian people caught their attention and opened the door for Amy to share Jesus with them.
A beautifully scandalous result of Indians placing their faith in Christ was the dissolution of the caste system among the Christians and also of discriminatory cultural roles. Women began to place their faith in Jesus and Amy soon found herself with a small group of female Christ-followers eager to learn God’s Word and share Jesus with others. And women who had been separated by the deep divide of their differing castes began doing life and ministry as equals.
The original small group of women dedicated to Christ called themselves Starry Cluster and traveled from village to village holding Bible studies and sharing Jesus. It wasn’t easy, and, at times, they found themselves threatened and in danger. Most of the women traveling with Amy were single, but there was one married couple: Mariel and her husband (who became the cook for their group).
Indian women wore a lot of jewelry. It was a symbol of their wealth and status. The Indian women of the Starry Cluster were no different. It doesn’t seem Amy ever made a big deal of this custom, but God was at work in the hearts of this small group of believers.
Mariel’s husband, the group’s cook, was walking along beside the bandy as the group made their way home after spending several days in a village to the south. He usually didn’t say much, so it was hard to know what he was thinking. But as the group rolled across some rice fields, he turned to Marial riding in the bandy and said, ‘It’s time to take off your jewelry. Wearing jewelry is not suitable for the life of following Jesus we are living.” Right there in the bandy, Marial stripped off her nose ring, bangles, and toe rings and handed them to her husband. She showed no hint of emotion at getting rid of her jewelry.
Ponnammal and Sellamutthu watched wide-eyed. How could Marial take off her jewelry like that? People would think she was one of the lowest of the low, an untouchable. What a huge insult it would be to her husband’s family, and yet it was her husband who had asked her to take it off. The rest of the way home, Ponnammal and Sellamutthu remained silent. When they got back to Pannaivilai, they spoke to Amy, “Mariel has taken off her jewelry,” Ponnammal said. Amy nodded; she had seen her do it. “We are going to take off our jewelry, too,” continued Ponnammal. “If I had loved Jesus more, I would have loved my jewels less.” With that she bent down and began undoing her foot bangles,. Sellamutthu followed her, and soon both of them were standing in front of Amy wearing no jewelry at all. Amy smiled at them both. It had taken a lot of courage to go against generations of custom, yet the women were prepared to do it because of their love of God.” Amy Carmichael, Rescuer of Precious Gems by Janet and Geoff Benge, pages 129-130
These women and this man were willing to do what was unthinkable at that time in Indian culture: to lay down their wealth and the symbols of their status and embrace their new identity in Christ.
Jesus turns the world’s systems upside down. His entire life gave witness to the fact that the Kingdom of God is very different than the kingdoms of this world. The way Jesus saw people and valued them was radically different than the culture of that day and of our day as well.
We don’t know the vocation of all of Jesus’ disciples, but we do know several were fishermen. Jesus also called Matthew, a Jewish tax collector, to follow Him. The tax collectors were hated by the other Jews. They were considered traitors and shady individuals.
Yet, Jesus didn’t hesitate to be associated with someone like Matthew. He wasn’t worried Matthew would ruin His image. Of course, being friends with Matthew did ruin Jesus’ image in some people’s eyes…particularly the Pharisees.
He’s a friend of tax collectors and sinners was an accusation used to discredit Jesus, but for sinners, it was their greatest hope (Matthew 9:11 ESV).
Then there was Simon who is referred to as the Zealot. There is a lot of speculation over what that designation actually means. Some believe it could refer to a religious sect called Zealots that preached rebellion against Rome. Others believe it may refer to Simon’s extreme devotion to the Law. Still, others think maybe it is referring to his zeal for Christ.
Either way, it is obvious Jesus didn’t pick these twelve men because they were important, powerful, popular, or wealthy.
It is also obvious the twelve disciples of Christ were not men who would have necessarily been friends. Matthew would have likely been considered an enemy and Simon may have been a political extremist. Yet, in Christ, these twelve became brothers. How very upside down, indeed.
This is why James tells us when we practice favoritism we are committing a sin and are guilty of breaking God’s holy law. It is an act of pride. Our Savior got on His hands and knees and washed the dirty feet of twelve imperfect, messed-up men with nothing to offer Him in return. He even washed the feet of Judas, His enemy, who He knew would betray Him. And He tells us this should be our attitude toward each other.
When we treat some people as less than and others as more than based on wealth, ethnicity, ability, or power we are acting in pride. When we have the attitude of, I’ll wash your feet because I see that you are a somebody, but not yours because I see that you are a nobody, a sinner, and possibly my enemy, we are placing ourselves above our Master.
We are judging people according to our own evil motivations instead of loving people as Jesus did and inviting them into the love of God.
After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them. John 13:12-17
Just before Jesus knelt to wash His disciples’ feet, the Bible says, Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God (John 13:3).
The humility and love Jesus showed His disciples as He knelt to serve them was grounded in His relationship with His Father. When we practice favoritism and prejudice, we aren’t revealing anything about the people we are honoring or excluding. We are revealing something about ourselves. We are acting as if we do not know the Father and do not know who we are in the Father. In other words, we are functioning from a broken identity with something to prove.
And James gives us a sobering warning: we will be judged by the law that sets us free. What law is that? The law of Christ: His finished work on our behalf.
Those of us who have experienced the extravagant mercy of God poured out on us in His Son’s death and resurrection will be extravagant in showing mercy to others. If we are merciless towards our fellow man and especially our fellow Christians, do we really know the mercy of God? God will not show mercy to those who have shown no mercy for they prove by their actions to have never known Jesus.
In Christ, we are free from the guilt of sin but also from the power of sin, which includes the sins of favoritism and discrimination, and we are free to love with genuine love. Jesus so closely associated our treatment of others with our love of God that He linked these two ideas as the greatest commandment of all.
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Friends, are we still wearing our jewelry?
Are we concerned with our reputation, our status, our wealth, and our power or are we living in the freedom of Christ? Are we using people or are we loving our neighbors as ourselves regardless of who they are, who they have been, what they have, or what they can do for us?
Like Jesus, would someone accuse us of being a friend of sinners and of the outcasts, the rejected, the vulnerable, and the poor?
That’s one accusation we should hope to be guilty of.