Do you have favourites? - James 2:1-13

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the Riverside Church service on 8th February 2015.

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James 2:1-13

Do you think we should treat everyone the same? Our instinct is to say yes. Everyone should be treated equally. We should actively avoid discrimination. 


Should we? It depends. Should all students be treated the same by universities? No, they should be some sort of discrimination based on their results. This is fair and right. Of course there is a wrong form of discrimination based on sex and race. But different treatment based on results is okay.


Or think about those found guilty of committing a crime. Should they be treated in the same way as a law abiding citizen? Of course not. There should be some sort of discrimination based on what they have done. 


What’s my point? Not all discrimination is wrong. It all depends on the criteria we use. 


Now in this section of the Bible, Christians are commanded to avoid a terrible form of discrimination that is sadly practiced very often in churches up and down this country and all around the world.


What am I talking about? Look at verse 1. 


Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. They are to be different. How? In many ways. But specifically here, they are told not to show favouritism. What is this?


What is favouritism? (Vs 1-4)


Favouritism means to treat people differently for unjustified reasons. 


There are many different ‘reasons’ for favouritism and there are many different ways we can alter our behaviour. In fact, there are far too many combinations and permutations for me to list today. But let me give you a few examples. 


First of all, let’s think about the example that James himself uses in verses 2-4. Read verses 2-4.


The details are sparse but enough is written for us to imagine the scene. It seems the church had gathered. Two strangers had walked in. We know they are strangers because they both need guidance on where to sit. Probably not Christians. Limited seats. In a split second, the ‘welcomer’ makes his decision. The gold ring ensures a good seat. The shabby clothes ensures the person will stand. 


Do you see what has happened? There has been discrimination on the basis of wealth. The rich man has been treated with favour because of the financial resources that he possesses. Now of course the way the rich person and poor person were identified was by their appearance but the big issue is not so much the clothes they had on their backs but the money they had in their banks.


Sadly, exactly the same sort of discrimination was not restricted to the world of the first century. There was a time in English church history when the financially rich would own their own pews, which would be locked when they weren’t using them and other less wealthy folk would simply have to stand up. And in today’s church I sometimes hear of those who give much to the church accounts who are given preferential treatment. Perhaps the minister never rebukes them for fear of a cash crisis or perhaps they have an unfair influential on local church decisions simply because they have lots of money. It’s favouritism and it’s wrong. 


But here’s the thing. There are many other ways to be rich and poor apart from money.


Poor in personality, mind or body. It is easy for Christians to show favouritism to those who are rich in personality or mind or body. Hang out with the fun people. Make a bee line for the knowledgeable ones. Spend time with the able bodied.


We are not to show favouritism to the rich. We must love all our brothers and sisters. We are to make all strangers to our gatherings equally welcome. 


If we did this what a community life we would enjoy! And how attractive this would be to other people! So, my brothers and sisters, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism!


Why is this kind of favouritism so bad? (Vs 5-11)


This kind of favouritism - to show partiality to those who are rich. We are given three reasons in verses 5-11.


  • It is the opposite of what God does
  • It doesn’t work
  • It makes us law-breakers


First, it is the opposite of what God does. Look at verse 5. Read verses 5-6a.


God looks at the heart. We are all sinners and deserve his wrath. He has responded by allowing many poor in the kingdom. 


This is not a reason for us to favour the poor but it is certainly a reason for us not to favour the rich.


Second, it doesn’t work. Look at how verses 6 continues. Read verses 6b-7.


Rich landowners were probably exploiting the poorer Christians even though the Christians were tempted to curry favour with them. At the end of the day, the rich simply did what they wanted regardless of how much favour the Christians had shown them.


A lesson for us as we think about spreading the gospel in this country. Who should we focus our efforts on? A concentrated effort on the rich and influential? Perhaps the celebrities of our land? No, as we go about where God has put us so we speak. Pray for Christians MPs to reach their peers. Pray for Christian celebrities to reach their peers. Pray for Christian sportsmen to reach their peers. Pray for us to reach our peers. 


Third, it makes us law-breakers. Look at verse 8. Read verses 8-11.


Imagine getting caught speeding. You say but I didn’t beat anyone up tonight. I didn’t steal anything. Yes, but you did speed. 


The law is so interconnected. 


How can we avoid favouritism? (Vs 12-13) 


The solution is found in verses 12 and 13. Look at verse 12. Read verses 12-13.


How does this help us avoid this favouritism? Let me explain the logic. 


  • Speak and act in a certain way. 
  • Recognising that there is a future judgement where we will stand in the dock.
  • Judged by the law that we have broken.
  • The good news of the gospel - mercy has triumphed over judgement. The judge has been judged in our place. 
  • This knowledge that we have been shown mercy should lead us to abandon our judgementalism and embrace whoever comes our way. The world wants to judge many people. But Christians are to be merciful to people because God has shown them mercy. 
  • What if someone doesn’t show mercy and shows favouritism instead? Look at verse 13 again. “…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” 
  • One of the ways we show we have genuinely been touched by the mercy of God is when we show mercy to others.
  • What we do reveals who we are. 


How should we respond to this? James 1:19 and 1:22.

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