One Sunday in the Bel Aire Presbyterian Church in the Hollywood hills, an interesting thing happened: When they could attend, then Governor Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy usually sat in the same seats just off the center about two-thirds of the way into the sanctuary. On this particular morning the governor and his wife were late and by the time they got there, two college students had occupied those seats. An usher came down the aisle and asked the students if they would take different seats off to the side. They moved, and the Reagan’s were brought in and seated. To his credit the pastor got up from his place on the platform, walked down and over to the college students and said, ‘As long as I am pastor of this church, that will never happen again.” [“Turning Toward Integrity” by D. Jeremiah.(Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1993). p. 64.]
That Pastor was most likely thinking of James 2 as he made his way down the aisle of that church. His great concern was not to mingle with the famous Reagans. His concern was that the college students felt dishonored and unequal. That people attending his church might mistakenly believe that the body of Christ somehow favors the powerful and famous more than others.
We all show favoritism in subtle ways. We all have favorites- a favorite college or sports team, or a favorite drink. We all have our personal preferences for the people we like to be around. This is normal, although quite lacking in adventure or courage.
James sounds a warning concerning favoritism in chapter 2, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism”.
Good advice, but we all walk around with a list in our minds of desirable and undesirable people. Some prefer to be around the well-educated, and look down at those who are not academic enough. For others the criteria is superficial- taste in music or attire. For some, there are ingrained beliefs about racial or ethnic groups that they choose to not associate with. For many, there are selfish issues of social status involved. Men in particular, like to rub shoulders with people who can help us gain an advantage. We are always looking for a way to “get a rung up” on the social ladder. We kiss up to the boss, are loyal to the rich regardless of their merit, and go out of the way to stay close with those in power. It is easy for us to fall prey to the trap of approaching relationships with the attitude of “what’s in this for me?” It is tempting to think about what might be gained from a prominent person.
James offers a graphic illustration of the problem of favoritism.
2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3 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,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Favoritism runs counter to the character of Christ. Jesus himself stepped down from heaven to, in his words, “preach good news to the poor…proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed…” -Luke 4:18. And the apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 2:11 that “God does not show favoritism.”
Prejudice based on physical appearance, social status or race is inconsistent with the One who came to break down the barriers and invite ALL people to himself. Jesus calls us to love all people just as He did! He reached out to the poor, the jailed, the blind and oppressed. And He expects us to do the same. To follow Jesus is to love and include all types… No favorites! Favoritism and prejudice violate the spirit of the gospel.
Now, there is nothing wrong with extending a warm welcome to the wealthy. But the key is to welcome all people with the same love and hospitality. The sin is treating the poor differently because you think you are better than they are. Receiving the rich man cordially and the poor man crudely is the very opposite of what Jesus would have us do. For a Christian to accept or reject someone on the basis of face-value, outward appearance, or for what can be personally gained, is directly against what it means to follow Jesus.
1 Samuel 16:7– “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
We must seek to emulate Christ in this manner. We are to look for the heart. We are to see through God’s eyes and find the true value of the man or woman in front of us, not simply what I can selfishly gain from them. We are called to love everyone the same, because on the inside we ARE all the same. Inside, our hearts are equal- equally sinful and in need of a Savior.
“There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:22-23.
by Kevin Whitacre
What are the unspoken ways that you categorize people in your mind?
Why do you do that?
Describe the last time you were wrongly categorized. What was your response?
Check out this video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5AkNqLuVgY&ob=av2e
How would viewing others through the eyes of God transform your interactions with people?
Thank you Lord for loving me while I was yet a sinner, when I didn’t measure up, when I had no bargaining chip, and had nothing to offer you in exchange for your eternal love. Help me to look upon and love others the way you have loved me.