Showing Favoritism (James 2:1-13)

  1. Trials are Beneficial: Overview of James.
  2. Horrible Days (Jas 1:1-4), or The Way to Maturity and Wholeness.
  3. How to Know What's Going On (Jas 1:5-12), or A Prayer that God is Always Happy to Answer.
  4. When Trials Become Temptations (Jas 1:13-21), or God Never Tempts Anyone.
  5. Self-Deceived Christians (Jas 1:22-27), or When Reading and Studying the Bible Makes You Worse.
If you see a pretty girl and an unattractive girl at two ends of the room, which end do you casually gravitate toward? If you see a rich cool guy who is funny and friendly and a poor nerdy guy who is awkward with shabby clothes who would you charm up to? If you meet a person who can possibly benefit you and your church and a person who looks like they will be a drain to you and your church, which person would you extend more grace to?
Such are the questions that James is posing in his letter to the church that had been scattered (Jas 1:1b) and undergoing persecution, painful trials and hardships (Jas 1:2, 12). James presents two contrasting visitors to their church, one who is rich with a gold ring and fine clothes and one who is poor in filthy old clothes (Jas 2:2). The first visitor is a man of wealth and influence--the kind of man who could get you a job, benefit you with favors, and help resolve some of the many painful trials you are encountering (Jas 1:2). The second visitor is poor and unknown, a little unkempt and wearing clothes with odor of sweat still lingering. So of the two, which one do you go to? Which one do you give attention to?

James says, "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...'" (Jas 2:3-4) James' response to such partial behavior is, "My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism" (Jas 2:1). Do not pay attention to people based on what they can do for you. Do not treat them differently based on what you might get from them. Be absolutely impartial. Love them equally.

Why does James stress this? Why does James want us to be as ready to love the poor man (who can do nothing for you) as the rich man (who might benefit you)? To be as quick to pay attention to the insignificant as well as the influential? Why is it so important that we love impartially, without thought of gain?

To say, "This is the Christian thing to do," is not incorrect, but does not go deep enough. James probes and searches our hearts as he reveals four penetrating reasons why it's so important that we love impartially and without thought of personal gain:
  1. You show your deep trust in God--that he is the one who controls your circumstances, that he's the one who determines your future, not the rich and influential of this world. You show your unshakable certainty and conviction that good things ultimately come from God, not men. "Discriminated" (Jas 2:4) is the same word as "doubted" (Jas 1:5-6). Doubting, discriminating: the same word, meaning vacillating, wavering, making distinctions. If you discriminate (show favoritism) in your love, you reveal your doubts about whether God is in control. You begin to judge the situation with evil thoughts that I need to make sure things happen the way I want and prefer, rather than let God take care of the trial and the difficult situation.
  2. You show your wisdom about people--that it's often the poor who have the deepest walk with God. When you love impartially, it's because you know that the poor are very often the ones who are most fully centered on God, whereas the rich often have no use for God in their lives (Jas 2:5-7).
  3. It shows your submission to Scripture, that you will obey it to the fullest extent. To obey the command to love, which is the supreme command--the royal law found in Scripture (Jas 2:8), you show your willingness to obey all of God's commands. This is the supreme command means that this means the most to our King, and that this is the greatest law that he gave, the law that says, "Love your neighbor as yourself." So if you break this law, you're broken all of them (Jas 2:9-11).
  4. It shows your dependence on God's grace, that you need his mercy toward you to be greater than his judgment on you. To show mercy toward others, to love them without making judgments about how deserving or not they are is to acknowledge that I too want God's mercy toward me to be greater than, stronger than, his judgment on me (Jas 2:12-13).
Among God's people in the church, there is no favoring one over another. There should only be impartial love.


  1. Sunukjian, Donald R. Invitation to James: Persevering through Trials to Win the Crown.
  2. Preaching James by Don Sunukjian (40 minutes).