Lesson Five – The Evil of Favoritism

The Evil of Favoritism 

Lesson Text:  James 2:1-13.

I.   Word study: Verses 1 and 9.

  1. Verse 1.  Favoritism in the NIV and “respect of persons” in the KJV has been translated from the Greek word, prosopolemptes, a verb.  From two words:  (1). Prosopon – meaning a face or a person.  (2).  Lambano – to lay hold of.  The same word is used in Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11;  Eph. 6:9 and Col. 3:25.
  2. Verse 2.  Meeting or assembly is from a Greek word, sunagoge.  It means an assembly of persons.  The Jews assembly place was a synagogue.
  3. Verse 4.
    —  Discriminate, or partial, Greek – diakrino, means to separate, distinguish, judge or decide.  (From two words: (1). Dia – “asunder,”  (2.).  Krino – to judge).  Literally, to be at variance with oneself, to be divided in one’s mind.
    —  Thoughts, is translated from “dialogismos.”  First part is dia – separation.  Second part is  logismos – a reasoning; thus an inner reasoning, an opinion.  In this context the “thoughts” becomes a judge, but with an evil motive.

II.   Lesson: 

The following is an excerpt from our previous lesson:  “Our behavior is the result of who we are – our identity.  Liars lie, thieves steal (Mark 7:20-23).  Sons of God do not lie or steal.”    James opened the text for this lesson by adding another practice sons of God don’t do.  “Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ,” don’t show favoritism.” NIV

One of the evils “so prevalent” in the world realm is “respect of persons.” KJV.  Unfortunately, it is socially acceptable.  Christians who have been reared in a non-Christian home will have had this culture embedded in their “good and evil lists” during their passive learning period.  This may be why members of the church, sub-consciously, sometimes practice favoritism.  James appeared to think the recipients of his letter had this problem because he portrayed it as evil.  It is one thing for a Christian to sin in a given situation, but the deeper problem James addressed is practicing evil.  They were practicing sin that was also evil.  Evil sins hurt other people.  Their more serious problem may have been understood in this: They did not view practicing favoritism as God sees it.  He was striving in this text to move the recipients who were guilty to think about it.  The following was his approach to make the recipients aware of their sin:

  1. He used a very pragmatic story to which we can all relate (vs. 1-4).
  2. Christians who have a habit of giving preference to one member of the body of Christ over another in the seating arrangements in an assembly were identified as “judges with evil thoughts.”  2:4. 
  3. Jesus taught His Jewish audience, “I have not come to abolish them (Law or the Prophets) but to fulfill.”  Matt. 5:17.  He taught how this can happen in the new covenant (Matt. 5:21 ff).  He said, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matt. 22:37-40.  James quoted the second commandment and then added; “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”  Jas. 2:9.
  4. James’ rhetorical questions were about their behavior.  Why did they show favoritism to the very people who were their oppressors (vs. 6, 7)?  The irony of the story is perhaps found in that the ones they favored with the best seats were the very people who slandered and mistreated them. 

Some might ask; “How could asking a poorly dressed person to give up his seat to a man “wearing a gold ring and fine clothes” be motivated by evil thoughts?”  After all, didn’t Peter say, “Show proper respect to everyone?”  I Pet. 2:17.  We can understand James was addressing something evil people in the world think is good.  Some of God’s people may have been adopting the world’s view; therefore, he wanted the church to give some “soul searching” prayerful thought to this practice.  In a case where our behavior is evil based on our motives, we need to examine our motives carefully (I Cor. 13:3; II Cor. 13:5).  The deeper issue is how Christians view each and every human being.  The following is God’s view:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.                                                                                 Jas. 3:9

Discriminating is one form of “cursing men.”  It hurts the person who is being judged because it a statement about his or her worth.  Caste systems destroy people’s proper view of themselves.  It is also disrespectful of God because the spirit of every person is in the likeness of God.  Furthermore, the spirit of every person has come from God (Heb. 12:9).

Although the world culture freely practices favoritism, we can understand why James asked, “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”  Jas. 2:4.  The question we will need to answer for ourselves is: “Does my behavior support my faith?”  We can start by examining our faith.  We ask; “Did the glorious Lord Jesus Christ favor the rich over the poor?”  James began this text with a challenge to believers about our faith (Jas. 2:1).  What is our faith about our glorious Lord’s mission?  Please see His mission statement in Luke 4:18, 19.  Jesus’ mission was, and is, to preach the gospel to the very people who are often asked to give up their place for the privileged class.  The question addressed in this text is about our faith in how God views all people in the church and in the world.  Then James asked the recipients (and us) if our behavior is consistent with our faith (Jas. 2:18).  He helps the church comprehend the lack of consistency between faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ and the practice of favoritism.

The subject of “favoritism” can also be discussed in the light of our innate needs.  Please review the Introduction and Preview in Lesson Three.  The motive for the practice of showing “respect for persons” may be a subconscious effort to attain satisfaction for our inherent needs of security, or perhaps glory.  We have a strong and healthy urge for the satisfaction of these needs; however, the favoritism practice is evil.  It is contrary to the view God has of mankind.  It stands in opposition to His practice of righteousness.

Although James is still condemning the sin of “favoritism,” or “respect of persons,” in James 2:8-13, he engaged the recipients in another field of thought.  He asked them to consider the “royal law found in Scripture.  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Jas. 2:8.  Royal has been translated from the Greek word basilikos.  It means, “belonging to a king.”  Jesus has been given the rule over certain spheres of God’s kingdom to “bring many sons to glory.”  Heb. 2:10.  A Pharisee, “an expert in the law, tested Jesus with this question:  ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’”  Matt. 22:36.  James quoted the part of Jesus’ answer pertaining to the evil of practicing favoritism:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he made his point, “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”  Jas. 2:9.

James followed his conclusion by making the same point Jesus made in Matt. 5:17-20.  Jesus explained how He came to fulfill the Law and Prophets.  Christians have been freed from the Law of Moses, “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”  Rom. 8:4.  The recipients understood Jesus’ teaching about how the “righteous requirements” of the Law are being fulfilled in faithful Christians’ lives today (Matt. 5:21-48).  We need to understand what they understood to properly read James 2:8-12.  For those who may not know what the recipients knew, they should study other scriptures to catch up.  The study is too involved to add to this lesson.

There are some theological points we do need to catch from this text.  One, James is not saying Christians live by the Ten Commandments in the same manner Israel of the flesh was told to do.  Two, love for God and man is the key element in the royal law Jesus set forth in Matt. 22:37-40.  This is a point of faith in spiritual growing Christians.  We do fulfill the requirements of the Ten Commandments that pertain to God and our fellowman.  All of this is embodied in the law of Christ in the new covenant (Gal. 6:2; Rom. 8:1, 2; Heb. 10:16).  This is the “law that gives freedom.”  Jas. 2:12.  It describes how we have been created to develop.

III.  Discussion

  1.  “If ye have respect to persons.” KJV  2:9.
    Please compare the way the world societies view a person who receives a “below average income” with the way God views this same person who has faith.
  2. James asked the recipients several questions in verses 5-7.
    a.   Do you think these Christians knew the answers to these questions?
    If your answer is “yes,” then explain James’ motive for asking these questions.
    b.   Do you think these Christians were willfully committing the sin James accused them of in verse six?  If not, what was their problem?
  3. We understand God views people “without favoritism.”  We witness the social stratification levels with which “world people” are conditioned to value people.
    How should Christians value fellow Christians based on Jas. 3:9?
  4. Please consider the following statements:  Our faith, as Christians, is this:
    a.   Our glorious Lord Jesus Christ offers Christians a “royal law” in the new covenant (Jas. 2:8; Heb. 8:10).
    b.   He also offers us the grace of justification based on productive “perfected faith.” Jas. 2:20-24.
    c.   These blessings are for the purpose of maturing all Christians regardless of their social position; that is, the position the people in the world has assigned them – not God.
    Are these valid statements?
  5. Please read again James 2:2-4.  Now suppose you had been assigned the service of an usher at a church assembly where the quantities of chairs, or pews, were less than the number in attendance.  Suppose you used the same seating arrangement James condemned.
    a.   Where is the problem?  Inside or outside yourself?
    Explain the conflict between a Christian’s faith and their behavior in a situation like the foregoing.
    b.   Why would our glorious Lord Jesus Christ accuse a Christian of becoming a judge with evil thoughts in the foregoing situation?  Please explain “becoming a judge” and the motivation behind this evil.
    c.    Please explain the motive and unconscious depth of this problem.

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