My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 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,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? – James 2:1-4
In today’s society it may seem a little odd that a politician might actually be averse to showing favoritism, as James discusses at the beginning of this chapter. At one time I worked for a U.S. Congressman from Mississippi named Gene Taylor. One day I was dispatched with the duty of locating him in the Rayburn House office building. The reason was simple; the Secretary of the Navy was waiting for him in his office. Some of the staff was panic stricken and mildly embarrassed because they could not ascertain his whereabouts. Congressman Taylor was not frequently attached at the hip with his cellular phone or pager. I remember looking in all the places you would look for a House member in the Rayburn building and not being able to locate him. After I had given up, I preceded to walk up the stairs and found him talking with a maintenance worker in the stairwell.
I told him that the Secretary of the Navy was in his office and he nodded his head and introduced me to his friend, whom he treated like a celebrity, bragging up the individual’s fishing skills. While I did not always agree with the positions or votes he recorded on issues, Gene Taylor always reinforced the significance of treating people the same. He also taught me a valuable life lesson when he told me: “You know why I’m friends with the capital police, the maintenance workers, and the common fisherman down at the harbor? It’s because they will continue to be my friends when I am no longer a congressman.”
The words of James specifically refer to the behavior of the Church and its members. One of the reasons the Free Methodist Church was born in America was over the issue of the Methodist Episcopal Church and their practice of selling and renting pews. The poor were therefore relegated to the back of the congregation, and there was a call for free seats for all. Favoritism can be one of the hardest sins to overcome because it’s so entrenched in the Church just like it is in society. Matthew Henry, an English clergyman who was active in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, appropriately notes, “In matters of religion, rich and poor stand upon a level; no man’s riches set him in the least nearer to God, nor does any man’s poverty set him at a distance from God.”
It’s hard to be an authentic Christian in an unauthentic world, and that is why we look and lean on the power of Christ. One of the most beautiful characteristics of the incarnate Christ is that he was humbled so that we were made high. In the words of Isaiah, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Charles Spurgeon, the famed British Reformed preacher, himself noted, “He became poor from his riches, that our poverty might become rich out of his poverty.”