I often think about the ways that we as a society at large categorize almost every aspect of our lives. From the political; conservative/liberal, economic; rich/poor to race, gender, height, weight, age, intelligence, the list goes on and on. We allow these categories to shape and define our ideals and how we identify with the world around us. Is it any wonder we are so prone to partiality? When we don’t see the defining category of “Child of God” as the main component of our lives we are in danger of inadvertently showing partiality or impartiality to all of those around us.
In chapter 2 verse 1 James opens with this warning, ” My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” It is a question we need to ask ourselves fairly often because of our propensity to show favor to some but not all. James goes on the use the example of rich and poor but any number of categories could be substituted for the same effect. We see this everyday. A server at a restaurant is more apt to give better service to a nicely dressed patron rather than a person dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. A valet is much more likely to take better care of a person with a Ferrari than someone driving a Honda Civic. A politician is more likely to listen to a donor who wishes to speak than a constituent who has contributed nothing to his/her campaign. It is because wealth is one thing among many that can lead us to show partiality towards others. The great leveler in this scenario is God. Each one of us has been created in His image. Let me state that again. Each one of us carries the image of God in some way.
The truth is we all show favoritism, sometimes on a daily basis. We may even have prejudices we are not aware of based on the categories we find ourselves identifying with. When we begin to realize that people who are different from us bear the image of God in some way, just as we do, it becomes harder to justify prejudice and show partiality. We begin each new relationship on a footing of likeness rather than difference.
This helps us to look more at what we have in common with others rather than what our differences might be. It can break down barriers that may have been worked into place over many, many years. It can lead to an encounter that otherwise may never have taken place. It can bear fruit that we could never imagine.
In verse 5 James shows how God further breaks down barriers of prejudice by lifting up the seemingly unfavorable in the example. “Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?” Once again the playing field of life is leveled by God. He erases the categories that we place ourselves and others into.
When we live a life where we believe that every person is an image bearer of God and realize that He works at lifting up the unfavorable of the world, James’ words at the beginning of the chapter are solidified. We lose the ability to carry prejudices and show favoritism because God has taken them away. Jesus modeled this for us in his sacrifice for mankind. It was not just a sacrifice for some, but for all who would call him lord.
1. Do you think you show favoritism in your life?
2. How do you categorize yourself? How do you think this shapes your identity?