Favoritism, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the unfair practice of treating some people better than others.” The Greek word translated favoritism in James 2 literally means to “receive according to the face.” In other words, to show favoritism is to make judgments about people on the basis of their outward appearance. Here are three reasons why showing favoritism is prohibited in Scripture:
1. Favoritism is inconsistent with God’s character.
Impartiality is an attribute of God. He is absolutely and totally impartial in dealing with people.
- “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awe-inspiring God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe” (Deut. 10:17).
- “For there is no favoritism with God” (Rom. 2:11).
- “There is no favoritism with him (Eph. 6:9).
- “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism” (Acts 10:34).
Showing favoritism is inconsistent with God’s character, antithetical to the gospel, and therefore incompatible with “faith in our glorious Jesus Christ” (Jas. 2:1).
2. Favoritism is contrary to God’s values.
James addressed a situation in which believers gave preferential treatment to the rich (2:2-3). What would motivate this kind of behavior? Is it not because these believers valued the rich more than they valued the poor? They would rather have the rich attend their church than the poor, and their treatment of the rich and of the poor reflected their values.
James reminded his readers that their values were not God’s values: “Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? Yet you have dishonored the poor” (2:5-6). They were acting in a way that was contrary to God’s values.
In a message on the evil of favoritism in the church, John MacArthur said: “We tend to put everyone in some kind of stratified category, higher or lower than other people. It has to do with their looks. It has to do with their wardrobe. It has to do with the kind of car they drive, the kind of house they live in; sometimes it has to do with their race, sometimes with their social status, sometimes outward characteristics of personality. All of those things with God are non-issues. They are of no significance at all. They mean absolutely nothing to Him.” (gty.org)
3. Favoritism is sin.
James makes clear that favoritism is not simply disrespectful of people; it is sin against God. “If … you show favoritism, you commit sin” (Jas. 2:9). It is sin because it is contrary to the character and command of God. Because favoritism is sin, there is no place for it in the hearts of God’s people, and certainly no place for it in the church.
Mike Livingstone works at Lifeway Christian Resources as content editor for Explore the Bible materials.