“Mrs. Stevenson, are we your favorite class?” I am literally asked this question most days at school. And yes, as a new teacher, I quickly made the mistake of telling the 10th graders that they are my favorites. I know, not wise on my end. But don’t you have favorites? For the parents reading this, don’t you have a favorite child? For the March Madness fans, don’t you have a favorite bracket buster team? Tough to answer, but James himself calls to consider favoritism in James 2:1-13.
First things first, context is key. James begins by addressing the fellow Christians and then commands them to “show no partiality” (James 2:1). And he tells them to not do so as they “hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (James 2:1). James reminds them to be so caught up in the glory of Christ that partiality does not in any way surface. Friends, this speaks to the bigness and majesty of God over, through, and in all! And, if we are captivated by this, we will not be Christians who show favoritism.
And then, James puts a bit more flesh on his argument in verses 2-11 of chapter 2. . Look at verse 5 again. God chose the poor “to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (James 2:5). God’s choosing reflects God’s grace giving. God has given his people, his poor and needy people, the gift of faith and identity as heirs of the kingdom. Friends, this is incredible news. We’re called to see others as image bearers of God, in need of the grace of Christ. It is this grace of Christ that compels us to not show partiality.
But James builds his case all the more with verse 8. Look at verse 8 again: “the royal law according to the Scripture” (James 2:8). Look again at James 2:8-9. James is saying, if you “fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures”…”you are doing well” (James 2:8-9) – you are crushing it. But if you “show partiality” – then you are a lawbreaker. James is dialing down that if you show favoritism, according to James 2:9, “you are commiting sin”. And thus when we walk in favoritism, we are dishonoring God himself. Favoritism dishonors man and thus dishonors God who made man in his image. Look at verse 10. James says that if you break one law (which newsflash – you do), you are guilty of breaking the whole law!
So yes, favoritism matters. It’s a serious sin. And thus, James calls us to consider divine judgement (James 2:12). We will be judged by our words and actions. James is saying – don’t mess with favoritism. God will judge us based on what God has said matters. And yes, favoritism matters.
And yet, before you pause here without finishing this blog thinking, “Wow, Lacey, another gut punch. I can’t do this. I can’t speak and act well enough for God.” Well, you’re right. You and I can never do enough to stand before the judgement of Christ. And yet, we remember that we need the mercy of Christ. Look at verse 13 of James 2. This is the message of the gospel – we need mercy. And what is mercy? Mercy is God not giving us what we deserve. When I don’t sign my student’s card, I give them mercy. They deserve a card mark, and instead they get a warning. And we need mercy that “triumphs over judgement” (James 2:13). And you know what is amazing, justice and mercy met in the cross. We should be judged, we should receive death for our sin, and yet we get what we don’t deserve – salvation, the righteousness of Jesus. When you have received that kind of mercy, you give it to others.
So friends, as we have received mercy, we will extend mercy. When we are forgiven, we forgive others. When we receive mercy, we give mercy. But the opposite of this is also true, when we don’t give mercy, we show that we haven’t received mercy. And again look at verse 13. James says that “judgement is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). We want judgement with mercy. We don’t want judgment without mercy. And may this gospel application grow us in showing mercy rather than favoritism. Is it difficult? Yes. And for these commands, there’s grace. Receive that grace as you give it. May mercy triumph over judgement all the more in our lives.