The Bible’s View
Is Showing Favoritism a Sin?
ACCORDING to the Bible, sin is anything that does not harmonize with God’s personality, standards, ways and will. Since man was created in God’s image, a failure to reflect that image properly is sin. (Gen. 1:26, 27; Rom. 3:23) Does the showing of favoritism mar man’s reflection of God’s likeness and glory? It most certainly does, for “God is not partial.”—Acts 10:34.
Hence, Christians must guard against showing favoritism. It is a sin that can easily ensnare them. In fact, there were believers in the first century who yielded to this sin. The Christian disciple James wrote: “My brothers, you are not holding the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, our glory, with acts of favoritism, are you? For, if a man with gold rings on his fingers and in splendid clothing enters into a gathering of you, but a poor man in filthy clothing also enters, yet you look with favor upon the one wearing the splendid clothing and say: ‘You take this seat here in a fine place,’ and you say to the poor one: ‘You keep standing,’ or: ‘Take that seat there under my footstool,’ you have class distinctions among yourselves and you have become judges rendering wicked decisions, is that not so?”—Jas. 2:1-4.
Consider what James was here saying. Could a person adhere to the faith that is centered in Jesus Christ and at the same time manifest favoritism toward people? This is impossible, for Jesus Christ “gave himself a corresponding ransom for all.” Furthermore, it is God’s will “that all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Tim. 2:3-6) Therefore, it was contrary to the Christian faith for a believer to imply by his actions that the rich were more deserving of hearing the “good news” than the poor.
Yet that is what some Christians were doing. If a wealthy man came to one of their meetings, they would make special efforts to welcome him and to conduct him to a fine, comfortable seat. However, when a poor man in ragged clothing attended a meeting, he was virtually snubbed. He was told in effect: ‘Just stand where you are. Or, if you prefer to sit, seat yourself on the floor.’ The one saying this had such little regard for the poor man that he thought nothing about the man’s having to stand or his sitting on a level lower than a footstool. What did the disciple James call persons who made such class distinctions? They were “judges rendering wicked decisions.”
By failing to welcome the poor man, they were not treating him as a person for whom Christ died and who had a right to come to “an accurate knowledge of truth.” They were evaluating the worth of a man on the basis of his possessions. This was certainly wicked, totally contrary to the view that Jehovah God and Jesus Christ have of people. It also violated the spirit of Christ’s teaching that all members of the congregation are “brothers,” with an equal standing before God.—Matt. 23:8.
Additionally, the disciple James indicated that the showing of favoritism to the rich was unreasonable. We read: “Listen, my beloved brothers. God chose the ones who are poor respecting the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he promised to those who love him, did he not? You, though, have dishonored the poor man. The rich oppress you, and they drag you before law courts, do they not? They blaspheme the fine name by which you were called, do they not?”—Jas. 2:5-7.
The believers to whom James directed his words knew that the majority of those who embraced the Christian faith had come from among the poor. As the apostle Paul had earlier written to the Corinthians, this could easily be observed. “You behold,” said Paul, “his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth.” (1 Cor. 1:26) Unlike many of the poor and afflicted who had a real longing for God and who recognized their dependence on him, the rich generally trusted in their wealth. Because the poor had the right attitude toward spiritual things, Jehovah God saw fit to exalt them. In the world, the poor had nothing—no dignity, no influence, no prominence. But Jehovah God favored them with priceless spiritual riches, making them rich in faith, and constituted them heirs in the heavenly kingdom. So, then, it was unreasonable for Christians to dishonor the poor who might come to one of the meetings of the congregation, to view them as being unfit even to have a seat.
Likewise, a person’s giving preferential treatment to the rich was unreasonable. As a class, the wealthy did not deserve it, for their actions did not commend them as fine persons. They were oppressive, harsh and unloving. They were among the leading opposers of Christianity, blaspheming the name of Christ.
Then, too, partial treatment of individuals violated the new commandment that Jesus Christ gave to his followers. The Son of God stated: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) Jesus Christ manifested a self-sacrificing love. He willingly surrendered his life for others. Hence, since the Law given through Moses only required loving one’s neighbor as oneself, the new commandment really called for more. Viewed in this light, a Christian’s dishonoring a poor man was a serious violation of the law of love.
The disciple James stressed this very point, saying: “If, now, you practice carrying out the kingly law according to the scripture: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing quite well. But if you continue showing favoritism, you are working a sin, for you are reproved by the law as transgressors.” (Jas. 2:8, 9) For Christians under the new commandment to show neighbor love for a poor man would be commendable, though not the complete fulfillment of their obligation toward him. However, by dishonoring the poor man, they would be disregarding the “kingly law,” the law of the great King Jehovah, which is also a royal or an excellent law. On the basis of that law, all who showed favoritism were sinners.
Accordingly, if we desire to stand as approved before God and Christ, we must root out of our hearts any tendency to show favoritism. A person’s position in the world, his educational background or financial standing should not affect our judgment of him as a person. Nor should we look down on anyone, regardless of how lowly he may appear to be. If the Most High God views a person as deserving of his love, who are we to say that such an individual is unworthy of our love? That would indeed be wicked. A person would thus imply that he is greater than God.