In James 1, James implored his readers to do more than just hear the Word of God but to put it into action and live it. There are many ways to do this but the way that James mentions is through helping the poor and the oppressed. This serves as a transition into his next set of thoughts as we move into James 2.
Presumably we understand the idea of helping the poor even if we have difficulty putting this into action. This makes the connection between James 1 and 2 all the more relevant in putting our faith into action.
1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3 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,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
One would think that Christians would not do such an obvious act of favoritism but often it is subconscious in the way that we act. Some of it comes down to the fact that we feel more comfortable around people that we perceive to be like ourselves. We naturally want to be around people who are better off than we are because we believe that there might be something to gain from being around them.
If two families came into our church and sat down, one dressed well and the other looking like they were down to our last dollar, we might not treat them a whole lot differently. We’d say hi to both and try to make them feel accepted. But what if I told you that for some reason we only had a chance to keep one of these two families with us the following week? Our natural tendency would be to reach out more to the family that presumably had more money because they could presumably help us more when it came to offering.
Our thinking could even be well intentioned. If we bring in a family with money, that would allow us to spend more money on outreach and to be able to help more people and reach out to families that really need the church. I might be completely wrong, but I think that our natural tendency would be to try to reach the family with money first.
It’s probably easy to think that a good Christian wouldn’t get caught up in showing favoritism towards a person because of money. Allow me to tell you a story of an old lady that I used to visit in the nursing home. It will demonstrate how this can truly be a difficult thing even for the best of Christians.
This lady was in her 90’s and never had any children. Her husband had passed away some time ago. I’m not big on visiting nursing homes, not because I dislike them – not that I know too many people who like being in them – but more because of the circumstances. Unless the person went into the nursing home while I was pastoring, they really don’t know me. I’m just the guy who pastors the church that they used to attend, in some cases twenty years ago. I was in school the last time they were at church. And so there is really no connection to me whatsoever.
This particularly lady was very nice to talk to and for being about 95 seemed to be very sharp mentally. More importantly, somebody from the church talked to her every day – somebody that she knew and who would be an important connection to the church. In other words she had way more important contact with the church than just some guy who had stopped in to see her a few times because he currently pastored her former church.
So for these reasons, I just didn’t get around to visit too often. If I was in the area and had some extra time I would stop in but how often does that really happen? Probably the second or third time that I visited her, she gave me a check for the church. I accepted it and dropped it in the offering plate that Sunday. The next time I visited she also gave me a check. By the third time she gave me a check, my curiosity got the better of me. I don’t visit people with the expectation that they’ll give to the church. I don’t expect little old ladies in a nursing home to have much to give to the church and frankly if she gave twenty dollars that was great and could very well be more than she had to spare. But because she regularly gave me a check, I was just curious what she gave.
The check was for a thousand dollars. I honestly wondered if she had that much money to give. Now as I said, I didn’t get around to seeing her that often. But if she had given me a check for a thousand dollars previously this would still mean that she had given three or four thousand dollars in a year’s time. I don’t know what individuals give. That number never reaches me and I have no desire to know. But I also know that there are plenty of regular church attenders who don’t give that much in a year’s time.
What I was left with was a bit of a conundrum in line with what James is writing about. I was not going to visit this lady more often with hopes that she kept giving me checks every time I stopped by. But on the other hand, I felt as though I should visit more often because this is the least I can do if she’s giving more money than a number of regular attenders. It wasn’t about the money. This was a lady who was genuinely interested in the church but just was unable to be there any longer whereas there are plenty of people who come to church and aren’t genuinely interested in what goes on. And if she continued to show an interest in the church even though she couldn’t be there, shouldn’t I pay more attention to her? Is that favoritism?
This story is just an illustration that even though we want to treat people equally, it isn’t as easy as it may seem at times.