Each week on Thursdays we highlight a trustworthy discipleship resource that can help you in your mission to make disciples. This week’s post is “The POINT” from the Bible Studies for Life curriculum. At the end of this post there is a link to sign up for a chance to win a free giveaway of this resource!
Welcoming others goes beyond a friendly handshake.
We naturally gravitate to the people we know best and who are like us. It’s easier to interact with people with whom we share a common interest or background. But a problem arises when those friendships drive us to overlook or ignore others, or worse, to show preferential treatment. Jesus, on the other hand, loves all people the same—and we’re called to do likewise. We must learn to embrace people with open arms.
The Book of James was written to Christians who were undergoing persecution. James wrote this letter not only to encourage them to remain strong during those difficult times, but also to remind them that faith and obedience are linked together.
It’s in this context that James addressed the issue of partiality. These Christians claimed to believe the gospel and follow Jesus, but apparently they were not treating people equally in their congregations. The particular example James lifted out involved people coming into the congregation who had the appearance of wealth. Apparently such a person with his nice clothing and polished appearance was given a place of prominence in the church, even if it meant pushing aside someone who was clearly not wealthy. According to James, this was an evil thing to do. This is true for at least three reasons:
- Partiality neglects the image of God in fellow humans. When we show favoritism to one person or group of people over another, we are—whether we realize it or not—subtly neglecting the truth that all human beings have been created in the image of God. Because all of us have been created in God’s image, every one of us is worthy of honor and dignity. When we remove some of that honor and dignity, even if it seems like a small thing, we are doing more than exercising our preference for one group or another. We are denying the image of God in the neglected party.
- Partiality sees others as objects to be used. Why might we show favoritism? In James’ illustration of the rich man and the poor man in the fellowship, the reason is simple: we can get something from the rich man. By showing favoritism, we might get some of his money; a greater reputation because we are associated with a person of prominence; or his approval which would increase our self-esteem. Whatever the case, we are hoping to gain something from him, which means we are using that person rather than serving and loving him. While we might trick ourselves into believing that showing partiality just means someone gets a little something extra from us, as if we are making the sacrifice, it’s really the other way around; our focus is on ourselves and what we might potentially gain.
- Partiality sets us up as judge. Favoritism is a big deal because it sets us up in the place of God. We are determining someone’s worthiness based on some preconceived notion based on the person’s clothes, money, reputation, or whatever. But we are not equipped to make this judgment. Indeed, only God can look at the heart. When we show partiality, therefore, we are putting ourselves in place of God. We are judging the worth of another.
For discussion: What are some ways we might be tempted to show favoritism today?
This article is an excerpt from Welcome Home: Connecting and Engaging People in Your Church, a six-session study in the Fall 2018 Bible Studies for Life. Learn more about this ongoing curriculum and preview one month for free at biblestudiesforlife.com.
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