Summary: Favoritism is a serious mistake because: 1. It is a sin. 2. Appearances can be deceiving 3. God opposes the proud.
I vividly remember talking with another pastor one day who had been given a very impressive appointment to one of the largest churches in our conference. As he was talking to me and a couple of other pastors, he was explaining how different this church was from his previous experiences. Evidently, there was a group of wealthy benefactors of the church who kept the church afloat financially. They also ran the show — whatever they said was pretty much law in the church. I can still see this man shaking his head and saying, “The first thing I have to do when I get there is to wine and dine a bunch of people. I really have to get on their good side.” Without saying anything, I was shocked that he would even consider such a thing. I believe it would have been God’s will for that pastor to break up that kind of cartel in the church rather than cater to it — even if it meant that the church would suffer financially or lose members.
But even in smaller churches we sometimes cater to those we think are the major givers of the church, or show partiality in other ways. Sometimes churches cater to those who have longevity in the church — they and their families have been active members of the church for many years. At other times we may cater to the new members, or those we hope will become new members and bring new life into the church. Sometimes we cater to those we consider to be good workers in the church. At other times we may cater to those who can no longer work. Sometimes we cater to those who have standing in the community, or some other type of notoriety. Sometimes we cater to those who have an impressive appearance. Sometimes we cater to those who complain the loudest. At other times we cater to our friends or those who think like us. But all of this is contrary to what the Scripture is telling us today. In fact, James says, “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:9).
So here is the first point that the Scripture makes clear: Favoritism is a serious mistake, because it is a sin. The Old Testament is especially strong on this. The poor, the aliens, the widows and orphans were particularly protected by the law. The Bible says, “God does not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11). And if our lives are to model the character of God we are not to show favoritism either. Favoritism is not just a little thing that can be passed over in the church, it is a serious sin. It is serious because it degrades certain members of the body of Christ and makes them less valuable than others. A church which practices favoritism cannot enjoy the blessing of God. Faith and favoritism are incompatible. We are not to distinguish between the have’s and the have nots — whatever it is that they have or do not have. We are to be one in the Spirit.
In the New Testament there were many times when this problem reared its ugly head. One example is when a certain group of believers wanted to demand that all non-Jews be required to follow all the Jewish traditions. They wrangled with this argument for quite a while, until Peter stood up in their midst and said, “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:7-9). The result was that the church should treat everyone who believed in Christ and had received the Holy spirit the same, with no distinctions.
Even after the Holy Spirit came upon the believers at Pentecost the problem of favoritism appeared among God’s people. The Christian community was taking care of its widows and distributing food and other needed items to them on a daily basis. The problem was that now there were non-Jews living among them — strangers from other places — and racism dies hard. The widows who were not Jewish Christians were not treated as well as those who were. The apostles had to stop and appoint seven men to oversee the daily distribution to assure that this would no longer happen. It is significant that the verse which concludes this account says, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly. . .” (Acts 6:7). This inequity was blocking the Spirit of God from working, and it was not until favoritism was addressed that the word of God spread and the number of believers once again began to grow. When a church shows favoritism to any group, it hinders the Spirit of God, power is lost, growth is halted and the witness of the church is damaged.