“My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” (James 2:1-9)
Favoritism, or partiality, displays a respect of persons based on temporal, external trappings such as wealth, success, or physical beauty. We all do it. It’s why celebrities are famous. It’s why tabloids fill the racks at grocery store checkout lines. It’s why clothing and cosmetics are multi-billion dollar industries.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with appreciating someone’s success, strength, or beauty. The problem arises when we fail to acknowledge God as the Source of those blessings. We invariably end up venerating someone for such incidentals and/or denigrating someone who lacks them. To value someone solely based on outward attributes over which they have no control is to elevate the creature and to diminish the glory of God.
The Royal Law is to love one’s neighbor regardless of that neighbor’s assets. James gave the classic example of one man whose wealth is obvious and another man whose poverty is equally evident. To fawn over the one while dismissing the other is an affront to the grace by which God saves all kinds of people.
Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan comes to mind. The self-absorbed priest and Levite portrayed the narcissism that the Lord abhors. The Samaritan, in contrast, embodied the love of Christ Himself.
Favoritism is an extension of egoism, which lies at the root of greed. Ultimately, we play favorites because we hope to gain something: some favor, popularity, power, or control, for example. We judge others according to how they make us feel.
Conditional love conveys the message: “I love you ‘if’ or ‘because of’ something you bring to me.” Once that condition is no longer met, the love is lost. Conditional love treats people as commodities, things to be used and discarded. Unfortunately, this kind of love has become mainstream, even idolized.
The unconditional love that Jesus and the apostles manifested has a different message: “I love you, period,” or “I love you despite what you bring to me.” Jesus’ prayer to the Father as He hung dying on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34), exemplified unconditional love that plays no favorites.
I wondered what the church would look like if we could manage to abide by the Royal Law and love each other without self-serving conditions. Then, it occurred to me that to see the Father’s will done on earth as it is in heaven would look just like heaven.
It’s a goal worth striving for.