Chapter 2 Verses 1-3:
In how many arenas can we show favoritism? In verse one James declares favoritism sin. In verse two he begins “for suppose” or “for if.” James is giving one particular example of what God declares wrong. In order to thoroughly apply this passage, we need to think about more than money. We can show favoritism based on money, education, power, attractiveness, personality, sense of humor, family heritage, height, weight, age, race, gender, occupation, and a long list of other criteria.
Why is favoritism so wrong? We could look at its cultural and relational effects, but I believe it is more to the point to say that favoritism is disruptive because it is heresy. Favoritism, at its root says, certain qualities make one person more valuable than another. There are some aspects of value (righteousness) that some people can contribute to God’s kingdom for which others are deficient. This is a character-based form of works righteousness. It assumes we (or at least some of us) have something we can contribute that makes us more worthy of God’s acceptance. It cheapens grace, by saying there are some people who need more grace than others.
How do we battle this temptation to favoritism? First, we recognize diversity without making value judgments. I Corinthians 12:7-11 recognizes that we are all gifted differently, but affirms that this is by God’s design, for God’s purpose, and should increase (not decrease) unity in the Body of Christ. When we “grade” people based upon non-moral characteristics, then we are in fact “grading” God. Second, we must have a mental economy based upon faithfulness not productivity. This was Jesus’ point in Matthew 25:14-30 “The Parable of the Talents.” Each servant was proportionately judged on his faithfulness not competitively based upon the performance of others. We must recognize that every strength has accompanying weaknesses, every asset comes with time consuming responsibilities, and every ability brings burdens with its opportunities. When we begin to rank these gold (five talents), silver (three talents), and bronze (one talent) we increase the likelihood that men and women will hide their gifts in fear, shame, or insecurity. While, at the same time, we set those up who have the “high gifts” to fall to pride.
Chapter 2 Verse 5
“Blessed are the Poor in Spirit”
James sounds a lot like his big brother when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:3).” We could spend our time trying to figure out this “paradox of poorness,” but instead let us accept that those who recognize their poorness (by whatever criteria) are blessed because their dependence upon God is more constant and pervasive to life. Now the question becomes, “How do we take on more of this attribute?”
- Live on less than you make. Besides being discouraged by Scripture (Prov 22:7), debt tends to reveal that we are relying on stuff in unhealthy ways.
- Look for ways to complement others. We have a strong tendency to judge people by our strengths instead of their own. This causes a negative attitude and makes it feel like we have “arrived.”
- Resist the urge to compare yourself to others. Those of us who do not judge others by our strength tend to judge ourselves by others strength. This is the opposite side of the “have” versus “have not” dynamic.
- Regularly do things you are not good at. When we only do things we like and/or are good at, we lose a sense of our need for grace and weakness. This also usually means we are forcing others to live in our preferences instead of loving our neighbor as ourselves.
- Regularly give or volunteer your strength. We can often view our strengths as “ours.” This sense of ownership makes us prideful and territorial. Our strengths are gifts given by God for us to steward for His glory. Giving or volunteering our strengths is a good way to remind ourselves of this.
- Use complements as an opportunity to praise God. Praise can be as simple as saying, “God has given me great joy in doing [blank]. I am glad to know I was able to be a conduit of God’s blessing by using His gifts.”