Growing up as the middle child, I always felt that my parents favored my brothers. I wasn’t as good as they were in both my studies and swimming, and I would feel pangs of jealousy whenever my parents praised my brothers for their achievements and gave them first pick of the food and presents. I also felt the injustice of being scolded the most and forgiven the least whenever we made mistakes together.
Though I may have unfairly judged my parents then as a kid, this perception of being unfairly treated had significant negative effects on my emotional well-being—my self-esteem took a blow and I often felt inferior to my brothers and unloved. It was not until I became a Christian in my youth, that I gradually started to recover my self-esteem. I was convicted of the truth that regardless of how I performed, God loves me unconditionally.
Admittedly, I have also been a perpetrator of favoritism. In school and at my workplace, I have treated certain classmates and colleagues better because I liked their personalities more than others. During those moments, I did not consider what effects my actions had on those around me. When we are the ones being favored or the ones perpetuating it, we are likely to trivialize it.
James, however, reminds us that favoritism contravenes the royal law of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves. He even mentions favoritism in the same breath as murder and adultery, placing them side by side as violations of not just one component, but the whole law of God (v. 10).
When I look back at my past experiences, I realize that at the heart of favoritism is a glaring lack of brotherly love toward another. Isn’t that essentially at the heart of all sin?
As Galatians 5:14 tells us, “the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (NLT)
When we show favoritism, we do not consider the feelings of the one who has been victimized and its impact on that person. Instead of loving them, we are hurting them.
This not only reduces that person’s self-worth and leaves a scar on his heart; it also denies his identity as a much-loved child of God and negatively shapes his character and future actions.
In the Bible, we read of accounts of favoritism which led to resentment and ultimately, undesirable outcomes. Sarah’s preference for Isaac and her ill-treatment of Hagar and her son Ishmael led to a break-up of Abraham’s family. Isaac’s unequal treatment of his two sons, Esau and Jacob, drove a wedge between them. And Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph led to his older brothers resenting him and selling him off as a slave.
Are we also guilty of trivializing this sin of favoritism? Do we cast a blind eye to this hideous sin when we commit it, not realizing its detrimental consequences?
Let us examine our lives and turn to God in all humility. Let us ask Him to help us attain an understanding of His law and of this subtle sin in our personal lives, so that we may live a life of authentic faith with the genuine love of Christ for our neighbor.
—Melvin Ho, Singapore
Questions for reflection
1. In my home, workplace, church or other social circles, have I shown favoritism and trivialized the grievousness of this sin?
2. How can I love the poor or even my enemies—and treat them equally without favoritism?
While not an avid reader and writer, Melvin likes to explore questions people have about the Christian faith and Scripture, and discover the best answer to them. He realizes however, that sometimes he may be thinking too much for his own good, and needs to spend more time putting God’s Word into practice. Among his goals now are to learn godliness with contentment, love people equally without favoritism, and put their needs above his own. In his free time, he likes to run, watch Manchester United football games, and catch inspirational movies. Secretly, he hopes God can use his life as a missionary one day, fingers crossed.