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Stop Trivializing Favoritism

Day 12 | Today’s passage: James 2:8-11 | Historical context of James

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

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.

Read 30-day James Devotional

Do We Favor the Rich?

Day 11 | Today’s passage: James 2:5-7 | Historical context of James

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

In the finance industry where I work, most dream to be rich. Most would therefore prioritize serving the rich over serving the poor because richer clients have more investable assets and can generate more revenue for the firm. It makes perfect business sense to serve the high-net worth. Conversely, that also means it’s a waste of time looking out for the poor client who may be in need but cannot benefit us much.

In the secular world, money talks.

This issue is magnified when we, as believers, live by this principle not just in the business setting, but also in our everyday lives. How many of us are guilty of showing preferential treatment towards the rich because of their socio-economic status? Why do we do so? Could it be that we’ve put our dependency on earthly riches instead of God?
As Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Noting this phenomenon among the early church, James presents two reasons why preferring the rich is actually irrational. One, God is especially concerned for the poor and has chosen them to be rich in faith and to enjoy full rights and privileges in His kingdom (v. 5). So, favoritism to the rich is wrong because it contrasts with the attitude of God.
Second, James pointed out to his readers that the rich were the very ones oppressing them (v. 6)—they exploited the church, filed lawsuits against believers, and blasphemed Jesus.

Times have not changed much today.
As we look at the extent of poverty, we can see that this is sometimes due, at least in part, to the exploitation and hoarding of resources by the wealthy. Many of the people suing others in court are also likely to be the powerful and the rich, as they are the ones who are able to hire the services of highly paid lawyers. And as we observe in some parts of the developed world, it’s the rich and powerful who openly show their disdain for the church and Christ.

Why then do we honor those who pit themselves against God?

This is not to say that all rich people are evil and that we should treat them unfavorably. Rather, I think James is making the point that it is inconsistent and absurd to despise our fellow poor believers and honor rich unbelievers instead.

Perhaps the next time we see ourselves showing favoritism to the rich, let us ask ourselves honestly: Why am I treating the rich better? Are not the poor people who have suffered under the rich also deserving of equal treatment as the rich?

—Melvin Ho, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. How have I shown preferential treatment to rich individuals at the expense of my own brothers and sisters in Christ?

2. How does today’s passage change the way I should view the poor and the rich?

Hand-lettering by Rachel Tu


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.

Read 30-day James Devotional