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A danger sign, warning of the potential for death.

The subtle danger our churches face right now

What is one of the greatest dangers to the health of the church? There are so many legitimate dangers we can think of. Most of these revolve around different pressures from all ends of the political and societal spectrum to compromise on core Christian convictions. There are others as well. James’ epistle identifies several of them.

One is what we might call a dead faith—of a faith that bears no fruit (James 2:17).1 But another is one that we might not recognize, at least at first. It’s one that seems woven into fabric of our society at every level. One that seems subtle, until we actually recognize it.

That danger? Partiality, or favoritism.

The corrupting danger of favoritism

Specifically, James warned of showing favoritism toward the wealthy at the expense of the poor (James 2:1–7). He knew the wealthy among his hearers were given preferred treatment and offered seats of honor. Meanwhile, the poor were told to sit in places of subservience. They sat on the floor by a footstool or off in a corner where they couldn’t be seen.

This was blatant sin. Treating one Christian as greater than another was (and is) entirely out of step with genuine faith in Christ. It runs entirely contrary to God’s will and His own actions (James 2:5-7).

God warned against this sin from the time his people wandered in the wilderness (Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17) and beyond. They continued through Jesus’ stinging condemnations of religious leaders, and his welcoming of social outcasts (Matthew 11:19). And they even continued into the life of the church as well (Acts 6, 10).

No matter how we try to justify it, favoritism shows utter contempt toward God in word and deed. It is, in a word, blasphemy.

The pervasive anti-gospel of partiality

I wish I could say that we’ve moved past this sin. That we’d finally recognized Scripture’s clear condemnation and listened. But it continues to plague us into our day. It continues to be a danger to us, and none of us are immune.

We use labels and pejoratives with reckless abandon. We play office politics, acting in ways that lack integrity in order to get ahead. Some of us play the comparison game between ourselves and our neighbors, either envying or puffing ourselves up based on material possessions. We even do it to ourselves, convincing ourselves that we have little to offer because of our background, our experiences, or the shakiness of our spiritual disciplines.

All of this is wrong. In most instances, it is lazy, shallow thinking. And we need to see it for what it is: an anti-gospel that robs people of dignity, value, and respect.

And we are called to do better. But how?

Countering the danger by pursuing maturity

The first step in countering this danger is to recognize that it really is a danger at all. Favoritism is real, and we are all capable of committing this sin.

The second is to renounce this evil by repenting of it. We are to “take off [our] former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of [our] minds” (Ephesians 4:22-23). This means we need to humble ourselves. To consider how we might specifically be tempted to show partiality. To turn to God, and ask the Holy Spirit to show us where our blindspots are in this area.

Because the truth is, we all have blindspots. And if we ask him to reveal them, he will. Not only that, he will give us the courage to repent when we are convicted. Most importantly, he will empower us to live as the gospel calls us, loving all as we would ourselves, regardless of their status or circumstances (Philippians 2:3-4).

If we are in Christ, we are in Christ. And we must treat one another as such.

Photo by Mikael Seegen on Unsplash

  1. This is what some call “dead orthodoxy.” ↩︎
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