8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (2:8-9)
Favoritism. I decided to go to www.blueletterbible.org to see the original Greek word translated “favoritism.” It is prosopolempteo. Now there is a 50-cent word for you! It is a compound word literally meaning “to take hold of the face.” It describes someone who makes an immediate judgment on people based on their appearance, based on their “face.” The Greek word is only used two times in the New Testament…here in James and in Acts 10:34.
34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.
The Old Testament version of this verse would be 1 Samuel 16:7:
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
So when God looks at us, He does not look at our outward appearance. He looks straight past our face, through our skin, and into our hearts. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13). There is no hiding who we really are from God. He sees past all the rituals, outward motions, nice suits, pleasant words, and smiling faces to the core of who we are.
Since God alone sees the heart of a man, we are called to avoid making judgments based on appearances. We can’t see the heart. We don’t know a person’s motives. Thus we can’t accurately judge the character of a person. We leave that up to God.
That doesn’t mean we are to gullible. We are to discern a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:20). But it does mean we are to be merciful people, loving others without regard to their outward appearance, often giving them the benefit of the doubt. Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (2:13)
On the practical level, that means racism is abominable (judging a person based on their skin color or ethnicity). It also means we have to be careful of the more subtle forms of favoritism…showing preference to upper middle class white people with nice families who visit the church…labeling people and then treating them based on the label (e.g., Republican, Democrat, liberal, jerk, etc.)…showing extra kindness and attention to the beautiful young blonde over the less attractive older person.
As we grow in Christ, our eyes are to change. From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16a). Instead of seeing people outwardly and labeling them unfairly, we think two main things whenever we meet another person…they are made in the image of God and Jesus Christ died for them. Then we treat them accordingly.
Lord, give me Your eyes today…and Your love for others.