We all have likes and dislikes. Remember Julie Andrews’ song, “My Favorite Things”? The toolbar on my laptop keyboard contains a button called “Favorites.” I have a favorite baseball team (the Cincinnati Reds) and a favorite pair of sneakers (my well-worn Reeboks). I don’t care for eggs, but I like eggnog. You can start a vigorous discussion by getting your friends to debate favorite restaurants, movies, and ice cream flavors.
Many of us can identify a favorite Bible story or verse (John 3:16, anyone?), or we connect with a favorite biblical character. When John called himself the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 20:2), did the other apostles complain that John considered himself Jesus’ favorite?
It’s natural to have favorites, but favoritism is a sin, for “God does not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11). Victor Hugo said, “Being good is easy; what is difficult is being just.” Since we are called to “follow God’s example” (Ephesians 5:1), what will help us eliminate favoritism from our hearts and act justly?
We shouldn’t play favorites in the way we treat others.
Favoritism plays havoc in a family. Just ask Jacob and Esau. Or ask Joseph, whose father “loved him more” than his brothers (Genesis 37:4). Favoritism damages a church and disrupts the chemistry of a leadership team. When Paul gave Timothy instructions about disciplining elders who sin, he said “to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism” (1 Timothy 5:21).
At the home of Cornelius, Simon Peter declared, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34, 35). Racial discrimination is a sinful form of favoritism, and so is judging others based on their social status. James warned not to give special privileges to the wealthy while dishonoring the poor, insisting, “If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:9).
We shouldn’t let personal favorites define our relationship with God.
It’s tempting to assume that God prefers the same things we do, but God’s will doesn’t always line up with our personal preferences. Serving the Lord isn’t mainly about singing our favorite music at church, hearing the speaker we enjoy most, or surrounding ourselves with people who make us comfortable. We must always distinguish between biblical principles (expressly stated in Scripture) and cultural customs (that are familiar and pleasing to us but aren’t mandated by God).
We should praise God that he shows favor without favoritism.
Cartoonist Bill Watterson quipped, “I know the world isn’t fair, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?” In our broken world, some fortunate individuals seem to catch all the breaks while others suffer unjustly. But even when life is not fair, the Lord “is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
Actually God is gracious, and grace is more than fair. Despite our sin, the Father wants to show his unmerited favor to all of us. On everyone willing to receive it through Christ, he lavishly bestows “the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7, 8)—and that puts us in a favorable position indeed.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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