Christianity Is Not a Popularity Contest

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VIP is a local magazine in our community that captures the “rich and famous” at various events. Page after page, the smiles on their faces seem to say to the reader, “You’re not good enough to be in this magazine.”

Whether it’s in our local towns or New York or Hollywood, our society has its VIPs. Whether businessmen, athletes, movie stars, or musicians, these people have reached the upper echelons of society and receive special treatment accordingly. Rarely do they have to stand in line at restaurants. They go behind the scenes at sold-out concerts. They receive praise from adoring fans. And often they intimidate us, at least when we encounter them in person.

Judging Books

Judging others by their outward appearance has been a temptation for mankind throughout the centuries. But God expressly forbids the world’s favoritism within the church.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. . . . My beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? (James 2:1, 5)

God convicted me of this sin while riding on a subway in New York City. My wife and I were visiting her family. On one commute, we stepped into a busy subway train. No seats remained. My aunt, who was carrying an infant, was going to have to stand, hold her grandchild in one hand, and hold on to a pole with the other for balance.

Four men were sitting right in front of her. Three of the men were sharply dressed businessmen. The fourth looked like a heavy-metal rockstar — long hair, tattoos, multiple body piercings. To my shame, I thought, He obviously isn’t getting up.

Each of the three well-dressed men made eye-contact with my aunt and quickly looked away. The grunge-rocker saw her and, without hesitation, got up to give his seat away. And God graciously punched me in the gut over my judgmental heart.

Judging others solely based on their outside appearance is a temptation for all of us. In that moment on the subway, I favored the nicely dressed men and ridiculed the other. I was judging someone’s heart by the clothing he wore. James warns us of this sin. Too often, we show favor based on what someone wears, what they look like, how much money they have, their intelligence, athletic prowess, or other standards and distinctions which God calls “evil thoughts” (James 2:4).

Fruits of Favoritism

Over the years, I’ve discovered something interesting about my insecurity: it flares up around people I think are better than me.

Whenever we have favoritism in our hearts toward certain people, we not only sin against God and entertain evil thoughts, but we often end up with greater insecurities in our own hearts. When we view people as godlike or better than we are, we also view ourselves as unworthy. Favoritism distorts our view of others, ourselves, and God.

Favoritism fosters distortion in our hearts and minds in at least three ways.

1. Favoritism Deifies Others

Favoritism tells us other people are great based on certain criteria we’ve created in our minds. It makes these people appear to be greater than “normal” people. To be sure, there are people who are more uniquely gifted in certain areas than we are, but they are still sinful image-bearers just like you and me.

2. Favoritism Devalues Us

Favoritism also tells us that we are less than great, because we fall short of that same criteria. Those people we view as great tell us we aren’t great because of our flawed perspective on greatness. Even though your definition of greatness may vary from another’s, you feel less valuable because you don’t possess what they have.

3. Favoritism Dethrones God

In short, favoritism replaces God and makes us the judge. We are the one who determines another’s worth. We decide who is valuable and who is not. We get to treat others with favor and others not so favorable. Favoritism is so offensive because it attempts to dethrone God and enthrone us.

Favoritism often causes us to forget two crucial things: you are fearfully and wonderfully made with unique giftings, and Jesus is making every believer a VIP of the whole universe.

Remember God’s Image

We encounter amazing people this side of heaven. There are those people who have been uniquely blessed by God in many ways. I have met several people who seem to be good at everything they do. God has bestowed upon them numerous talents and enabled them to achieve things many of us never will.

However, God genuinely has gifted you as well (1 Peter 4:10). While there are others who may have numerous gifts you do not possess, you do have gifts bestowed by a loving Father. Not only do you have gifts, but you have been created in the image of the One who bestowed the gifts. This truth, alone, gives you value and worth.

Remember God’s Grace

Favoritism poisons our hearts into thinking we have no value, and that others are better than us. It can make us insecure people-pleasers who are fearful of others. The truth we must cling to, with Spirit-filled diligence, is the truth that we are favored by God.

God, in his infinite grace, took on flesh and came to this earth to live a perfectly righteous life, die an atoning death in our place, and defeat our sin in raising us to new life. Because of God’s grace manifested through his Son, you are favored by God, and his opinion of you is the one that matters in the end.