Growing up, my brothers and I loved aggravating my mom by saying I was her favorite child. Of course, I loved it and rubbed it in each time I got the opportunity. Even to this day (I am now 50 years old), I will sometimes call her and say, “Hey, mom! It’s your favorite son!” This was all in good fun, but we recognize that real favoritism can cause great problems–relationally, practically, and spiritually.
We don’t get very far into the Bible before we see some of the problems associated with showing favoritism. In Genesis 37, we see that Jacob favored Joseph over all his other sons, creating such great jealousy among the brothers that they wanted to kill Joseph. Then, near the end of the Bible, in James’ letter, we see the warning to avoid favoritism, particularly favoritism toward those who are of much more significant financial means than others – those that we think might benefit us in some way.
But how does this biblical admonition of avoiding favoritism apply to the idea of finances, especially in the context of the local church? Actually, it applies in quite a few ways. Here are a few ways I have seen favoritism cause problems in the church:
1. It can cause us to forget who our provider is.
Throughout the pages of Scripture, God demonstrates that He is a good and faithful provider who loves His children. However, as we humans live here in this fallen and sinful world, we are often tempted to trust in ourselves or others for our provision. This happens not only at an individual level, but also at a church level. I have seen pastors change church programming or receive gifts from significant givers that not only did the church not need, but in some cases, actually violated Scripture, to avoid offending and possibly losing this church member. When we show favoritism by responding to the requests (or demands) of a big giver because we are afraid of losing them (and their money), we are showing favoritism and not honoring God. No human giver can outgive our God. We must remember who our real provider is and be more concerned about offending Him – the one who owns everything – rather than worrying about offending a person, even one with significant resources.
2. It can cause those with much to think too highly of themselves.
When we show favoritism to those whose giving we don’t want to lose, we are, in practice, communicating to them that they are more critical to the church than others. When we make decisions to please them, or at least to keep from offending them, we allow our spiritual enemy to whisper to them, “This church needs you. Just think where they would be without you and your giving.” I’m not saying that those with significant material resources and who give a lot to the church all think this way. I am saying that choosing to show favoritism to them because of their considerable giving can offer them the opportunity to be tempted in this way.
3. It can cause those with few resources to think too little of themselves.
When favoritism is shown to those with significant financial wealth, those in the church with few resources can be tempted to think, “What difference can I make by giving the small amount I have?” Knowing that we can be prone to think this way, Jesus held up the example of a poor widow who gave all she had – two small coins – as a model for us to follow. Jesus said that that woman, because she gave all that she had, gave more than all the others who were giving much more significant sums of money. The principle here is the same one we see in 1 Samuel 16:7 – man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.
How do we avoid these pitfalls that favoritism can cause?
First, we remember who our actual provider is. When we remember that God is our true provider, our good and faithful Father who really loves His children, we will trust in Him to provide what we need rather than showing favoritism to those we think can “bail us out” if God doesn’t come through. Second, we champion obedience and faithfulness in giving rather than the amount provided. As I have heard Art Rainer say, “We challenge people toward proportional giving – equal sacrifice, not equal amounts.” When we pursue faithfulness, rather than favoritism, God will work in a way that is for our good and His glory.