For most people, it started honestly when we were tiny human beings.  Parents, relatives and baby-sitters spoke to us in high voices with a ridiculous smile on their face. They affirmed us, held us and gave affection.  

We developed attachments to these caregivers and still bond to people who express admiration toward us. Approval is a potent drug.  Its effect is stimulating and in small doses lead to good health.  But an over-dependence on the approval of others can lead to horrible side effects.

We all have people that we admire.  Someone has a social strength, exceptional skill or high standing and we are impressed by them.  It’s fair to say that most of us want others to notice us, too.  But can a healthy need for approval turn into something demoralizing?

In his book ‘Sports Law’, Simon Gardiner wrote this:

The desire to win is so great that people sometimes lose the concept of right and wrong due to being single-minded driven individuals.  Sometimes it is very difficult to view life as a whole, as sports goals for the obsessed individual are the only true tangible goal.  It can totally dominate your life and effectively shut out any vision of the world beyond. 
An example of this mindset was the results of a poll performed by Gabe Mirkin M.D., author of The Sports Medicine Book.  He is a devoted runner and in the early 1980s polled more than a hundred top runners and asked them this question, “If I could give you a pill that would make you an Olympic champion and also kill you in a year, would you take it?”  Mirkin reported that more than half the athletes he asked responded that yes, they would take the pill.[i]

When it comes to right and wrong, how can the desire for approval and accomplishment skew our lives in the church?  In the first century Jerusalem congregation, James wrote about a derriere-smooching attitude that still prevails in churches everywhere.

James 2:  (NIV)
 1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James is the leader of the church and speaks to his friends as ‘believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ’. Jesus is described as glorious.  He alone is stunning, powerful and worth admiring.  If we value Jesus Christ above all others, we will recognize him mystically present in the people assembled to worship Him.  Jesus saves us from the world of false values.

Apparently, the church gathering was open to rich and poor alike.  And favoritism was a problem worth mentioning. 

William Barclay wrote:

The more ostentatious of the ancients wore rings on every finger except the middle one, and wore far more than one on each finger. They even hired rings to wear when they wished to give an impression of special wealth [ii]

The unjust pretense here is considering fine clothing and wealth to be marks of good character, while those who lack be thought of as having poor character.  Financial ability gets you a better seat and socio-economic caste systems give you a guide to the worth of people. 

James 2:  (NIV)
 5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

When people are preferential toward the rich, they become oppressive toward the poor.  We applaud Jesus’ warnings to the rich until we have a chance to get in good with them.  What are we hoping to gain from the rich?  Are they generous and going to improve our social standing?  Are they going to help us become like them?

A lasting reality through time is the deceitfulness of riches.  James referred to exploitation and profiteering off the poor.  All such behavior slanders Jesus whom we claim to follow and humbly serve.

As John Calvin put it, "Why should a man honour his executioners and at the same time injure his friends?"[iii]

[i] Simon Gardiner, Sports Law (Cavendish Publishing), p.288
[ii] William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 64.
[iii] Quoted by A. F. Harper, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. X (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 211.