Have you ever felt as though you were less valuable than someone else? We all experience it at some point. A coworker might be praised while no thanks is given to you, despite the two of you sharing the workload. Or what about when you are disrespected by a loved one in front of your friends? Or what about when you were in school and the playground bully made you the low man on the totem pole? These are all moments when our pride is hurt by indignation, humiliation, and a distinct sense of shame. In all of it, we believe instinctively, “this isn’t fair!”
As often as we experience favoritism in our life, it always stands out uniquely in families. Have you ever felt that your parents have had a “favorite”? This is a struggle felt by countless children and we have a responsibility as parents to honestly address this issue. Let’s look to God’s Word for the most poignant example of this situation I can think of.
“Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.”Genesis 37:3-4 ESV
Here is a recipe for disaster: a father has favored one child over his siblings. Israel loved Joseph more than his brothers; so much so that he gifted Joseph with a special and high-quality garment. The implication being that the high-quality garment was to be carefully worn and so Joseph was being given lighter duties than his brothers.
Imagine the emotions of these brothers. Many children can relate to the sensation of partiality in the family. Cinderella was worked harder and appreciated less than the wicked stepsisters. Joseph was particularly favored and given light duties while his brothers labored hard. If Israel had still managed to appreciate the brothers openly and offer words of affirmation and gracious rewards, perhaps they would not have reacted so harshly to his favoritism. But the reality must be that Israel not only favored Joseph with the gift of this coat, but with constant words of affirmation for minor accomplishments. Meanwhile, Israel probably ignored or belittled the accomplishments of the other brothers and chastised them more harshly for their mistakes.
By and large, Israel was not doing a standup job as a father. Partiality is a dangerous condition in a family. Favoritism says, “You have more value to me than your brother”. Biblical love says, “You and your brother are immeasurably valuable by virtue of God’s image”.
Indeed, favoritism is not love at all, but idolatry itself. It elevates one creature over another. The fruit of such idolatry can be incredibly harmful.
“But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.”Genesis 37:4 ESV
In a Christian family, children are to be treated lovingly and gently as image-bearers; as such, parents are to speak peacefully to their children and vice versa. But the story of Israel, Joseph and his brothers is a sad one; due to Israel’s favoritism, Joseph’s brothers hated their sibling. In hating him, they could not even speak peacefully to him. They couldn’t even have a kind conversation; perhaps the most they could offer toward him was apathetic silence.
Remember how Jesus said that it’s basically better for us to be drowned then to lead a child to stumble? What better example of ‘causing a child to stumble’ is there than provoking some of your children to hate one of their siblings because of your favoritism?
Look at the ultimate result of favoritism: these men went so far as to literally ‘sell out’ their brother. They faked his death and got rid of him for a little silver. The sold their brother to a life of slavery because they prioritized their own gain over their flesh and blood, whom they did not love. Reminiscent of anyone?
“Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.”Matthew 26:14-15 ESV
Twelve brothers before God; twelve disciples before Jesus. One man betrayed and sold into slavery, abandoned by his brothers; one Messiah betrayed to death by a disciple and abandoned by the rest. The sin of Joseph’s brothers was the same sin as Judas Iscariot. And I don’t just mean “greed” – I mean “hate”. Violence, selfishness and hatred; these are antithetical to Christlike love.
In Joseph’s brothers, we see clearly the danger of favoritism. Israel loved his son – so much so that his love transformed into idolatry. And his mistake impacted the heart of his sons, even leading them astray as adults.
Brothers and sisters, let us guard our hearts. Let us love and valiantly cherish our babies… but let us never fall into the trap of favoritism. And let us view our actions, not through our own eyes, but through the eyes of our children.
In all, may God give us the grace and love to succeed!