Favor is a popular term in modern Christianity. We hear it in songs and sermons. We share it in inspirational social media post. I used to be that weird country preacher that refused to jump on board every bandwagon of “relevant” ministry. Now that I am Orthodox, I would rather ride a Greyhound bus from New York to LA than the wave of any popular catchwords or phrases. In my Wednesday morning reading, I couldn’t help but to see how the pursuit of “favor” from God falls woefully short of seeking His mercy.
Out of sheer curiosity, I broke out my Strong’s Bible Concordance and found that the term “favor” appears a whopping six times in the New Testament. Luke used the term in his version of the Gospel to describe how John the Baptist and Jesus grew up. He used it four times to describe the relationship between the early Christians and those around them in Acts. Not once does Jesus, Paul, nor any other epistle write describe favor as something worthy of being obtained or necessary to live as a Christian. It is something good to have as it does give peace in mind and a sense of security. But, “favor” is not the mark of the Christian according to the One whom we follow:
If any man would come after Me, let him humble himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.
“But what about the Old Testament? Surely God wants us to have favor in the Old Testament.” Here the term is used about 56 times. In several places, the favor comes from an earthly king and not God. Also, the wise Solomon suggest that favor can be misused as well. Furthermore, I find this rationale most disturbing as the revelation of our salvation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church, is not found in the Old Testament. To try to use a term in the Old Testament as superior to the way it is used in the Gospels is an abuse of the scriptures and a denial of the significance of Incarnate God. If this is your line of thought, for your own spiritual health, you should consider changing it.
In comparison, “mercy” is the greater goal both in the usage of the term and significance in Christian life. This word appears 58 times in the New Testament (about 200 times in the OT). For those who consider the “favor” to be a blessing, please consider the Beatitude:
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Having a house that people say you can’t afford, a job that you don’t have the education for, or some other form of “ain’t fair favor” does not cross the lips of Jesus as being a blessing. Having compassion to those who are broken, confused, disturbed, lost, rebellious, … ; this is the one who is blessed. We all fall into one of these conditions from time to time. Sometimes we fall into multiple conditions at the same time. Jesus teaches here what He repeats as the “Golden Rule” of this great sermon:
Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.
When challenged about eating with tax collectors and other sinners in the house of Matthew, Jesus offers this rebuke from the prophet Hosea:
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
To follow Jesus is to desire everything He desires. If He never mentions “favor” but clearly defines “mercy” as what He wants from us, why should we listen to preachers and singers and read books and social media post about a barely mentioned term instead of this requirement that appears in the New Testament some 9 times more often? To mention “favor” in worship and fail to call upon Christ for “mercy,” or to call upon the former more often than the later is spiritual malpractice. Such doctrine and teaching is producing Christians who are in the faith for what Jesus can give them in this world rather than how we are to prepare ourselves for the next. If and when such believers fail to get the “favor” they seek, they wander from ministry to ministry seeking it. They tend to blame themselves for not being a part of the right man or woman of God as the reason for not receiving their breakthrough. They will patiently wait for what they want and in not getting it, they will put some sort of spin on why they don’t have it (“It isn’t my season yet). Or, they eventually give up on Christianity all together. The differences between such a false concept of our faith and an Islamic terrorist is that the Muslim does his job more quickly and only kills the body. The empty pursuit of favor is killing souls and creating walking dead Christians.
Don’t take my word for it. Get your concordance and look up “favor” and “mercy.” See which one is used most often and why. Favor from God is not a bad thing to have. But, don’t sell your walk with Jesus short. As I heard from a priest last weekend, “You cannot be a Christian without mercy.”