Pastor David B. Curtis


The Sin of Partiality

James 2:1:13

Delivered 07/25/1999

Is there anybody here that has not heard that John F. Kennedy Jr. was killed in a plane crash last week? People die all the time in plane crashes why all the media attention over the death of John F. Kennedy Jr.? Why is it that thousands of people who never met him were going by his house to leave notes and flowers?

Have you asked yourself, "What if it had been me that was in that plane? If I died in a plane crash, would anybody care, would they search for me?" The death of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, Carolyn and her sister, Lauren Bessette was a tragic event. It is always sad to see young people die suddenly, unexpectedly. But why all the media attention over John's death? It's because he was famous (The son of a former president, a Kennedy), good looking (People magazine had dubbed him "the sexiest man alive), and he was rich (It is said that he was worth about 50 million dollars when he died). These are all things that, in our society, make one valuable. Had he not been famous, good looking, and rich, we would not have heard much about his death.

Our love for the rich and famous is nothing new. When the tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 was published in "The American", a New York newspaper, the article focused almost entirely upon John Jacob Astor, a millionaire who had drowned. Eighteen hundred other people drowned, but, typically, the world is only interested in the rich and famous.

The public doesn't care much about Joe Average, and, let's face it, most of us are just average people; but I want you to understand that God does! God cares about the little and seemingly insignificant people just as much as He does the "beautiful" people of society.

What is God like? How would you describe Him? The Bible tells us that He is Holy, Loving, Just, Wise, Omnipotent - all powerful, Omniscient - all knowing, Omnipresent - all of God is everywhere, Immutable - he never changes, Sovereign, Gracious, Merciful, and Faithful- just to name a few of His attributes.

One attribute of God that we don't hear much about is that He is Impartial. God is absolutely and totally impartial in dealing with people. I'm afraid it isn't so with us, we are very partial. We have a virtual cast system that is based on popularity, looks, race, social status, and wealth. But all of these are non-issues with God. A person's education, economic status, looks, clothes, social status, job, fame, prestige, and earthly honor all mean nothing to God.

Deuteronomy 10:17-20 (NKJV) "For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18 "He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. 19 "Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20 "You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast, and take oaths in His name.

God tells us that His is impartial and says that we are to also be impartial.

2 Chronicles 19:7 (NKJV) "Now therefore, let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes."

Because God is impartial, he calls His people to be impartial, and disciplines them when they are not:

Malachi 2:9 (NKJV) "Therefore I also have made you contemptible and base Before all the people, Because you have not kept My ways But have shown partiality in the law."

Because of Israel's partiality, God was disciplining them. The Scriptures repeatedly speak of God's impartiality. God is impartial in:

1. Salvation:

Speaking about God calling him to share the gospel with the Gentile, Cornelius, Peter said:

Acts 10:34-35 (NKJV) Then Peter opened his mouth and said: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 "But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

Peter perceived that God is impartial in the act of salvation. God doesn't care what race you are, or what your bank account is, or what your education level is, or you social standing. God calls all types of men and women to salvation.

1 Timothy 2:4 (NKJV) who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

In the context "all men" here, does not mean every single man, but all types of men.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NKJV) Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.

God saves all types of individuals; kings and common men, rich and poor, handsome and ugly.

2. Judgment:
Romans 2:8-11 (NKJV) but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness; indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God.

God judges the Jew as well as the Greek. He judges the slave and the master, the rich and the poor. God's standard is always the same, He judges on the basis of the heart:

1 Peter 1:15-17 (NKJV) but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy." 17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;

We tend to be very partial. We are impressed by people's cars, homes, clothes, jobs, degrees, and social standing. But none of these impress God, none of them. God judges simply and totally on the basis of our heart.

There is a vivid illustration of this in I Samuel 16. There was a time in the history of Israel when God rejected Saul as king and commissioned Samuel to anoint his successor. Samuel was led by the Lord to the family of Jesse. As he was looking at Jesse's sons, his eyes alighted upon Eliab, the eldest. Eliab must have been a very big, impressive, handsome young man, and Samuel thought, "Surely this must be the Lord's choice. He has all the marks of kingship about him." He should have learned from Saul that such was not necessarily the case, for Saul certainly had a stature befitting a king.

1 Samuel 16:6-7 (NKJV) So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, "Surely the Lord's anointed is before Him." 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

God is not interested in us because of what we have, and God is not disinterested in us because of what we lack.

Leviticus 19:15 (NKJV) 'You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.
Deuteronomy 1:16-17 (NKJV) "Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, 'Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him. 17 'You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man's presence, for the judgment is God's. The case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.'
Proverbs 24:23 (NKJV) These things also belong to the wise: It is not good to show partiality in judgment.

With all that in mind, let's look at James, chapter 2. James' theme is that living in obedience to God will save us from the damage that sin brings.

James 2:1 (NKJV) My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.

The word translated "partiality" is a Greek word prosopolepsia, it means: "to receive by face," i.e., to judge on the basis of some external or superficial factor-to judge a man by the color of his skin, or physical appearance, or the kind of clothes he wears, or the sort of academic credentials he carries, or his economic status. This is what James is talking about when he says, "Do not show partiality. Do not receive a man by face." We cannot judge a person on the basis of externals. Prosopolepsia is used a number of other times in the New Testament. But in every other case, God is the subject of the sentence and it is expressed negatively. "God does not show partiality." "God is not a respecter of persons." "God does not receive people by face." God doesn't judge by externals; he judges the heart.

You see, the people whom God draws to himself are not necessarily the tall, dark, and handsome. Many of them are the short, shot, and shapeless. He is not impressed by external features or factors. That is why James says it is inconsistent to hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and, at the same time, to show partiality. We just can't do it.

The way we behave toward people indicates what we really believe about God. We cannot, and dare not separate human relationships from divine fellowship:

1 John 4:20-21 (NKJV) If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

God is not a respecter of persons, and if Jesus Christ is Lord of our lives, then we cannot be respecters of persons either.

James goes on to give us an illustration of something that was taking place in the meetings of the believers at that time:

James 2:2-4 (NKJV) For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," 4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

James depicts a scene that apparently was occurring week after week. Two men might enter their assembly; one obviously well dressed and wealthy, the other quite shabby. The well-dressed man was given preferential treatment. He was very politely, cordially ushered to one of the best seats in the assembly while the shabbily dressed man was forced to stand or to sit under the footstool of someone else. James says that when you do that, you show partiality with evil motives.

The sort of judgment that James describes is wrong because we are judging with the wrong motive. We are trying to exalt ourselves, trying to further our own program. We want to associate with the wealthy, with people of status, because of what it does for us. But James says that we cannot carry on that type of judgment.

James explains why we are not to judge superficially and provides us with three clear reasons. The first, in verse 5, is that it is not in accord with the choice of God. The second is found in the latter part of verse 6; it is in accord with the conduct of the godless. The third is in verse 8; it is contrary to the command of Scripture. Let's look at them in more detail:

James 2:5-6 (NKJV) Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man....

"God has chosen the poor man," James writes, "but you have dishonored him." Isn't it obvious that God has chosen the poor? There are not any here this morning from among the rich and famous. The Greek verb James uses is in the middle voice. It means: "to choose for yourself." God has chosen the poor to sustain a loving relationship with him. He does not merely tolerate the poor. He has chosen them in order to pour himself out to them, to love them. And James says that we can do nothing less.

Do I have the right to reject someone whom God has chosen? Can I bar him from my church, exclude him from my home, and my table, and my friendship and love? I cannot. God has chosen the black people. He has chosen brown people. He has chosen white people. Can I exclude them? He never asked me whom to include in the church. He just chose them on the basis of his mercy and grace. He never inquired as to what I thought; he just chose them. Do I have any right to exclude them from my love? God chose the outcast of society. Can I exclude them?

"To dishonor the poor man", James says, "is to reject someone whom God has chosen." God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom. They are brothers.

God has chosen the poor, but the society in which we live rejects them and caters to the rich and famous. On Friday, July 23, 1999 there was an article in the Virginian-Pilot by JACK DORSEY, entitled, "Many Families Must Wait for Burials at Sea."

Nearly every week for the past four months, Michael Novak has called his mother in Virginia Beach from overseas asking if his father's remains have been buried at sea.

Michael is in the Merchant Marine, on a ship en route to Scotland this month. He can't figure out what's taking so long. ``He keeps asking if the Navy has sent Dad's flag home and has he been buried?'' Novak's mother, Joyce, said.

Howard Michael Novak, a Navy veteran of 27 years who retired as a lieutenant in 1969, died in January at a North Carolina nursing home. His last wish was to be buried at sea by the Navy. His former wife -- the couple was divorced -- said Thursday that she is angry that the Navy rushed the Norfolk-based destroyer, Briscoe, to the waters off Cape Cod to be used in burial-at-sea ceremonies for John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and sister-in-law. ``For the last four months the Navy has been telling me no ships were available because all of them were in Yugoslavia, or in a shipyard,'' she said.``But here they pick up JFK (Jr.) yesterday morning and buried him this morning, and they take another Navy ship up there to do it. It's just very upsetting."

There are 36 remains being cared for by the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, which is awaiting a ship to bury them at sea, the Navy said. Five, including Novak's, have been there since April.

There is no question about it, the world plays favorites. Society, as a whole, is a respecter of persons. But God is not, and we, as His children, are not to be, either.

The second reason James says that we must not judge on the basis of superficial factors is that to do so is to ally ourselves with the conduct of the godless:

James 2:6b-7 (NKJV) .... not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

It is a matter of historical records that wealthy Jewish overlords were oppressing the poverty-stricken Christians of this time. People had lost their jobs, their businesses were being boycotted, some had lost everything and were destitute, and they were being hounded by the wealthy Jews in the community. James says that if we oppress the poor or if we judge them by their poverty, we ally ourselves with those who blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ. Because that is the way the world, the unbelieving world, looks at others. They oppress them, they exploit them, they are guilty of injustice. But James says that we can't do that. We can't oppress them; we must serve them. We must not drag them into court; we should be willing to be defrauded, if necessary, rather than to do that. We must glorify the name of Jesus Christ by our impartial actions toward them.

The third reason that we cannot judge superficially is that it is a violation of the command of Scripture:

James 2:8 (NKJV) If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well;

The royal law is the law of the King, the law of love, and if we are fulfilling the royal law, then we are doing well. That is, if your preferential treatment of a wealthy man is because you really love him and are seeking to meet his needs, then you do well.

James 2:9 (NKJV) but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

"Everything that we do", James says, "ought to be controlled by the law of love." This is the law that sums up all the Old Testament laws: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength . . . and your neighbor as yourself." That ought to govern every action. That is the motive which ought to distinguish us as believers.

Love is difficult to define. In the New Testament, God directs us to look at himself, or to look at his Son, if we want to see what love is. John says, "This is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins." That is what love is-it is the giving of yourself. Paul says, in Ephesians 5, that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. That is the nature of the love that we receive from Jesus Christ. It isn't dependent upon the lovableness of the people who are the objects of that love, nor upon any external feature which would naturally draw us to them. It is apart from all that.

A young student wrote this poem. It's called, "Paul's Girl."

Paul's girl is rich and haughty;

My girl is poor as clay.

Paul's girl is young and pretty;

My girl looks like a bale of hay.

Paul's girl is smart and clever;

My girl is dumb, but good.

But would I trade my girl for Paul's?

You bet your life I would!

That is the kind of love we too often display. If the object of our love is young, and pretty, and clever, then she just naturally evokes a response of love. But what if the object looks like a bale of hay? Do you see what James is saying? If Jesus is Lord of our lives, then there will be a change in our lives. He will be our source of love. And we will be motivated by that source of love to reach out toward other people--even if they're not "our kind of people", even if they don't wear the right clothes, or aren't one of the "beautiful" people, or don't have the kind of background we would prefer. We love them anyway.

Verses 10 and 11 are directed toward our tendency to rationalize:

James 2:10-11 (NKJV) For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

Our tendency is to say, "But, James, I may be guilty of discriminating against certain types of people, but I've never been a murderer or an adulterer. How can you call me a lawbreaker?" James says that if you break any of the law, you become a transgressor of all of it. And in James' eyes, it is just as serious to be discriminatory toward others as it is to be a murderer or an adulterer. It really makes no difference. The law is like a pane of glass; if you break part of it, you break it all. And if there is in our lives this sort of prejudicial attitude toward people, if we are sitting in judgment on people because of the way they look or because they don't meet our expectations, James says that we have broken the whole law, we are transgressors, and it is really no different in God's eyes than being an adulterer or an adulteress, or a murderer.

James now comes to his conclusion:

James 2:12 (NKJV) So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.

The standard for speech and action is the knowledge of a sure accountability. Throughout this letter, James is warning his readers of the temporal judgment that sin brings. The literal Greek reads, "Speak and act as those about to be judged." James says we must act as people who are held accountable for our actions. He goes on to say:

James 2:13 (NKJV) For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Mercy is the outward manifestation of pity and compassion toward the misery of another. It looks not at what a man deserves, but what he needs. If we don't show mercy, we won't receive mercy. This is not talking about eternal judgment, but temporal judgment because of our sin. If we want God to treat us with mercy, we must show mercy toward others.

Our difficulty lies not in understanding this text, but in applying it.

Romans 15:5-7 (NKJV) Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.

How did Christ receive us? Without partiality! We are to receive one an other the same way. If you are partial, if you accept or reject people on the basis of the outward, you are not walking in love.

Our media and culture may focus on the rich and famous, but God does not, and neither should we. As believers, let's strive to deal with the sin of partiality in our lives that we may live lives that honor God and reflect His character.

Media #113b

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