What does partiality mean? What if, as a member of a church, I feel more comfortable with a certain group of people than with others, spending more time with one set of people and not so much with other, is that showing partiality? Could you please explain this to me?
Partiality is not compatible with faith in Jesus Christ
The apostle James explains the following in his epistle:
1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. (James 2)
Why does God teach us this in His Holy Scriptures? The answer is also found in the Bible:
17 “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. 18 “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. (Deut. 10)
If God does not show partiality,
17 If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (I Peter 1)
We must be impartial because God is impartial. In order to take action against the evil practice of partiality, we must first define what it is and what it is not.
What partiality is.
We all know that the best way to understand an important idea or truth is through practical examples and what is why James uses a specific example to show what partiality is. In order for us to understand partiality better, James wrote the following:
2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” (James 2)
According to this example, partiality is shown when we give favor to one person over another based on the exterior qualities that we see and paying no attention to the interior qualities such as the person’s character or actions. Partiality is a sin among Christians, often manifested during worship services.
What partiality is not.
How could the brothers have acted differently in the previous example? It is very clear from the text that the poor man entered the church first, coming in poorly dressed and sitting down to hear God’s Word. The rich people came later, maybe even after the service had already begun. The members of the church quickly got up to greet and usher the rich people to good seats because of the “fine clothes” that they were wearing. Instead of bending over backwards for the rich people, they should have made the connection between the rich and the poor. Maybe the reason that the poor man is so poor and poorly dressed is because he reaped the rich man’s field yet the rich man did not pay him. If the poor man would have been paid for his work, he may have been able to go and buy some newer clothes before going to worship. Also, the one who showed partiality to the rich man should have thought about “how” the rich man was able to afford the fine clothes and jewelry, because he withheld payment to the poor man who came to church poorly dressed. Also, the Christian brother should have thought about the fact that this same rich man was also dragging people to court and ruining the name of Christ which also Christians wear. If the brothers would have realized all of these things then they would not have been so quick to offer the rich man the honor that they did. By doing this, the rich man would probably leave thinking, “man, what idiots these Christians are, they work and receive no pay from me, I take them to court and take advantage of them yet when I enter their worship service, they bend over backwards to offer me honor and privileged and give another punch in the gut to the poor man who has already been taken advantage of.” Partiality is an evil that encourages more evil and discourages the righteous from continuing on in doing good and enduring evil.
What are some specific cases of showing partiality?
All of the believers are chosen by God to inherit the Kingdom that God promised to those who love Him. God distinguishes between people differently that the criteria of this world. James explains how God views those who are poor according to the world’s standards:
5 Listen, my beloved brethren : did not God choose 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. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court ? (James 2)
How do they dishonor the poor man? Because “God chooses the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him” and they are focusing on the rich, exterior qualities of a person, instead of focusing on God’s criteria. The “brethren” seem to want the riches of this world that the rich man owns instead of seeking the things God values. The rich man did not have wealth to be swindled out of so he was set aside on the floor. They valued money and possessions over the value of a man. This is how you dishonor people with your evil thoughts, when you do not value the person as a creation of God, but instead you value what you can get out of that person.
This kind of reversal in values causes people to stop having mercy toward other, another subject James later covers in chapter 2 of his epistle. James goes on to explain why God judges without mercy those who lived without mercy. They did not show mercy to the poor, adding misery to his plate that was already full of misery.
When I taught a session of Inductive Bible Study Institute in one of the countries where Christians are heavily persecuted, one of the students, a sister in the Lord, said the following. She explained how she had worked so hard to get humanitatian aide from an organization in Switzerland to provide food and medicine for the children in her city who suffered with TB.
These children lived in sin, the same way their parents did, committing acts of crime such as murder and thievery. Because of their crimes, they ended up in prison and where they contracted TB. They are hospitalized for a short time, long enough for them to die. In fact, that is the purpose of them being in the hospital, to die there instead of in prison. Since this sister in Christ did not show partiality to anyone, she wanted to help these children even though they were the lowest class of society. She did all that she could to comfort them. The ward manager asked this sister to bring the medicines and food to him so that he could “distribute” it all to the patients. In fact, his desire was to pilfer through and take all of the best food and medicine for himself and if anything was left, give that to the children. She insisted on administering the medication directly and told the doctor that she would leave what was left over with him. Since he did not value the lives of the children, he opposed all her activities and refused to accept the food and medicine. This sweet sister was so grieved and was in tears when she joined us in the Bible study class. We all prayed that God would soften this man’s heart heart and cause him to have mercy on the children. Or, if he would not show mercy, then we prayed that God would remove him from the situation so that the kids could be cared for. This is an example of a person who has no mercy and show partiality and I would like to compare it to God, who is not partial and has chosen the poor and weak of this world to be rich in the kingdom of heaven. God values the life of every man so much . . .
16 . . . that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
As long as we do not understand the love of God, we will continue to show partiality which manifests itself clearly in the following ways . . .
Some of the effects of being partiality
I do not know how many of you have been put down unjustly. A practical example would be when you expect someone to stand up and defend you and that person ends up putting you down instead. The poor brother expected to be shown mercy at church, of all places, since he was not shown mercy anywhere else. He ended up being put down by the people who should have shown him the most mercy. Can you imagine what this man felt like as he went home? Just place yourself in his shoes for just one moment. The rich man does have a Defender, who says the following via the Holy Scriptures:
25 “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. 26 “If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, 27 for that is his only covering ; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious. (Exodus 22)
If you are partial to the rich and put down the poor then realize that God sees and will intervene on behalf of the poor man and make you give an account for your actions.
Also, another consequence of putting down the poor is that you exalt the rich.
6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court ? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called ? (James 2)
In other words, you encourage the person who mocks you, your brothers, and the name of Christ to continue on doing what he has been doing. Every where they go in this world, they are honored and given high positions and no one confronts them of their evil actions. They need to be confronted and done so according to the Word of God. James directly confronts them several times in his short epistle.
Let us not put down the poor and exalt the rich because if we do this we then break the golden rule. The brothers in the church believed that they were keeping the gold rule, “love others as yourself” yet they were not. Who among us would like to be put down and oppressed when going through difficult times and situations? Who among us would like to be encouraged in our arrogance instead of being confronted at the right time?
Jesus exemplified this golden rule when He told the story of the Good Samaritan. A man was robbed and beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Neither the Levite nor the priest stopped to help this man. They would never consider themselves equals with robbers yet they placed themselves in the same category when they overlooked the bleeding man. I do not think the Levite or the priest would like to be beaten and robbed. Moreover, if they would have been in the place of the beaten man, they would not want to be passed over by people who did not care.
James wants us to understand that sin is not characterized only by our words and deeds. It is also characterized by our attitudes toward others. Showing partiality is a sin because it deals with a wrong attitude toward others. It is a violation of God’s law and God will judge and condemn those who have such an attitude.
James explains why showing partiality to others is condemned by God with the following conclusions.
10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. (James 2)
If you are driving a car and you obey all of the laws of driving and have been doing so since you started driving yet run one red light and get caught then you have broken the law and will be fined. It does not matter how many times you did not break the law. What matters is that you broke it once and are guilty. James uses this thinking when he presents 2 of the 10 commandments to make his point.
10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (James 2)
All this shows that partiality is a sin and the one who practices it will be judged and condemned by God.
What is the solution to stop partiality?
We find the answer in verse 13 of chapter 2.
13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy ; mercy triumphs over judgment. (James)
In Chapter 1, James calls the Word of God the law of liberty, because when you are not just a forgetful hearer of the Word, but look intently in to perfect law which is law of liberty and continue in it, not being a forgetful hearer but a doer, it builds good character in you and makes you satisfied with life.
In this passage, James teaches us that God will judge us according to His Word, the same Word through which He teaches us not to be partial. This judgment has no mercy on those who show no mercy by being partial to the rich and oppressing the poor. The person who shows mercy to the poor and is not partiality will overcome God’s wrath and judgment. So, we need to be careful how we talk to others and how we serve them. May the Lord help us that our actions and words flow from the mercy we have received from God and that He has shown to us.
Let us take a look at Jesus’ example of not showing partiality. This has happened when …
36 . . . one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner ; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A moneylender had two debtors : one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 “When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more ?” 43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman ? I entered your house ; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 “You gave Me no kiss ; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 “You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much ; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins ?” 50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7)
After reading this story, I realized that showing partiality is a true disregard for the value of human life. You disregard the things which God values. This woman, even though she was a sinner, she came to Jesus to seek forgiveness and she was forgiven. On the other hand, the people who considered themselves “righteous” like Simon, ignored the forgiveness that Christ had to offer as well as this woman’s sincere repentance. May the Lord help us to see people the way that He does!
Translation by: Erik Brewer