The Sin of Partiality

By Bobby L. Graham

In James 2:8, 9 the Lord has shown us that impartiality toward all is His will. The royal law of love for neighbor is equally applicable to the poor, the downtrodden, and the neglected. We must love them all and cannot afford to show partiality, for such respect of persons is defined in this passage to be sin and renders us transgressors of Divine law with the murderers, adulterers, and thieves of earth. Partiality is a respectable sin to many people, but God abhors it: He condemned powerful King David, the rich young ruler, and his own wicked priests (Nadab and Abihu) as quickly as He does the unlettered, the powerless, and the insignificant slave. In Jesus Christ there are no national, social, or sex distinctions as regarding worth: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is nether male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). All are the same before God. Partiality is more serious in God’s sight, more prevalent among church members, and more detrimental in its effects than we might think. It has caused people to lose interest in Christ and the gospel. Have you been responsible for such?

The Impartiality of God

The Bible portrays God as impartial. Deuteronomy 10:19 declares that God “regards not persons nor takes rewards.” Job 34:19 says of God that He “accepts not the person of princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor.” Matthew 4:45 indicates that He sends the physical blessings of rain and sunshine upon all, the evil and the just. In Acts 10:34, 35, Peter extolled God’s fairness in accepting all who fear God and work righteousness, whatever nation be theirs. In Romans 10:12, we learn that there is no difference with God between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich unto all who call upon Him. James 3:17 shows that the wisdom from above, is without partiality. 1 Peter 1:17 pictures God as judging without respect of persons according to every man’s work. Such a portrait ought to impress us with God’s will for His spiritual offspring.

Partiality Forbidden

In God’s dealings with Israel the Old Testament stressed, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment; thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness thou shall judge thy neighbor” (Lev. 19:15). Malachi reproved the priests of his time for being “partial in the law” (Mal. 2:9).

Impartiality is also a New Testament principle. According to James 3:13, 17, the wise man, endued with knowledge, will show his works out of his good manner of life with meekness of wisdom, a trait of which is impartiality. Elders and deacons must be impartial in their determination of which men to use, in decisions of whom to help, and in the exercise of corrective discipline. Bible class teachers ought to show impartiality in their treatment of their students; preachers in their selection of lessons and forming of friendships; and all Christians in their encouragement, visiting, hospitality, help, and general treatment of others.

Three Areas of Biblical Applicaton

God’s Word makes specific application of the principle of impartiality to the areas of love, treatment of those in the assembly, and selection of workers in the church. In love, we must strive to be complete (not lacking) in love for both friend and foe, just as our heavenly Father is (Matt. 5:43-48). It is in this way that Jesus challenges His disciples to be “perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” What about your love, friend? Do you love even those who have mistreated you, slandered your name, or failed to love you? This is the zenith of love, demonstrated in God’s willingness to send Jesus to die for a rebellious people (1 Jn. 4:10, 11). Jesus’ teaching instructs us to love an enemy – that is, to show good will based on his worth and dignity; to do good – that is, to act for his good, not his hurt; and to pray for him, appealing to God for him to have a tender heart, for the two of you to be reconciled, for his physical and spiritual good, and for his eternal salvation. How impartial are you in love for your enemies?

In James 2:1-9 the principle of impartiality is applied to the attention and consideration given to people in the congregational gatherings. It isfeared that too much attention is sometimes given to preachers or to prominent members. Only the preachers are used in some churches for prayers. The word “brother,” denoting spiritual kinship, is regularly applied to preachers, but other male members often have to settle for “mister” and the preacher’s wife with “Mrs.” Many are fawning toward the rich, the powerful, the famous, the educated, or the best dressed. The amount of time given to these, the remarks made about them, the use made of them in public ways is often enough to nauseate fair-minded peple. Such was the case with Pat Boone in the ’50s and ’60s.

In the selection of elders and deacons and teachers, impartiality should guide our efforts. The elite have no priority with God, nor do the less conspicuous. The spiritual credentials make a difference with Him. The same context (1 Tim. 5:20, 21) emphasizes fairness in the condemnation of sin. Heinous sins or sins of the less powerful are sometimes severely denounced, while the “respectable” sins of the mighty (gossip, social drinking, materialism, and worldliness) are ignored. Brethren, we ought to be ashamed, for herein we, unlike our Father and our Example, have shown respect of persons.

All persons desirous of pleasing God and being like Christ will purpose to eliminate respect of persons from their lives. Remember that God respects character, not persons.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 8, pp. 233, 244
April 18, 1985