By Mike Willis
Justice demands that judgments be made impartially, treating or affecting all men equally. What is expected of one man is expected of all men. One does not look upon the outward circumstances of a person (for example, the race, religion, or sex) in determining whether or not he has violated the law, should be allowed to cat in a restaurant, should be qualified to run for office, etc. Black Americans were given equal standing before the law only by protest, court decisions, federal interventions, and other influences. Social attitudes gradually have been adjusted to accept equal housing, non-discrimination with reference to jobs, equal access to public facilities, and other matters in which respect of persons was being shown. I am grateful for the improvements which have been made, although I was not always in agreement with the methods used to bring about those improvements.
We are grateful to live in a country which tries to administer justice and provides services for all men without respect of persons. We can be more thankful that our God is-a God who does not accept a man’s person based on his outward circumstances in life. Our God is an impartial God. He is not the God of Calvinism who gives preferential treatment to the “elect.”
God Is No Respecter Of Persons
The early church had to learn that God is no respecter of persons. They had to learn the lesson that both Jew and Gentile stand on an equality before God. Peter discovered this lesson and spoke to the Gentile Cornelius, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). Paul wrote, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Rom. 10:12).
The Great Commission was sent to every creature of every nation of the whole world (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Lk. 24:47). This was a revolutionary concept to the Jew who considered Samaritans and Gentiles to be “dogs.” Most of us do not appreciate how revolutionary Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 was to the first century Jew; he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither mate nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
God Forbade Respect of Persons In Civil Judgments
In the Old Testament law of Moses, God specifically forbade judges showing respect of persons in the administration of the law. Moses wrote, “Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s” (Deut. 1:17). Showing respect of persons perverted justice, which the law forbade. “Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous” (Deut. 16:19; cf. Prov. 24:23; 28:21; Lev. 19:15; Job 13:10).
The Lord Forbade Respect Of Persons In The Church
The church functions in a society which has racial, social, and other differences. The church cannot create disruption in that society by political revolution. However, within the church, all such distinctions must be laid aside. James condemned showing partiality to the rich over the poor.
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves and are become judges of evil thoughts? (Jas. 2:14)
What is described by James I have witnessed, not on the basis of money, but on the basis of race. When white brethren used to attend black brethren’s meetings, the black brethren invited us to sit in their best pews; when the black brethren visited the white brethren’s meetings, they were given the back pews. We were more influenced by the world than by the word in our treatment of black brethren. We rejoice that these days are behind us.
Nevertheless, not all respect of persons has disappeared among us. We tend to think that more has been accomplished when a doctor, lawyer, or other prominent business man has been converted than when an assembly line worker at some plant has been baptized. Some churches have tended to select prominent business men (who may not be spiritual leaders) to serve as elders, emphasizing the business aspects of the church affairs over spiritual leadership.
Respect of Persons Should Not Be Shown In Exercising Discipline
Paul emphasized that church discipline should be administered without respect of persons. Writing regarding the elders in the local church, he said, “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality” (1 Tim. 5:19-21).
An elder must have won the respect and esteem of the congregation before he can be appointed to serve. Now this elder,,has been found guilty of sin. What,,should be done? The apostle commanded that he be treated just like any other member who is guilty of sin.
Unfortunately, church discipline is sometimes not administered even handedly. The sins of one man may be overlooked because he is the son of a prominent member, while those of another are quickly dealt with. Parents sometimes show respect of persons toward their own children, especially in the realm of church discipline. If you doubt this is true, volunteer to go with those who rebuke a wayward child and watch the reaction of the parents. Parents who can see clearly to support church discipline toward other members sometimes lose their vision with reference to their own children. If these parents are allowed to dominate church affairs, church discipline will be administered poorly, without impartiality.
False Teachers Must Be Rebuked Without Showing Respect of Persons
False teaching must be rebuked without respect of persons. This was demonstrated in Galatians 2 with reference to whether or not circumcision was essential for salvation. Jewish brethren were demanding that Gentiles be circumcised in order to be saved. Those holding this position were “of reputation” (2:2); they “seemed to be somewhat” (2:6). The “truth of the gospel” was at stake (2:5). Paul’s attitude was this: “whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepted no man’s person” (2:6). Therefore, he contended for the truth of the gospel, even though he had to oppose those who were highly esteemed in the church.
The issue came to a showdown at Antioch. Peter was preaching in Antioch, participating in table fellowship with Gentiles, until certain Jews from Jerusalem arrived in Antioch. When they came, Peter withdrew from the Gentile Christians and even Barnabas was influenced by Peter’s hypocrisy. There was probably no man in the early church more influential than Peter when this occurred. Read of Paul’s conduct toward him on this occasion:
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? (Gal. 2:11-14)
Paul was not influenced by the stature of Peter to ignore his false teaching and hypocritical conduct. Criticism from faithful brethren (such as, “Paul is just trying to make a name for himself”) did not stop him from confronting Peter. He saw the impact of Peter’s teaching and example upon other Christians. The very fact that Peter was the one guilty of the false teaching and sin made the situation that much more critical. He would influence others much more than some lesser known and respected brother would influence them.
From Paul’s example, we learn that false teaching much be opposed without respect of persons. If the most influential man of our day is teaching something which is false, he must be opposed. Our allegiance is to Christ and the truth of the gospel, not to some man, paper, or school. The very fact that the man teaching the false doctrine is highly respected and influential necessitates that he be opposed to stop the spread of the false doctrine in order “that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.”
One of the most refreshing attributes of my brethren is their allegiance to the truth. My assessment of my brethren is that they are committed to the truth, not to this paper, a school, or some man. If my brethren can be shown that some man is teaching a false doctrine, they will oppose that man and his false doctrine regardless of what his stature may be. They will oppose that false doctrine regardless of whom they may be standing against. If they must stand alone in defense of the truth, they will stand because their commitment is to the truth, not the man.
I am thankful that I have brethren who are even handed in their rebuke of sin and error. Their even handedness is one of the things that God uses to keep me in the pathway of righteousness. If and when I stumble into sin and/or teach false doctrine, these brethren will call me back to the way of truth and righteousness that my soul may be saved from damnation (Jas. 5:19-20). They are not of the number who are so afraid of hurting my feelings that they pat me on the back, tell me what a great man I am, and sit in silence while my sin leads me to damnation. I am grateful for the spiritual brethren who care enough for my soul to rebuke my sin (Gal. 6:1). These spiritual, godly brethren are willing to withstand criticism from my “friends” in order to save my soul. May God increase their number and strengthen their hands.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 22, pp. 674, 693-694
November 17, 1988