James – Practicing Faith – 02 (“The Sin of Partiality”)(“The Sin of Partiality”)
1. SCRIPTURE READING:
James 2:1-13 (ESV) ~“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honourable name by which you were called? If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
“It is told that John Wesley once dreamed that he was at the gates of hell. He knocked and asked, ‘Are there any Roman Catholics here?’ ‘Yes, many,’ was the reply. ‘Any Church of England men?’ ‘Yes, many.’ ‘Any Presbyterians?’ ‘Yes, many.’ ‘Any Wesleyans here?’ ‘Yes, many.’ Disappointed and dismayed, especially at the last reply, he turned his steps upward and found himself at the gates of paradise. Here he repeated the same questions: ‘Any Wesleyans here?’ ‘No.’ ‘Whom have you, then, here?’ he asked in astonishment. ‘We do not know of any here which you have named. The only name of which we know anything here is ‘Christian’”(Source: Unknown).
3. THE SIN OF PARTIALITY:
James starts this part of his letter by addressing his brothers in Christ. Brothers in this case referred to the men in the household of God. Good evidence exists that believing Jews at the time of Jesus frequently referred to themselves as brothers ~ “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day”(Acts 2:29). From the beginning it seemed natural for Jewish Christians to call each other “brothers”(that is, “siblings”)- the term included both male and female. Members of gentile religious communities also called each other brothers, so the name found a home in the gentile churches as well.
In fact, along with “disciple” (in Acts) and “saint” (always plural in the writings of Paul and the book of Revelation), it was one of the most popular names for Christians and the only one used in James and 1 John. Each Christian was called “brother,” and the Christians collectively were “the brothers.” The name stressed the intimacy of the Christian community. That is, the relationship of believers to one another was as close as that of blood kin. The title brother points to equality among members of the Christian community.
We see in 2:1 that he is not only calling them “brothers,” but he also calls them ~ “…men that hold to the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
James is not beating around the bush, because he immediately, after addressing them as brothers in Christ who is holding to their faith in Christ, tells them not to show any partiality. This is a similar point that Paul made in 1 Tim.5:21 ~ “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.”
What does the word “partiality”or “favouritism”mean? We could define it as follows: “Partiality is the unfair treatment of a person or group in preference to another. Favouritism is shown in Scripture as causing division both in the family and in the church. It is warned against in the administration of justice. The human tendency to partiality is contrasted with God’s impartial dealings.”
In the original text (Greek)the word that is used here, is προσωπολημψία (“prosopolepsia”)and it literally means, “to make unjust distinctions between people by treating one person better than another – ‘to show favouritism’ (Louw-Nida).
We find several instances in the Word of God where people showed partiality towards certain people and we can divide these examples in different categories:
First, we find partiality, in…
- Family Life:We read in Genesis about partiality in Isaac’s household ~ “Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob”(Gen.25:28).
Secondly, we find partiality in church relationships.
- Church Relationships:“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution”(Acts 6:1). We also find a warning that partiality is not allowed in the justice system.
- Justice System:“But you have dishonoured the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?” (James 2:6).
In contrast to this, we see in Job 34:19 that God has no favourites.
- God has no Favourites: “God…who shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands?”(Job 34:19)and Matt.5:45 ~ “…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Many people believe that the Jews are still God’s favourite nation, but God does not differentiate between nations.
- God does not Differentiate Between Nations:For God, there is no difference between Jewish and Gentile Christians – we see that in Romans 10:12 ~ “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.”
Another very important fact about God is that He judges all without favouritism.
- God judges all without favouritism:2 Chron.19:7 ~ “Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes.”
James is building on this same theme when he tells his brothers in 2:2-3 that they are not allowed as believers, to show partiality. He uses two examples by comparing a rich man with a gold ring and fine clothing, with a poor man in shabby clothing and both entering the assembly. He warns them and tells them that if they discriminate between these two men by offering the rich man a good place to sit, while the poor man must stand or sit on the floor, they are judging with evil thoughts and are making distinctions.
In 2:4 James asks a rhetorical question, “…have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges?” Without waiting for an answer, he tells them in 2:5-7 that God has chosen… ~ “…those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Furthermore, the rich are the ones who blaspheme the honourable name of Jesus Christ, the One by which they as his brothers, were called.”
This, of course is a very strange remark by James, because is it really true that the rich are dragging the poor into courts and are the rich in general blaspheming Christ? What is James’ motivation with such a statement? What is the background for this remark? Why does he use this comparison? How must we understand it?
Roman courts always favoured the rich, who could initiate lawsuits against social inferiors, although social inferiors could not initiate lawsuits against them. In theory, Jewish courts sought to avoid this discrimination, but as in most cultures people of means naturally had legal advantages: they were able to argue their cases more articulately or to hire others to do so for them. With regards to the poor man that has to stand and the rich man who could sit, Matthew Henry explains this in the light of the fact that… “The wealthy apparently were applying legal pressure to the poor, perhaps regarding wages, rent, and other forms of debt”(Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume).
4. THE EFFECTS OF PARTIALITY:
When we look at King David, we see that his partiality blinded his eyes to his children’s evil actions, particularly Amnon’s rape of his half-sister, Tamar; and Absalom’s murder of Amnon and his rebellion against David himself (2 Sam.13-18). Later, he ignored Adonijah’s preparations to take over his throne, in spite of his expressed desire to have Solomon succeed him (1 Kings 1).
In the story of Esther, Haman’s prejudice almost cost the lives of all the Jews living in the Persian Empire (Esther 3-8). Only an act of great courage and self-sacrifice saved the Jews from annihilation (Afrikaans: “uitwissing”).
The Bible contains a host of other examples that thoroughly demonstrate the insidiousness (Afrikaans:“verraderlikheid”)of this potential sin. It is clear that the effects of partiality are the real problem.
We read in 2:13 ~ “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”From this we can clearly see that partiality and judgment are synonyms, in other words, when we apply partiality (or discrimination)towards other people, we are judging them and to judge someone is to be merciless towards them – how can we then expect mercy from God if we are merciless towards other people?
Piper, points seven reasons out, that James gives for why we should not show partiality:
- Partiality contradicts faith in Jesus Christ as the Lord of glory ~ “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory”(2:1).
- Partiality reveals a judging heart and behind it evil thinking ~ “For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (2:2-4).
- Partiality to the rich contradicts God’s heart, because he has chosen many of the poor for Himself ~ “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (2:5).
- Partiality dishonours people created in the image of God ~ “But you have dishonoured the poor man” (2:6a).
- Partiality to the rich backfires and becomes your downfall ~ “Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honourable name by which you were called?” (2:6b-7).
- Partiality makes you a transgressor of the law of liberty ~ “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (2:9-11).
- Partiality is not mercy. But if you don’t show mercy, you will perish ~ “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (2:13).
God is so good to us not merely to tell us what to do, as if He were only an authority, but to tell us why. He has reasons. He wants us not only to submit, but to submit with some understanding. He wants us to see the beauty and the wisdom and the goodness of His commands. So, He gives us reasons to do what He says.
5. CONCLUSION & APPLICATION:
As South Africans we are no strangers to partiality. We are no strangers to the concept of favouritism, or its twin brother discrimination. We see partiality all around us. We see it in our country’s history, we see it in our current government, we see it in business and sport, we see it in Xenophobia, and we see it in our own hearts.
As we’ve already seen, the Bible is clear that favouritism is a sin and God calls us to avoid discrimination.
James is calling on us to be impartial, just as our God is impartial. In fact, we are to take special care of those who are less fortunate, or vulnerable, or different to us, because that is what God does! For example, we can reach out to strangers (at the church, at the work in our neighbourhood), to other races and people of other cultures. We can have fellowship with people even if we are not on the “same social, intellectual or financial level.”Look at your own attitude, stop laughing at others, make jokes of others, gossip about others who are less intellectual, less fortunate or poor. Stop being condescending (Afrikaans:“neerhalend”) towards others (“down talk”).
We must investigate our hearts and determine whether we are guilty of the sin of partiality; of discrimination; whether we are giving special attention to some people and act condescendingly towards others. And if we find that we are guilty, we must confess our sin and repent of it.
Beloved, James is very clear in 2:12-13 that those who are law-breakers will face God’s judgment. Judgment without mercy will be shown to all those who have shown partiality towards others. Surely, we cannot expect God to act mercifully towards us if we are not prepared to show mercy to others. Discrimination shows that we lack mercy and will therefore come under judgment.
And notice the answer to the favouritism and discrimination that flows so naturally from our sinful hearts. The answer is: mercy. We are to treat others kindly, with compassion, and sympathy, and understanding – with mercy. That’s what God does, and that’s at the heart of “loving our neighbour as ourselves.”
In order to treat others (all people) with mercy is also to have empathy with them. Empathy is to get into someone else’s shoes. Empathy is the capacity to feel another person’s feelings, thoughts, or attitudes. The apostle Peter told Christians to have ~ “…compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous” (1 Pet.3:8 NKJV). The apostle Paul also encouraged empathy when he exhorted fellow Christians to ~ “…rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn”(Rom.12:15).
Empathy is related to sympathy but is narrower in focus and is generally considered more deeply personal. Compassion, sympathy, and empathy all have to do with having passion (feeling)for another person because of his or her suffering. True empathy is the feeling of actually participating in the suffering of another.
The apostle John asked, ~ “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 Joh.3:17). Pity in this verse is related to empathy, and both require action. As Christians we are commanded to love our neighbour and to have intense love for fellow believers (Matt.22:39; 1 Pet.4:8).
Notice the humdinger(Afrikaans: “knaller”)at the end of 1:13 ~“Mercy triumphs over judgment.”Those who act mercifully towards others will experience God’s mercy and they will avoid His judgment. What a profound phrase… Think about it… We cannot expect God to not discriminate against us (and show us mercy)if we are not prepared to fight our sinful tendencies to discriminate against others.
Hebrews 10:26 says ~ “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”
The Gospel of the Lord Jesus tells us that there is forgiveness to be found in Him for the sin that fills our hearts. Pray that God will forgive our sins of partiality and that He will help us to love all His people, just the way He has made us.