Summary: God is no respecter of persons, and he expects no less for his church!
The Problem with Partiality
Are you a fair-minded individual? Do you oppose discrimination? Chances are that most of us alive today would describe ourselves as impartial and fair in most senses. But are we really as fair as we like to think?
Suppose that today a cook from the local Chinese restaurant joined us for worship. Or just suppose that a poorly dressed man reeking of cheap wine and a strong case of body odor decided to worship with us. Would we welcome these men as readily as we might welcome a modestly dressed, clean-cut person who looks and smells a lot like us?
Better yet, let’s reverse the example and say that a wealthy businessman or famous politician arrived at our door in a chauffeur-driven limousine. What if Bill Gates were to suddenly arrive for the Sunday morning service? Would we treat these guests with the same level of courtesy with which we treat everyone else?
The truth of the matter is that we are not as impartial as we would like to believe ourselves. We have preferences, comfort zones for interacting with others. We are less likely to connect with those from outside our own circles than we are to connect with those like us. But is that the way God intends for us to be? Better yet, is there anything we can do about it?
James addresses the problem with partiality early in his epistle to the dispersed believers. He obviously sees partiality in the fellowship as a major hindrance to Christian maturity. When we examine today’s passage from a structural and grammatical perspective, these instructions regarding partiality naturally follow the instructions on pure religion at the end of chapter one. In other words, in addition to visiting widows and the fatherless and keeping oneself unspotted from the world, a believer must also resist any form of partiality.
These instructions on partiality, though, form a logical unit of study for Christians. As important as they were to the first-century believers, they are especially important to twenty-first century believers as well. If our fellowship is to experience true spiritual growth and maturity, we must apply ourselves to the removal of every hint of partiality in our midst. Let’s examine the five lessons James teaches so that we may better understand the problem with partiality.
The principle of partiality goes against the character of our faith (v.1). James begins chapter two with a distinct admonition to the believers. To paraphrase James’ words, “Brothers, being partial to different people doesn’t fit with a proper faith in Jesus.” He indicates that, owing more to Jesus than to our own merits, partiality is unworthy of the life of a believer.
It is interesting to note that the section begins with the greeting, “My brethren.” I heard this week that, of the 104 verses in the book of James, 54 are commands. This command, though, is softened with these words. James makes sure that his audience is keenly focused on the words to come by reminding them that they are not some strangers or part of a faceless crowd. The reader is a spiritual relative of the writer. This is important, especially in light of the coming admonition.
Christ’s title is also of importance to this initial statement regarding partiality. James refers to him as “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” Charles B. Williams, in his translation of the New Testament, simply moves the word “glory” to an adjectival form, making it “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” Many writers have taken great pains to compare the concept of glory with that of the glory of God’s presence as seen in the Old Testament and at certain places in the New Testament. It is important to note that, in the King James Version, the words “Lord of” are usually in italics, indicating that they are not in the Greek text but are implied by the usage. I say all that to say this: the Lord Jesus Christ, the living glory of God, is not honored by followers who pick and choose in their relationships here on the earth. Everyone is a candidate for the Gospel, and every believer is a brother or sister in Christ.
Do you remember the achievement tests used by our schools to evaluate performance? I used to love to gloat about my scores and the fabulous “percentile” ratings I achieved. You may remember that a percentile rating represents where you fall in relation to all the other people taking the test. For example, a rating at the ninety-fifth percentile means that you did better than ninety-five percent of the people who took the test. It also means that five percent of the people who took the test did better than you. I used to always wonder how it made the people feel who scored at the seventieth percentile, or worse yet the fiftieth percentile. Somehow, just knowing that so many people were better prepared or performed better on the test than I had was disturbing. And what about the people who scored at the ninety-ninth percentile? Who in the world is in that mysterious one percent ahead of them?