Heart of the Professor Being Christian in an Anti-Christian World: The Godly Grace of Impartiality

Introduction Today is September 11. We could focus our attention upon the horror that our nation endured six years ago. Or, we could focus our attention upon the tragedy that struck very close to home on August 1, 2007, when the I-35 W bridge collapsed. We could benefit greatly by meditating upon what the Word of God has to say about such horrors and tragedies. Yet, what weighs on my heart is another kind of evil, an evil that humans do to one another every day, all around the world. I want to address what I am calling, “Being Christian in an AntiChristian World: The Godly Grace of Impartiality.” Three weeks ago my wife and I returned from India and Nepal where we took part in a few weeks of mission work. In July, before I left for India and Nepal, Dean Paulson asked me to speak in chapel on this day. It was while I was in India and Nepal that I decided to address what weighs heavily upon my heart. India and Nepal, like America, are filled with ungodliness in the form of prejudice and partiality. I want to introduce you to my friend, P. J. Mathai. He is founder and president of Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Banglore, India. He invited us to hold a pastors’ conference for village church pastors at the College. Afterward, P. J. Mathai joined our team to fly to Kathmandu, Nepal, for a three-day pastors’ conference for Nepalese village church pastors, about 350 church leaders. One should not visit Nepal without making an effort to see Mount Everest. Since we had a free day before returning home, the five of us decided to take an excursion flight to see the Himalayan Mountain
1

Range. We learned that Buddha Air is the air service of choice because they guarantee that every passenger will have a window seat. Since P. J. Mathai was our guest, we decided to pay for his ticket. The ticket agent for Buddha Air informed us that because P. J. Mathai is an Indian his ticket would cost 26% less than ours. Buddha Air functions like many others in Nepal. When they see Americans and Europeans they see money. The next day, when we waited at the airport early in the morning, we learned that our flight was canceled because of weather. As we were about to leave, a Buddha Air agent hurriedly came to us with news that they had five vacant seats on a plane that was about to depart. We decided to take them. As we left the bus on the tarmac to walk to the plane, the agent gave us new boarding passes for the plane, but he gave none to P. J. Not until we took our seats did we realize why our friend, P. J. Mathai, had not received a boarding pass. He was on the plane, but his seat, contrary to Buddha Air’s guarantee, had no window. Imagine taking an airplane excursion to view the Himalayas but your seat has no window. So, during the flight, we made sure that we corrected the wrong done to him by trading seats with him so that he had an opportunity to have a window seat. We were all deeply offended by what Buddha Air had done to our friend simply because he was an Indian. Consider the fickleness of partiality. One day, Buddha Air personnel gave P. J. Mathai preferential treatment, because he was viewed as an Indian who could not afford to pay the higher price that we Americans were expected to pay because they judged us to be wealthy. The next day, Buddha Air personnel discriminated against him. Because he was an Indian, whose ticket cost less, he was given a seat with no window, an obvious violation of Buddha Air’s written guarantee of a window seat for every passenger.

2

Listen, my friends, partiality is fickle, and it is always sinful. It is always sinful whether we give a person special treatment because of ethnic appearance or whether we discriminate against that person because of ethnic appearance. If we behave favorably or unfavorably toward fellow humans based upon appearances, we sin against them and against God. James 2:1-13 plainly identifies this behavior as sinful.
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 dishonored 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 honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor 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 accountable for 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.

Let’s consider this portion of God’s Word under three headings: 1. James Condemns Showing Partiality as Sin. 2. James Illustrates How Partiality is Sinful. 3. James Teaches Us to Discern Properly between Acting out of Partiality and Acting out of Mercy.
3

1.

James Condemns Showing Partiality as Sin.

James 2:9 plainly condemns showing partiality toward others as sinful behavior. “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” Before he makes this plain statement, James begins by admonishing us, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” Our modern English versions admonish us not to “show partiality.” The KJV translates the expression more literally: “have respect of persons.” The Greek word James uses occurs only in Christian writings. It is built upon two words that the Greek Old Testament uses to translate a Hebrew expression that literally means “to be moved to act by receiving the face” of another person. The Hebrew expression means “to prejudice our actions toward other individuals on the basis of who they appear to be.” For example, the Greek Old Testament in Leviticus 19:15 uses the two Greek words in combination to capture the Hebrew expression–“You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment nor shall you show partiality to the poor, nor shall you defer to the powerful, but you shall judge your neighbor with righteousness.” In other words, judgment, whether in the court of law or in daily life is to be righteous, not turned one way or the other by superficial appearances that tend to incite prejudice or partiality. In the New Testament the verb, “to show partiality,” occurs only in James 2:9. The noun form occurs in James 2:1 and in three other passages–Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9, and Colossians 3:25. These three passages assert that “there is no partiality with God” when he judges. A similar form of the noun occurs in Acts 10:34. After seeing
4

that God gave the Holy Spirit to Cornelius’s Gentile family just as he had done with Jewish believers on Pentecost, Peter declares, “I see clearly, now, that God is not one to show partiality.” 2. James Illustrates How Partiality is Sinful.

To make his admonition unmistakably clear, James provides an imaginary situation for us to ponder. He fashions an episode that includes a man who appears to be wealthy, a man who appears to be poor, and a prejudiced usher who seats them in church. “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?” James could have offered many different illustrations of partiality. But his illustration is fitting in that it follows immediately after his statement of 1:27–“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” He wants us to project ourselves into his imaginary situation that entails relationships among people along economic or social lines. So, he offers his illustration of the prejudiced usher who seats the rich man in a choice seat simply because the man has wealth, and he seats the poor man in the least comfortable and lowliest of seats simply because the man is poor. Why would we make these judgments? Is it not for what we might receive in return? Because the wealthy man almost surely is influential, the usher seats him in the best seat with the hope that he will take notice and return the favor, perhaps even some money. Because the poor man almost surely lacks influence, the usher seats him in the poorest seat.

5

James asks, in verse 4, if you behave this way “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” How should we correct this imaginary situation that James presents to us? Should we reverse the prejudiced usher’s behavior? Should we require the usher to give the poor man the best seat because he is poor and to give the wealthy man the worst seat, way up in the balcony behind a column, because he is wealthy? No! This would simply be to reverse the usher’s prejudice by targeting the wealthy man and favoring the poor man with the best seat. The Word of God and the gospel teach us never to take part in reverse discrimination. Instead, the Word of God and the gospel instruct us never to behave toward others on the basis of superficial or outward circumstances such as birth, station in life, wealth or poverty, race, ethnicity, skin color, sex, or any other non-essential aspect of human nature. James essentially makes the same point that Paul does in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.

Paul’s concern is worldly wisdom. James particularizes the same point Paul makes by focusing upon the matter of worldly wealth. James says, “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5). Is James suggesting that God shows preferentialism to the poor? Hardly. James reiterates Jesus’ teaching: “Blessed are the poor in
6

spirit, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Both Jesus and James make the point that only those who come to acknowledge that they have no influence or power to move God to favor them shall become rich in what truly matters (cf. James 1:1011). The rich can have no trust in their wealth, but the poor can place no hope in their need as though need favorably moves God to be partial to them. God is not one to show partiality. God is not moved to act favorably toward us based on outward appearances. 3. James Teaches Us to Discern Properly between Acting out of Partiality and Acting out of Mercy.

Whenever we are prompted to act with prejudice, we can be confident that we are acting contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The way of the gospel is to imitate God by showing mercy not partiality (James 2:13), for there is no partiality with God. Do not be deceived. Partiality is prejudice dressed up as Christian virtue. Many in the church today are deceived to think that it is virtuous to show partiality toward the poor and toward other groups to correct discrimination against them. People who think this way fail to recognize that showing partiality is always sinful, even if it seems right to them. To be prejudiced in favor of the poor is as sinful as being prejudiced against them. Whether our prejudice results in preferential treatment or in discrimination, prejudice is always sinful. It always dehumanizes individuals by treating them as members of either an approved group or members of an unapproved group rather than as individual humans made in the image and likeness of God. We must never make the mistake to think that showing partiality to the poor is an act of mercy. To show partiality to anyone, whether rich or poor, is a sinful act. It is not an act of mercy. Acts of mercy are selfless. When we show partiality to the poor, as
7

many do in our day, we are patronizing, paternalistic, condescending, and dehumanizing. We are motivated by what we might be able to receive in return for our deeds born out of partiality and often out of intimidation, but always out of selfish motives. To show partiality, whether to the rich or to the poor, is an attempt to look righteous in the eyes of others and to receive the praise and commendation of humans. This is the way of the world. It is antiChristian. Many politicians are adept at this. It is easy for them to appear liberal and generous and righteous with other people’s money by campaigning to raise taxes on the wealthy with a promise to assist the poor. Acts born out of partiality are acts of greed because they always look to receive something in return, even if it is nothing more than to receive votes for campaign promises that seduce the poor to think that politicians who understand and exploit the power of rhetoric actually care for them. Deeds of mercy do not look to receive something in return nor are they done to be viewed by others. James calls upon us to show mercy. He says, “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” (James 2:1213). James mirrors Micah 6:8–“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” God obligates us to imitate himself. Conclusion In James 2:1-13 we have seen that: 1. James Condemns Showing Partiality as Sin. 2. James Illustrates How Partiality is Sinful. 3. James Teaches Us to Discern Properly between Acting out of Partiality and Acting out of Mercy.

8

Let us never borrow from the worldly belief system. Instead, let the gospel of Jesus Christ shape how we conduct ourselves whether in the courtroom or along life’s everyday pathways. The world’s way is the way of Buddha Air. They appeared virtuous by reducing the ticket price for my friend, P. J. Mathai. The act was not virtuous. They were not genuinely concerned about P. J. Mathai, the man. Rightly understood, their act was an patronizing insult to him because they looked upon him and judged him on outward appearances, just as they judged him the very next day when they gave him a seat without a window. They did not treat him as an individual human being who is made in God’s likeness. Their treatment of P. J. Mathai was demeaning. They did not treat him with dignity, as a man made in the image of God. They judged him on the basis of outward appearance to be simply a member of a class, a class of people they appeared to favor with partiality one day with a ticket price discount but they discriminated against him the next day by placing him in a seat with no window in a full plane. It does not matter whether our partiality results in showing favor or in showing disfavor to another human. Both are acts of selfishness. We must always refuse the temptation to do either because both are sinful. Let us imitate God who shows no partiality toward anyone. Let us put on the godly grace of impartiality and behave toward one another in godliness, refusing to be moved favorably or unfavorably by appearances.

9

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful