Last Saturday I gave a devotional on The Sin of Partiality based off James 2:1-13. The following is not a transcript of what I said, but just the outline and notes I used for my talk. Some of the explanation that may be needed to flesh out the points are not written since I would just say it as I elaborated on the points. As I lead other devotional groups and bible studies, I may post my notes periodically.
- The Seriousness of the Sin of Partiality
- The Reason why we should not show partiality.
- Application: Two Types of Partiality Condemned by Scripture
1. The Seriousness of the Sin of Partiality
Definition: Looking down on someone or treating someone as having less value.
Context: This is the first sin in James in a list of sins that the first chapter tells us to “put away” (v.21) and ways in which we must be “doers and not just hearers.” (v.22) For some reason partiality was a sin that was a higher priority for James to address than the dangerous tongue which he discusses in depth in the next chapter.
Seriousness: James takes partiality much more seriously than probably most of us take it. If most of us were making a list of sins, partiality probably wouldn’t make it on the list. In v. 4 he says the person who does it “judges with evil thoughts” and in v. 6 he describes the partial person as “dishonoring the poor man.”
In our view of sin that includes “white lies” and “the seven deadly sins,” one would think showing partiality would barely make it to the status of a white lie. However, in verse 8-11 James equates partiality with adultery or murder.
2. Reason for the Seriousness of Partiality
At a fundamental level, partiality denies the power of the cross. The cross is the great leveler of humanity. Without it we are all sinners, regardless of what we have done. Only because of it are any of us redeemed. Partiality is a way for humans to make themselves elevate themselves or others. It does it by allowing us to create tiers of people who are holier than others, and tiers of people who are worse sinners than others. When I claim to be more holy or righteous because of externalities than another believer, I am denying that it is only the cross that accomplishes this. When I claim someone is a worse sinner for x reasons, I deny that God has saved me from the exact same place through the death of His son. When we see each other for who we are in light of the cross, partiality becomes quite petty.
C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory made a powerful and poignant quote about who we are in light of eternity.
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal… It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”
If we truly see each other in this light, how can we show partiality to each other?
Closely related to this is that very simply, we have no justification for partiality. We had nothing in us that warranted our salvation, yet Christ saved us. Whatever we can think to hold against someone, God can hold much more against us. He chooses continually not to.
3. Application: Two Types of Partiality in Scripture
A. Partiality Based on Appearance or Title
This is the partiality specifically addressed in this passage.
- rich v. poor
- good clothes v. bad clothes
In a school setting or any other setting we should not show partiality based on the many socioeconomic reasons we contrive to divide ourselves. Race, fashionable clothes, income, education, etc… Why you may be more inclined to be friends with people you are more similar to, there is no justification or reason to look down on someone for these kind of external reasons.
Tragically this occurs far too often in many churches. How often have you seen someone get weird looks because they did not dress well enough for that churches standards, or when was the last time you saw someone being kept at a distance or avoided because they did not meet that churches standard of modesty? We may not show partiality by bringing the person with the good clothes to the front of the room, but how often do our churches exclude whether directly or indirectly because someone isn’t dressed well enough?
B. Partiality Based on Sin
Jesus regularly interacted with tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were the worst form of the greedy bureaucrat. They were known as thieves and extortionists, and they were viewed as traitors who were agents of Rome’s effort to subjugate the Jews. The word “sinners” is largely a euphemism for prostitute. It could also refer to people who lived such generally evil lives that they were known by all to be living lives of sin.
Matthew 9:10-13 describes the conversion of Matthew/Levi and his subsequent eating and drinking with Matthew’s friends who are described as “tax collectors and sinners.” This story is told in both Luke and Mark as well.
Matthew 11:19 it appears that Jesus was known by the people at large as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
Luke 15:1 Jesus tells the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Prodigal Son after “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”
These were the people who were attracted to Jesus and who he came to preach to. Much like the pharisees did, it is far too easy for us to look down on and disassociate ourselves from someone because they are a “worse sinner” than we are. Jesus would have none of that. If a pastor spent his time with and ministering to cheats and sexually immoral people, would we be able to view him as following the pattern of Christ, or would we criticize him for “putting himself in the way of temptation” or for “not having enough hedges in place to guard against temptation?” Do sinners at least think that they are welcome at our churches, or do they know they will be looked down on and judged instead of loved? Jesus rebuked those who looked down on others as being worse sinners than ourselves. Do we as modern Christians need to be similarly rebuked?
In closing, I read a post from another blog which I edited slightly.
“Now, if Jesus had fellowship with tax collectors and sinners in order to preach to them, the Pharisees would not have fussed. After all, who would have objected that tax collectors and sinners were forsaking their sinful lifestyle, making restitution, and seeking a life of righteousness? The Pharisees believed that God offered forgiveness when sinners repented. They could even rejoice that a wretched sinner saw the light and was converted from a life of debauchery.
But what infuriated the Pharisees was that Jesus was not explicitly or directly asking tax collectors and sinners to do any of this. Some of them no doubt did repent, such as Levi (Luke 5:28). But Jesus seems to have accepted them as they were and was freely having dinner with them without requiring that they first clean up their lives.
Of course, Jesus did have a message to proclaim to them. But his message was not, “Straighten up your life and keep the law.” Rather, his message was, “The kingdom of God is open to you; you are welcome to join.” By eating with them, he was extending to them the kingdom of God.
When we read about the protest of the Pharisees, we are quick to condemn them and to side with Jesus. But if Jesus were physically present in our world today, would we as church people be comfortable if he spent his time with cheats and swindlers, sexually deviant individuals, gays and lesbians? Would we not be infuriated if he constantly went to their dinner parties and didn’t come to ours?”