The Sin of Partiality

In his epistle, James writes to fellow believers “if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Law as violators (James 1:9) This is a part of a longer passage (James 1:1-13) in which he upbraids his readers for showing favoritism or partiality between individuals, saying that doing so is a sin, being judges with evil motives, dishonoring those who are disregarded, and showing judgment rather than mercy. When I read this passage recently, the thought occurred to me “who doesn’t show partiality?” As I studied this passage, I learned that most of us are guilty of partiality at times. But I also took note of what James meant about partiality.

On its face, one might come to the conclusion that partiality means that we should treat everyone equally, but that’s not what James means in this passage. Two other words came to light to help understand what James is referring to – equality and diversity. 

What is Partiality? Partiality reflects judging or showing favoritism based on external appearance, usually motivated by hope of personal gain. We may look at someone who is different than we are and think poorly of them. Maybe they have purple hair, maybe they aren’t dressed like we would dress. The list of reasons why we look down on someone are endless but it boils down to “they aren’t like us and they don’t belong here. That makes me uncomfortable.” On the other hand, we see someone well-dressed, conservative in their appearance and we may immediately take a liking to them, thinking maybe they can do something for us. Both of these show partiality – judging someone without getting to know them. We may categorize them based on their profession. He’s an attorney (or doctor or professor, etc) and I don’t trust them, they are arrogant, money-grubbing. The Bible says this is a sin, making us violators of the Law.

Probably one of the most well-known instances of partiality was the appearance of Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent. Susan stepped onto the stage. The audience snickered. Simon Cowell rolled his eyes. It’s clear they considered her old, timid, and frumpy. Then she burst into “I Dreamed a Dream.”  The audience and judges were transformed by her marvelous voice. One person commented “I honestly think we were all being very cynical and this is the biggest wake-up call ever.” In a cruelty-driven reality TV market, Susan proved that age and looks have nothing to do with talent. Partiality judges based on appearance.

Partiality is wrong. Period. I Samuel 16:7 reads “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God does not see as man sees, since man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” When God looks at our heart, He sees us as we really are. There is no veneer that we can put on to hide our true selves from God. We stood before Him, unworthy, unwashed, unloving. Yet He chose to redeem us and make us whole. God is not a partial being. If so, he would have probably rejected all of us. In our attempts to be God-like there is no home for partiality.

What is Equality? We are all equal in God’s sight, made in His image. Proverbs 22:2 reads “Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.” We stand before the throne of God as equals but are responsible for our sins. We are morally equal. Also, we also have a responsibility to use what gifts we have been given to the glory of God. We are not all equally gifted. My career was as a CPA. As such I usually found myself serving as treasurer of my church or some non-profit organization. I have been gifted in that direction. But don’t ask me to serve as a worship leader. That would be a disaster waiting to happen. I don’t disparage worship leaders, I admire them. But that’s not where I am gifted. My first wife was a registered nurse. Gloria was a very compassionate person. That’s not my gift. Doug Hamilton has said that “each person has spiritual DNA (Divine Natural Ability) which makes them unique not only in personality, but also in their service to the Lord.”

Diversity. Imagine what a boring, confusing life we would lead if everyone were the same, everyone being gifted as an accountant, teacher, cook, caregiver. A lot of things wouldn’t get done or not done well. I’ve been roped into doing things for which I was not qualified and didn’t do a good job at them.  

In I Corinthians 12:27-30 Paul made it clear that we are all equal but diverse. “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, and various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?”

The first takeaway here is that we are all a part of the body of Christ. Separately, we may not be useful.  In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy befriends a scarecrow without a brain, a tin man with no heart, and a cowardly lion. She was protected by a pair of enchanted ruby slippers. Separately, these characters could not accomplish much. But together, they could accomplish great things, reached the Emerald City and overcame the Wicked Witch.  In a similar vein, when combined with other believers we make up the complete body of Christ. Together, the Church can accomplish God’s mission on earth. That’s why it is important to find a church (Body of Christ) where your gifts and talents are needed.

Second, no gift is insignificant. Everyone has a place to fulfill in the church for the glory of God. 

Third, no one person is gifted in every area. Only Jesus. We are to glorify God in the exercise of our talents. We are not expected to use the talents we haven’t been given. 

Fourth, we are a diverse people. The diversity of humanity reflects that there are differences among people. Not all are equal in achievement, social status, intellectual capacity. We have different backgrounds, gifts, talents, roles, and responsibilities. It is God who determines these things. He gives them to whom he chooses and we are to make the most of our gifts for the glory of God. 

I am fully aware that society keeps certain people down. It may be due to race, physical or mental impairments, economic status, or any number of things. It can be a fine line between showing partiality and treating someone different due to their diversity. This is something that we constantly need to be aware of and repent when we cross that line. Remember, partiality is judging someone  based on outer appearances.

How are you using the gifts God has bestowed on you? Have you repented of the sin of partiality? Have you taken action to do what you can to undo your partiality?

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