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SHOW NO PARTIALITY (1): GOD COMMANDS IT

(James 2:1-4)
April 14, 2019

Read James 2:1-4 – A family moved from KT to VA. The daughter came
home from school complaining she’d been called a redneck. Mom said, “No,
Honey, we’re not rednecks; we’re hillbillies.” That’s making a pretty fine
distinction, isn’t it? Which introduces our subject: prejudice – something none
of us have, yet the world is full of it! Truth is – we all have it. It may be racial,
financial, lifestyle, political, or social rank, but it’s there. We have dress
codes, ethics codes, success codes, secret codes and zip codes that define us
and who we’ll accept. We’re biased; God wants to love it out of us.

This is not to suggest that we should enable self-destructive behavior,


condone immorality, refuse legitimate authority, tolerate theological heresy or
permit lawlessness. Discrimination based on wrong, unrepentant actions is
legitimate. But we are not to judge people on appearance alone. Or their past.
Or ability. We are to treat all people with the respect due them as fellow-
sinners, made in the image of God and repentant until they prove otherwise by
their actions. This is especially true in a community of believers.

Thus, this series “Show No Partiality” from Jas 3. We will see that God
Commands It (1-4); God Exemplifies It (5-7) and God Judges It (9-13). So,
let’s put our excuses aside and see what God has to say on this subject.

I. The Exhortation

Simple command, right? “Show no partiality.” Don’t go there. But since we


all do at times, let’s dig a little deeper, asking Who? What? And Why?

A. Who? – Notice that Jas instruction is addressed to “My


brothers.” Here’s a way for true believers to distinguish themselves from the
world. “Show no partiality.” None. Nada. Zilch. Don’t favor the rich, the
poor, the beautiful, the influential, or those with the right ethnic roots. No
partiality. It’s a kingdom principle. You are kingdom people. So live like it.

Partiality’s in our DNA. We all favor our own kind. Those of us in the middle
are uncomfortable among the homeless, but we feel equally at a loss at a
society party. We favor those who are like us – ethnically, economically,
politically, religiously and socially. We gravitate to those who are our people.

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We are ever conscious of status and rank. But Jas invokes his brothers –
fellow believers to be consciously unconscious – intentionally impartial.

Charles Swindoll was stationed as a Marine on Okinawa with a general who


had front row seats for his entourage during chapel services. He’d march in 5
minutes early and occupy his place. One Easter morning, the chapel many
were stuck outside in the overflow. The chaplain, a strong, courageous
believer, he ordered the ushers, “Bring ‘em down front.” Which they did. And
that’s how a private ended up in the general’s seat – a serious breach of
protocol. When the general arrived to standing room only, he was put out.
Shortly, the chaplain was shipped off the island. He paid a price for being
impartial in the face of a world that condones partiality. So the Who of
impartiality is simple, us – believers – kingdom people. However the rest of
the world is mistreating, abusing, mocking, ignoring those who are different,
we must step into the breach. That is our calling. “Show no partiality.”

B. What? So what is partiality? The word (προσωπολημψίαις) is


derived from two Greek words – face and receive – thus “to receive the face”
– or lift up the face. What a great way to put it! You see a person’s outward
appearance (their “face”), and you receive that image as if it’s the real thing.
To “receive the face” is to make distinctions based on external considerations
– appearance, social status or race. It is to judge others purely at a superficial
level, without consideration of the person’s true merits, abilities or character.
This verb and its noun form are found only in Xn writings, indicating that the
concept of impartiality was foreign to ancient cultures. They had no word for
it. Today, we have the word, but do we have the reality?

To be impartial is to see people with blinders on – giving no personal


preference. Certainly we are to respect and honor parents and elders. Heb
13:17 advises: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping
watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” We are to
recognize roles and functions – but that is different from favoring someone
because of some outward characteristic – to “receive the face.”

The early church struggled with this issue. It was growing fast and included
both Palestinian Jews and Hellenists, Greek-speaking Jews. In distributions to
widows, the Hellenists felt preference was being given to locals so they
brought the problem to the apostles. Their solution? Acts 6:3 “Therefore,
brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit
and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote

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ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said
pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and
of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and
Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.” Notice the names – all
Greek! The apostles empowered the neglected to ensure justice.

To be impartial is to treat others as you would want to be treated – with


fairness, dignity, and recognition. R. C. Sproul, in In Search of Dignity, was
researching management-labor relations when he encountered the phrase,
“dropping his head” – as in, “The supervisor drops his head when I walk
by.” The phrase puzzled him until one day he was observing non-verbal
communication in a hospital between doctors, nurses and staff. Nurses
perked up when a doctor entered. Top of the food chain. Then came a man
pushing a cart of soiled laundry -- lowest caste of the hospital, a housekeeper.
He was cheerful and open as he approached one of the nurses, anticipating a
greeting. But just then, the nurse tilted her head forward and stared at the
floor as she walked by briskly. The man’s face lost its cheer, and he slowed as
he continued on his way. Sproul saw what “dropping the head” meant -- a
refusal to acknowledge the other person. It made the other person invisible,
of no account. The way of the world, Beloved. Not the way of Christ. He
sought out those who had been discarded by the world. We are to be different
– acknowledging others, valuing others, treating them with respect. Whether
called “receiving the face”, or “dropping the head,” partiality is not to known
among us. Let’s admit, we have a ways to go, right?

We tend toward our little cliques; limit our contacts, even at church, to those
who are most like us rather than making sure that all are welcome – especially
those who have no one to talk to, who are uncomfortable in their neglect. We
can work on this, Beloved, right here, right now. “Show no partiality.”

C. Why? James knows. “My brothers, show no partiality as you


hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” Why show no
partiality? Because it gives glory to your Lord -- shows Him off for the
amazing, loving God that He is. When we play favorites, we take the glory.
We determine who is worthy and who is not, assuming glory we were never
intended to have. And God says this about that: Isa 48:11: “My glory I will
not give to another.” We’d better think twice before we touch the glory, right?

The main way God reveals Himself to a lost world is thru the inexplicable
love Xns have for one another. Jn 13:34-35: A new commandment I give to
you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love
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one another. 35) By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you
have love for one another.” Extraordinary! The world issues our grade card!
Pass or fail determined by – do you love one another – not just some – all.

In Ephesians 3 Paul speaks of the mystery of the church – hidden in past ages,
but now revealed. What is the mystery? Eph 3:6: “This mystery is that the
Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the
promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Jew and Gentile together was
unheard of the ancient world. They defined prejudice. But with Jesus it all
changes: Eph 2:14: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one
and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” He made
peace between parties who have nothing in common – except they love Jesus.

And guess why He did that? Back to Eph 3:10: “so that through the church
the manifold [many-colored; multi-faceted,] wisdom of God might now be
made known to the rulers and authorities [angels] in the heavenly places.” So
get the picture. God displays His magnificent wisdom to the whole universe –
angels and people alike – by Xns loving each other despite all our differences,
flaws and idiosyncrasies. Amazing! When we get it right the angels are sitting
back and saying, “Wow – look at that. Look at John being impartial to that
other rascal down there. I never thought I’d see the day. Isn’t God
something?” If that doesn’t motivate you – you’re hopeless! Stop showing
partiality and you’ll bring glory to God. Small price to pay, wouldn’t you say?

II. The Example

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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.” James illustrates. Two men
come into your assembly – your “synagogue.” This tells us this book was
written early and to Jewish converts -- meeting in Jewish synagogues, as early
Jewish Xns did – meeting on Sunday while the Jews met on Saturday. It was
not long before offended Jews stopped this practice, and early Xns often met
in homes (or in hidden places like the catacombs in Rome) – but kept the term
“synagogue” to mean meeting until “church” became the predominant term.

So 2 men enter. The first is χρυσοδακτύλιος – literally gold-fingered. Rich


people of that day wore numerous rings as marks of wealth and social status.
The Roman statesman, Seneca, wrote: “We adorn our fingers with rings and
we distribute gems over every joint.” “Fine” clothing – “radiating light,
bright”, like the robe given Jesus to make fun (Lu 23:11). The ring and robe
were worn to attract attention: “Give way. Someone important has arrived.”
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Some in Jas’ audience were doing exactly that – giving preferential treatment
to Goldfinger! – taking him right to the front – best seat in the house – strictly
based on appearance. Xn or not, the point is the same. It’s favoritism.

Meanwhile, a poor man enters – clothed in the best from “good will” – dirty
and smelly – a hobo. He stands out for his poverty like the other guy stood out
for his riches. But this one gets shabby treatment just like his shabby clothing.
He’s told, “Stand in back where no one will notice – or sit here on the floor.
No seat for you.” Totally different treatment. Now note – the problem isn’t
that one guy is rich and one poor. Both ought to be welcome. The sin is not
theirs, but that of the shortsighted usher who has discriminated based on
outward appearance. Probably justified himself: “If I put that ragged, smelly
guy up front, those people will leave.” And he may be right. Let’s face it; if it
were us, he might be right! It’s a nice rationalization, isn’t it? But God isn’t
impressed with our categories. He’s looking for those who will love anyone
with equal fervor, regardless of rank, status or ability to help or impress.

In the mid-1960’s, Calvary Chapel in Santa Ana, had a new 300-person


auditorium. A couple of hippies came one Sunday, got saved and began
inviting friends. They came came in jeans, tee shirts and dirty feet that
sometimes soiled the new carpet and padded pews. Some members put up a
sign: “No Bare Feet in Church.” Incensed, Smith tore it down, leading to a
pivotal board meeting. Smith told the elders if the church was going to turn
away the hippies to protect the carpet, they would be better off ripping out the
carpet and replacing the pews with folding chairs. A heated discussion
followed – but Smith won the day – better, Jesus won. A few people left, but
this was the genesis of the Jesus movement that spread around the world.
Because one man refused to show partiality. Don’t we want that to be us?

Conc – Let’s give Jas a concluding thought. I’m sure his usher thought he’d
done good. Put the rich guy front and center. It’ll attract others, show the
church to best advantage. But isolate the guy who’s an embarrassment. Do not
kick him out – just keep him where any damage would be minimized. All-in-
all a good morning’s work, right? “Okay, so I was played favorites, but it was
well-intentioned, and, if it was wrong, it was only a one-time thing.”

But Jas doesn’t let him get by with that. The problem isn’t just a momentary
poor decision. V. 4: “have you not then made distinctions among yourselves
and become judges with evil thoughts?” It’s a heart problem; the problem
Jas is addressing would have existed even if these two guys had never come
in at all. Jas is saying, “Your outward actions are just a reflection of
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“distinctions” – categories – that already exist in your evil thoughts. You are
prejudiced. Those two men coming in only reflected what you already are in
your heart. The only way you’ll overcome this is with a change of heart.”

To some degree, it’s a change of heart we all need. So how do we get a


changed heart? Repentance. Agreeing that God is right and we are wrong.
Asking His forgiveness and His help to love the unlovely and to stop making
judgments based on outward appearances only. Evil actions come from a
rebellious heart. Prejudice begins inside, but soon works its way out.

Russell Moore recalls, as a child, seeing an unkempt man in church one day
with a naked woman tattooed on his arm. He pointed this out to his pastor’s
wife grandmother expecting outrage. Instead she whispered, “Russell, that
man’s had a hard life, with drink and drugs. But his wife’s been trying to
get him to come to church for a long time, and we’ve all been praying for
him. He’s not trying to offend anyone. He just doesn’t know Jesus – yet.”
Russell says, “I’ll never forget that word ‘yet.’ It opened to me the possibility
that this hardened man might become my brother-in-Christ. And, indeed, in
time, he did. He started to wear long sleeves to church. Since tattoo removal
wasn’t possible yet, he eventually added a bikini, then a one-piece to the
woman. For all I know, he may have died with her in a pantsuit and
briefcase. He just needed a church that would accept him where he was to
call him to a life of repentance and faith.” So do we all, don’t we? No
partiality. Let’s pray.

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In 1952 a probation officer in NYC tried to find an organization to assist in the
adoption of a 12-year-old boy. No major church denomination would help.
The officer said later, “His case had been reported to me because he had
been truant. I tried for a year to find an agency that would care for this
needy youngster. Neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish institutions would
take him because he came from a denomination they did not recognize. I
could do nothing constructive to help him.”

What if things had been different? What if one of those churches had been
truly impartial? Would it have mattered? We’ll never know for sure, but it’s at
least possible that the future of Lee Harvey Oswald, and of American history,
would have been changed had someone simply done what Jas urges – “Show
no partiality.” Let’s pray.

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We can’t be like the poor lady from across the tracks who wanted to join a
fashionable church. Pastor said, “Don’t be too hasty. Go read your Bible for a
week and come back if you still want to join.” Next week she was back so he
said, “One more suggestion. Go home, pray every day and ask the Lord if He
wants you to join us.” Six months passed before he met her one day in the
street. He asked what she’d decided. She replied, “I did what you asked. I
went home, prayed and one day the Lord said, ‘Don’t worry about not
getting into that church. I’ve been trying to get into it myself for the past 20
years.’” The moral: take God’s glory by showing partiality, and pretty soon
you’ll find the glory has departed! Better to pay the price to show it off!