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Introduction: Tonight I want to begin by viewing an attribute of God that impacts every aspect of our relationship with Him. (Omniscience? Omnipotence? Grace? Compassion?) All of these fit this category. But consider another – Rom 2:11 – For there is no partiality with God.
I. The Impartiality of God: He is not a respecter of persons. Humans are naturally predisposed to partiality. We rank people by their looks, clothes, race, wealth, personality, intelligence. These things mean nothing to God.
A. The idea was there in the Old Testament. 2 Chron 19:7 – Now therefore, let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes.” The Hebrew expression comes from a root that means “face” or “surface”. The text is literally “no receiving face” – impartial. God is not moved by external appearances. He sees through them and goes to the heart of the matter and is not partial to appearance and circumstance.
1 .Deuteronomy 10:17“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe.” Job 34:19 “Yet He is not partial to princes, Nor does He regard the rich more than the poor; For they are all the work of His hands.
2. In the Law of Moses God prohibited The Israelites from exhibiting partiality. Leviticus 19:15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. They were to reflect God’s character in how they treated each other.
B. This is such a major truth about God that the New Testament seems to invent a word for it – several words. Before the New Testament there are no instances of the word used here for “partiality” or “respecter of persons” in the Greek. The writers took these two words, “receive face” and combined them to form a new expression. A verb in James 2:9 – “be-a-face-receiver” (prospolempteo) – and two new nouns – “a-face-receiver” (prosopolemptes, Acts 10:34) and “face-receiving” (prosopolempsia, Romans 2:11;
• Ephesians 6:9 – 9 And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
• Colossians 3:25“But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.”
• 1 Peter 1:17“And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;”
C. Jesus did not “receive faces” or show partiality. He did not show preference to people based on appearances or social status. He ate with publicans and sinners and associated with those who were poor and despised by others. Luke 5:29-32 Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
II. The prohibition against partiality in James 2:1 – My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. James says that respect of persons is incompatible with faith in Jesus.
- What is Impartiality in this text? Strong’s says that respect of persons is “the fault of one who when called on to give judgment has respect of the outward circumstances of man and not to their intrinsic merits, and so prefers, as the more worthy, one who is rich, high born, or powerful, to another who does not have these qualities.” We show kindness to some, others we don’t; we respect some, others we don’t. That is not the faith of Christ.
A. An Example of Their Problem: (vs. 2-4) James presents what may have been a familiar situation to indicate what he is admonishing against. Churches had members of different economic classes. Two different people visit the assembly. (uses the word for synagogue, not ekklesia, possibly indicating a large Jewish presence) One is rich, the other is poor – fine clothes vs. dirty clothes (only place in scripture where it specifically mentions what a person wears to an assembly)
1. The rich man is shown “special attention.” The Greek term means “to look with favor on” someone. This was the plea of the father of the demon-possessed boy in Luke 9, “I beg you to look at my son”. The verb refers not only to the favorable look but also to the consequent assistance. He was offered the best seat in the house. The poor man is abruptly told to stand over there out of the way, or sit on the floor.
2. James condemns such discrimination in the form of a rhetorical question: vs. 4 – have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (NIV) There are two possible constructions of this question, each with its own merit.
a. Have you not “divided” – as you profess one thing (faith in Christ) and practice another (judging others with evil thoughts), thus pointing out the incongruity between favoritism and faith in Christ. Jesus didn’t act this way.
b. There is also possible play on words in the Greek here. Are you not discriminated – so as to become evil judges – The word for discriminated and judges is the same root. So that by prejudging others we exhibit the evil thoughts that promote such judgments. Sin is always manifested in the thoughts of the heart from which it flows.
III. The Inconsistency of Their Partiality (vs. 5-7) – He admonishes them to think about their actions for a minute. To be partial toward the rich and reject the poor was contradictory to the character of God or His word, for 2 reasons:
A. God chose the poor in bringing the gospel. The early church was not drawn from the wealthy or ruling classes. It was largely made up of poorer people, those who are “poor in the eyes of the world.”
1. The poor had the gospel preached to them (Matt 11:5) and Paul said not many mighty or noble are called (1Cor 1:26). This was not because God loves poor people more than the rich. The reason is found in the story of the rich young ruler. It is difficult for the rich of this world to forsake their riches and follow Jesus.
B. The rich, did not choose God. They were more inclined to blaspheme God and disrespect His word. It was out of character for spiritual people to be drawn to worldly people.
1. James is not guilty of being prejudiced against the rich, but actually debunking the idea prevalent in Jewish society – your station in life was a reflection of your piety, or God’s approval. James counters this by showing how many of the spiritual qualities are more resident in the poor, not the rich. – if James were to write directly to our society, he might well have defended the rich. Middle-class folks often dishonor others who have $1 more (that is what a rich person is), as greedy, uncaring, and arrogant.
IV. Partiality vs. the Royal Law. (8-11) The royal law is mentioned here as loving your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. – What is the “perfection” of God that is the standard here? It is not sinless perfection, but in context it is love. We must love as God loves. He loves His enemies. He sends rain on the sinner and the saint. (Why is the preacher catching more fish? Don’t get hung up on poor theology)
A. If you love those who love you back, you are no better than the publicans – that’s easy. This is the real challenge in personal evangelism – Will we share the gospel with those who are unlike us?
1. Parallel passage might be Romans 5:5-8 – 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
2. Christ did not die for the righteous, but for sinners. Would you give you son to save the life of a terrorist, or a pedophile? God did. He also gave His Son for you.
3. Do we teach our children conditional love, and thereby respect of persons. We only love them when they are good – doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discipline or correct, but they need to know that we love them all the time, and that all people are equally valuable and loved by God.
V. Partiality is Sin Against the whole Law: It is more than just being discourteous – It is sinful. The word for evil in vs. 4 is one of 3 that James uses in his epistle. This one is the strongest, carrying the idea of vicious intentions that have an injurious effect. (used in 4:16, again of an attitude that is portrayed in action toward another. James 4:16“But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
A. James 2:9-10 – but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. It is a transgression against the whole law. The royal law of love is the foundation of every part of the law of God. To fail to love another violates the whole tenor of the law. James says that to fail in one commandment is to break the whole law.
B. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary… “Although God’s law has many facets, it is essentially one, being the expression of the character and will of God himself. To violate the law at any one point is not to violate one commandment only; it is to violate the will of God and to contradict the character of God. The same God who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said “Do not murder.” It is also the same God who gave the royal law of love for one’s neighbor. The person who breaks just one of these laws has “become a lawbreaker.” Although but one commandment is broken, the entire law of God has been flouted. When viewed like this, an act of favoritism is far from insignificant.”
Conclusion: God will not tolerate prejudice. It is an easy sin to overlook and rationalize. We can isolate ourselves in our own groups and all agree to feel the same way about those other folks. This “one sin” may keep you out of heaven. I John 4:21“If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”
So James says we will be judged according to our ability to love without partiality in vs.12-13 – judgment w/o mercy to those who show no mercy.
Nothing will have greater impact on the honest & receptive heart of people than the impartial and unconditional love of God. It stands in great contrast to the hatred and prejudice that we see around us. We must love as God has loved. Do you see the love of God offered to you in Christ?