‘My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.’
How many different ways can partiality enter into church life? From my personal experience I would say it is one of the hardest things to address. When mentioned it arouses anger, objections, denial and self justification; usually because it threatens those with influence and authority in the church. Outside of the church it becomes easy to decry, in the political realm people are accused of cronyism. A newspaper described a government minister’s decision to grant a contract to a firm whose directors were friends of a government adviser without competitive tendering as chumistics. What examples of chumistics could we find in church life and are we part of it?
Let’s be clear partiality is frequently explicitly condemned in both the Old and New Testament.
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. Deuteronomy 10:27
Nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. Exodus 23:3
And so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction. Malachi 2:9
Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. Ephesians 6:9
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 1 Timothy 5:21
Where partiality occurs it shows the understanding of the character of God and the nature of his love has yet to be fully absorbed. Not showing partiality is a kingdom of God lived out on earth matter and James makes that link by combining it with faith in, ‘our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.’ James 2:1b Faith or trust in Jesus Christ is incompatible with partiality.
James chooses one example which contrasts the welcome received by a wealthy and poor man. The wealthy man is obviously so as he has a gold ring and fine clothes. The Greek translated fine clothes means shining, that is bleached white and not dull off-white as in homespun cloth. The poor man’s shabby clothing literally translated is filthy. This is a man who lives and sleeps in one soiled set of clothing. If these two men are both believers, God sees two children of God, sanctified by the death of Jesus, loved and beautiful in his sight. They are two brothers in Christ. The church in this example sees one as worthy of a seat in the church meeting, the other is to stand or sit on the floor. James condemns this as judging with evil thoughts. James 2:5
God has a reverse perspective and has carried out through Jesus a reversal of usual world views. ‘God has chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.’ James 2:5 The church’s partial treatment of the poor man has dishonoured the poor man but it has also dishonoured God. God has a special heart for the poor and the oppressed and in this example James says the church has aligned itself with oppression rather than salvation. James 2:6-7
Who are the poorest and most oppressed in our church?
Do we honour them as the Lord honours and loves them?
Be lifted up – Paul Oakley