Volume 20, Issue 1 (January 7, 2017)
Without Respect of Persons
By Kyle Pope
James 2:1 declares, “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality” (NKJV). The King James Version and the American Standard Version use the phrase “with respect of persons” instead of the word “partiality.” In the original Greek the word from which this part of the verse is translated is the word prosōpolēpsia (προσωποληψία). This word is derived from two words: prosōpon (πρόσωπον) meaning “the face... countenance... outward appearance” (Thayer, 552) and lambanō (λαμβάνω) meaning to “take, take hold of; receive, get, obtain...” (Newman, 106). According to Vincent this is a Hebrew phrase that may be understood to mean, “To receive the countenance” (1.737). That suggests the idea of favoring someone because of their appearance or status.
The Bible has much to say about this kind of behavior. The Scripture is emphatic in declaring that it is never practiced by God. In Acts 10:34 when Peter comes to preach to Cornelius (a Gentile) he begins by stating, “...In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.” In Romans 2:11 after warning the Roman brethren about hypocrisy and the future judgment of all, Paul states simply, “For there is no partiality with God.” When Paul instructs slaves and masters about how they should behave towards one another, he concludes by saying, “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.” Finally, in Colossians 3:25 we find a general warning about the fact that God’s judgment is impartial,“ But he who does wrong will be repaid for the wrong which he has done, and there is no partiality.”
Beyond the fact that God does not show “respect of persons,” the text in James is probably one of the most extensive examinations of this tendency in all of Scripture. Immediately after the verse quoted, James offers an example of partiality. He writes, “For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (2:2- 4). This shows it is sinful to give special treatment because of appearance, wealth, or status.
After offering this example James makes two more statements about partiality, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (2:8-9). The message is clear: Christians should love their neighbor as themselves, and partiality is a violation of God’s law.
How May We Show Partiality?
• By avoiding those we view as unattractive, and yet being anxious to speak to those we find attractive.
• By acting with respect toward those with wealth and position, but looking down on those with less money and prominence.
• By judging someone’s character and ability by their race, then overlooking the misdeeds of others who belong to our own race.
• By demonstrating great concern for those we enjoy being with, but ignoring the hardships of those whose company is less enjoyable.
• By praising the efforts of those with talent and ability, and yet feeling embarrassed by the efforts of those less capable.
• By assuming someone is poor because of their own mismanagement, while assuming the rich possess “wise judgment.”
• By offering the best things to those we like, but giving the leftovers to others.
• By assuming that all people of a different background will act a certain way, and so refuse to associate with those who are different from ourselves, or feeling resentment while in their presence
Partiality comes from a failure to see others as creatures made in the image of God. It is a sin both against someone else and a sin against the One in whose image we have been made. Let us commit ourselves not to judge people based upon their race, attractiveness, popularity, wealth or status. We must always remember, “...the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).