Pastor Craig preached last Sunday on the sin of partiality from James 2:1-13. As we think about the application of this text, many questions arise needing clarification. What exactly is sinful partiality? Does this mean anytime you treat anybody differently you are being sinfully partial? Does God’s Word require us to treat everyone the exact same way at all times? Does this mean God Himself is being partial when He shows mercy to some and hardens others (Rom 9:18)
God is Impartial
Whatever is meant by the sin of partiality, it cannot apply to God because God never sins (James 1:13; 1 John 1:5) and is perfectly impartial (Eph 6:9; Col 3:25). Romans 2:11 says “God shows no partiality.” The Greek word prosoplasia means literally “a receiving face.” It is the idea of giving biased treatment based on a person’s appearance. Sinful partiality has to do with treating people differently based on irrelevant considerations and factors. Surely there are times that we treat people differently like I do my wife for instance. I do not treat every woman the same as I do my wife to whom I rightly show favoritism. But the reasons for favoring my wife are not based on sinful irrelevant considerations like her skin color or wealth. It is based on a very relevant marriage covenant we have made together.
Pastor John Piper gives a helpful illustration here to clarify when differing treatment is sinful partiality: “You and your friends are trying out for the school or the neighborhood baseball team. What would it look like if the coach who must choose who gets to play was partial — that is, not impartial? It would look like this: Your coach would show partiality if he chose the white boy and not the black boy even if the black boy was a better player, or if he chose his own son even if his own son was a worse player, or if he chose a boy because the boy’s father paid him money behind the scenes. Impartiality doesn’t mean you treat everyone alike. Everyone can’t play ball. Everyone can’t get on the team. It means you don’t base your favorites on irrelevant considerations like race or wealth or your kinship.”
Consider this same idea applied in the courtroom today. Judges are supposed to be impartial. This doesn’t mean everyone gets to walk out of the courtroom that day free men because “he has to treat everybody the same.” Impartiality demands that the judge not base his verdict on irrelevant considerations like race or wealth or intelligence or reputation. The righteous considerations must be, is the defendant guilty? What does the law demand for this crime?
So God does not show sinful partiality when choosing to save some and passing over others, since He bases His election not on appearances or anything good or bad about us (Rom 9:11), but according to the counsel of His own will (Eph 1:11). God’s election of His people to salvation must be unconditional because God “shows no partiality” (Rom 2:11).
Partiality in Churches Today
James is calling out Christians in the early church for treating some believers better than others based on their wealth. “If you show partiality, you are committing sin” (James 2:9). But who would so blatantly show favoritism to the rich in the church today? Sadly, it happens more than we realize. In a recent documentary exposing the Hillsong megachurch, former members of Hillsong NY shared stories of celebrities like Justin Bieber and others having their own special VIP seating up toward the front. Ushers and security were reprimanded for allowing anyone else to sit in that area. The church was literally split up by influential people and nobodies. This kind of behavior is exactly what James is rebuking in this passage. Such a display of partiality is a gross sin and behavior that even non-Christians recognize as wrong.
And perhaps you never made this connection in your mind, but the truth is that most pastors and churches were doing the same kind of thing during the COVID-19 pandemonium. When Pastor Tim Keller’s church in New York finally opened up, they required non-vaccinated people to sit in the balcony with masks, and only allowed the vaccinated to sit on the main floor of the auditorium. This is sinful partiality, even amidst a so-called “pandemic,” because Christ Himself never made this kind of differentiation between His people, meaning they are adding to the Word and creating additional obstacles to coming to Christ and being united in fellowship. Pastors who showed partiality to the vaccinated or masked, keeping sinners from Christ, will be held accountable for it.
In reality, churches are often guilty of sinful partiality, but in less explicit ways. Leadership giving priority to the desires of the wealthy, favoring their own family members for positions, maneuvering to be in the right circles, or giving all of their time to those who seem most influential in the community, are all commonplace. We can all be guilty of partiality when we fail to welcome outsiders and those who look or dress differently than us.
James admonishes us to consider all these things in light of our salvation and eternity. “Has not God chosen the poor to be…heirs of the kingdom?” (James 2:5). Since we share an inheritance with other Christians, rich or poor, we should “fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8). Love must be the priority as we seek to be one with the family of God, where "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
Where else do we see the sin of partiality in our culture today?
Marxist-driven Critical Race Theory has indoctrinated our society into thinking that the way to fight racism is with racism. It’s not enough to not be a racist; you must become an anti-racist, which means you must fight against white supremacy by being sinfully partial against white people. They actually argue that white people must be discriminated against for the sake of elevating those who have been “oppressed” for so long. This is sinful in God’s eyes and no Christian should ever treat anyone differently because of their skin color. This includes repudiating Critical Race Theory for its sinful partiality.
Writing and passing bills that say you cannot kill babies after 20 weeks is sinful partiality in the form of ageism. Why would we protect babies that are 20 weeks old but leave them to be slaughtered if they are younger or smaller or less developed? The Pro-Life establishment has failed to apply the Word of God rightly to how we abolish abortion in our state and nation. No life is more valuable than any other and thus we must demand equal protection for all. Only abolitionist bills of equal protection from the moment of conception are impartial in God’s eyes. This includes the long-held Pro-Life conviction that women who murder their offspring are victims and should never face criminal charges for their actions. This too is a failure to apply the law equally and is sinful partiality in God’s eyes.
Binary Genders and Bathrooms
In the name of equity, there is a huge push for so-called “transgender rights, " including preferred pronouns and bathroom usage. The Equality Act would attempt to classify gender identities and sexual orientations as protected classes under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They argue that discrimination against LGBT is the same thing as discrimination based on one’s race and religion. So the pagans are arguing that we must stop showing sinful partiality to cisgender people (gender identity matches one's biological sex at birth) and discriminating against LGBT. But is it partiality to treat people based on the reality of binary genders? No, because this is not an irrelevant consideration to which bathroom someone uses. In fact, it is the primary and ONLY consideration for determining which bathroom one can use. Transgender activism is being sinfully partial against all of the little girls that would like to feel safe while going to the restroom without grown men exposing themselves. Again, the pagans have it all upside down, and such is the work of Satan. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).
Many more examples could be given. The church must be different. We cannot be like the world and show partiality. We must shine by offering impartial love to all without sinful bias or prejudice or favoritism. We have the Word as our standard and the Spirit of God as our power for righteous living. May Christ shine bright in our impartiality and love.