The late Max Cadenhead once shared a confession at the beginning of a sermon:[i] “My message today is on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Let me start with an illustration. Remember last year when the Browns came forward to join the church?“ Everyone nodded; the Browns were a very influential family. “Well, the same day a young man came forward and gave his life to Christ.” No one remembered him. “We worked with the Browns, got them onto committees. They’ve been wonderful folks,” Cadenhead said. “The young man…well, we lost track. Until yesterday, that is, as I was preparing today’s message on the Good Samaritan. I picked up the paper, and there was that young man’s picture. He had shot and killed an elderly woman. I never followed up on that young man…” Cadenhead had eagerly followed up on the influential family of the Browns. But he had ignored the scraggly and troubled young man who came forward. The result was deadly.
What Cadenhead confessed, many of us struggle with. It’s called “partiality.” Most of us tend to be partial to certain people because of their skin color, their political affiliation, their income, or their age.
And James identifies partiality as one of those things that makes our faith toxic. The book of James is our focus right now on Sunday mornings. And one of his major themes is that of “pure religion.” In Jas. 1:27 James writes about “religion that is pure and undefiled before God.” James knows that some of his readers are in danger of embracing a religion that is defiled and not pure. Thus he reveals some toxins which can pollute our faith. This series will explore the first half of James for some of the deadly toxins that can make our faith impure. It will culminate in next Sunday’s Special Contribution for World and Urban Missions on April 29. We’ll return to the second half of James later in the year.
And James points out that one thing that poisons our faith is partiality. In James 2:4 James accuses his readers of “making distinctions” or of “judging.” And what they are judging is people. What they are distinguishing is which people have value and which people do not. In James 2:6 James accuses his readers of “dishonoring” certain people. To dishonor means to treat someone as less worthy than someone else. And in James 2:1, 9 James finds that his readers are showing “partiality.” The word means to make judgments about others based on external considerations.[ii]
This is the very thing happening in our world.
- A 2010 survey in Newsweek magazine found that from hiring to firing to promotions—looks matter to a high degree in the workplace. Attractive candidates or employees were treated significantly better than unattractive ones.[iii]
- A study in the Wall Street Journal found that the greater the foreign accent of a person speaking to us, the less reliable we consider that person to be.[iv] Our world is filled with partiality. We make judgments based on external considerations.
But James found that the church was also filled with partiality: 2 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, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-3 ESV). Here the partiality had to do with wealth. The Christians treated a wealthy guest much better than they treated a poor guest. This kind of partiality poisons our faith. James says it makes his readers evil.
That’s why James calls for a faith free from the poison of partiality. James leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind when he says it this way: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jas. 2:1 ESV). James absolutely forbids. Why? Because he knows how toxic partiality is.
And to help us escape partiality, he points to the impartiality of God. First, James points to the impartiality of God’s conduct. As an illustration of how God behaves toward people, James writes this in Jas. 2:5: 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom…? James is not saying that God only chooses the poor. He also chooses the middle class and the upper class—anyone who seeks him. James’ point is that in contrast to the way the world and these Christians treat the poor, God chooses the poor. He gives them value. He honors them. This, James says, is God’s conduct. God is impartial. He does not show partiality to the rich.
Second, James points to the impartiality of God’s commands. As an illustration of God’s central command, James writes this in Jas. 2:8 8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. James joins others in the Bible who summarize the ethical call in the Bible with one verse: love your neighbor as yourself. This is the ultimate command in the Bible. And it is a non-partiality command. Regardless of who our neighbor is and regardless of how they are dressed, where they were born, what accent they speak with, or how much they make, we are to love them. Because God loves impartially, his central command is for us to love impartially.
This is why world and urban missions are so important at Highland. By being involved in service, compassion, and ministry to people who dress differently than us, speak differently than us, and look differently than us, we inoculate ourselves against of the poison of partiality. By sharing our resources and our Lord with all people impartially, we show that we follow a God who is also impartial.
One of Highland’s most exciting world missions is led by Nathan and Karen Luther and takes place in the Philippines. We are thrilled to have the Luthers with us this month. We’ve asked Nathan to share with us some of their ministry and how they are sharing the goods and grace of God with people who may be very different from us.
Nathan in January a team from Highland visited you and your family in Bacolod. While there one of our team members, David Ralston, acquired some iron wood. It’s one of the hardest woods known. And he had a master craftsman shape that hard and rough wood into some beautiful pens. We want to present you and Karen with two of these pens and we’d like you to take two more back to your parents in the Philippines. To us, these pens symbolize the way that you and your family have become master craftsmen—taking rough and sometimes hard people and shaping them into followers of God. To you, we hope these pens will represent our rock-solid commitment to and loyalty to you.
How do we say “no” to partiality? One way is by saying “yes” to world and urban missions—loving and serving those who are different from us. And one way you can say “yes” to God’s mission in the world is by giving generously next Sunday. We need to raise $129,000 next Sunday to fund the 20 world and urban missions which Highland partners with. These ministries express God’s love and care for people who may be very different from us. They are one way in which we inoculate ourselves against the impartiality of the world. I hope you’ll join me in giving sacrificially next Sunday to this contribution.
[i] Chuck Colson and Ellen Vaughn, Being the Body (Word, 2003).
[ii] Moo, D. J. (1985). Vol. 16: James: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (91). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
[iii] Jessica Bennett, “Poll: How Much Is Beauty Worth at Work?” The Daily Beast (7-18-10).
[iv] Clayton M. McCleskey, “Accentuating Bias,” The Wall Street Journal (10-2-10).