STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. 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?”
When we gather around the Word and sacraments with fellow Christians or with visitors, how do we regard and treat each other? What about those who have a big bank account compared to those who have little money to their name? Does it make a difference if they are of a different race or nationality than we are? How about their reputation, whether it be good or bad? Because of our fleshly mind, are we not tempted to show favoritism toward those who are of high standing and well-groomed, as opposed to those who are of a low station in life and are shabbily dressed? This can color how we speak to one another, worship in God’s house, and carry out work in the kingdom of God.
Partiality is completely foreign to the way God deals with us and all our fellow humans. God has never “played favorites,” nor will He ever do so. In eternity, when the heavenly Father planned out the salvation of mankind, He didn’t show partiality toward one group of people as opposed to another. The Lord Jesus clearly revealed God’s impartial redeeming love toward sinful mankind as He spoke these well-known words: “For God so loved the world [not just some of the world!] that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
At the early beginnings of the New Testament church, we find the Apostle Peter being sent by the Lord to share the Gospel with a Gentile centurion named Cornelius, and we hear the apostle saying to this Gentile, with whom unbelieving Jews and misguided Christians would have nothing to do, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.” (Acts 10:34)
During the course of Jesus’ public ministry, the Lord was faulted by the Pharisees for associating with and even eating with “sinners.” On His journey through Jericho, Jesus encountered Zacchaeus, a tax collector. The Jews looked down on Zacchaeus and believed he had no hope of going to heaven. When they saw that Jesus would go and stay at the house of this “lowlife,” they complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” (Luke 19:7) In response to their objections, Jesus said of Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:9-10) Like His Father in heaven, Jesus showed no partiality, whether in His ministry or in carrying out His redemptive work.
Thank God that neither our Father in heaven nor our Savior Jesus Christ was partial, but rather carried out their gracious mission with unconditional love. Had they been minded to show favoritism, we would all be facing eternal condemnation, because there is nothing in any of us meriting God’s favor.
The Lord redeemed us not only for the sake of our everlasting salvation, but also, as His dear children, to reflect His impartial love toward all others. When we have a Christ-like love, it won’t matter to us what others possess, or how they look. They are all precious in the sight of God and therefore are to be spoken to and treated with unconditional love.
May God have mercy upon us and forgive us whenever we “play favorites.” And may He fill our hearts with a Christ-like, impartial love!
Mark Gullerud is retired from the pastoral ministry. He lives in Sunnyvale, California.