The Secret Sin of Prejudice and Partiality1
All of us know that some sins are more conspicuous and overt than others. Public drunkenness, for example, or profane speech are readily identifiable. It’s obvious to even the casual observer if someone is intoxicated. Continue reading . . .
All of us know that some sins are more conspicuous and overt than others. Public drunkenness, for example, or profane speech are readily identifiable. It’s obvious to even the casual observer if someone is intoxicated. The same is true of obscene or profane speech. If you have eyes and ears you can know instantly whether such sins are being committed.
Other sins, however, are more covert and secret. People seem to get away with adultery more times than not. Unless you are an actual eye-witness to adultery, it’s hard to prove. This is even more so the case with sins like jealousy or envy or bitterness or lust. Typically we wouldn’t know if someone is failing in these ways unless they tell us about their internal struggles.
I may be wrong, but my sense is that, in 2015, the most secret sin of all may well be that of partiality and prejudice. I say it is secret not only because it can’t be seen or smelled or touched but especially because we are passionately committed to denying that it even exists. People who readily confess that they struggle with lust or unforgiveness or bitterness will rarely be honest enough to admit that they are prejudiced towards people of a different ethnicity or socio-economic group.
This sin is not only secret, but also sinister. It’s hard to think of a sin within that is more wicked and contrary to the will of God than the feelings of superiority and condescension we have toward people who are different from us. We look at those whose skin color is different from ours and conclude that they are for that reason alone inferior in some way to us; they are of less value; they should be treated with less respect and shown less honor. Or we look at the way they dress or the way they talk and inwardly turn up our noses because they lack the sophistication in which we take pride. Or we think of the schools they’ve attended, or perhaps the schools into which they were denied acceptance. Or we secretly question their common sense or intellectual skills because of where they live. And the list could go on endlessly.
My point is simply that there is hardly a more vicious and un-Christian energy in the human soul than that of prejudice and the resultant partiality and discrimination with which we treat people who don’t measure up to our standards.
All this was brought to my attention recently in the light of what James writes in chapter two, verses one through thirteen, in his epistle. James pulls no punches. He has some fairly harsh and pointed things to say about people who are prejudiced and show partiality. They are said to have “evil thoughts” (v. 4); they “dishonor” (v. 6) others; they are “committing sin” and are “transgressors” of the law (v. 9).
Why is this so? I mean, why is it such a heinous and grievous thing to hold prejudice in your heart and then to treat others with partiality? The answer is found elsewhere in Scripture and it relates to the character of God himself. In Romans 2:11 Paul says that “God shows no partiality.” In that context he’s talking about God’s just and righteous treatment of both Jews and Gentiles and his point is that the distinction between them in terms of ethnicity doesn’t register in God’s heart.
Again, in Acts 10:34 Peter declares that anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him because “God shows no partiality.” In Ephesians 6:9 Paul commands masters to treat their bondservants with fairness and kindness because with God “there is no partiality.” That is to say, God doesn’t treat masters better than or worse than their servants simply because one is a master and the other his servant. God doesn’t operate on the basis of a double standard depending on your socio-economic status or the color of your skin or the blood in your veins. And therefore neither should we! In other words, to pass judgment on the basis of external considerations, to discriminate on the basis of racial or socio-economic factors is contrary to the character and behavior of God and must therefore be absent from the lives of those who profess to be his children.
The problem James is addressing in chapter two is the reality of prejudice and the resultant lack of impartiality in how we treat people based on their socio-economic status. And in light of what we just saw in Romans 2:11 and Acts 10:34 I think we are justified in extending the nature of this prejudice to issues of race or ethnicity as well. It’s important to note that the word translated “partiality” in James 2:1 is the same word found in both Romans 2:11 and Acts 10:34.
Therefore I think James would be perfectly happy for us to apply the principles of this exhortation not only to the prejudice we experience with regard to social, economic, and financial status but also to racial or ethnic prejudice as well. How we treat others, whether with honor or dishonor, respect or disrespect, should never be based on riches or race.