In the previous installment we reviewed the many biblical passages that describe a positive view of discrimination, partiality, respecting of person, and favoritism. We demonstrated that God is not a Marxist. God does not believe in equality. God does not believe it is wrong to choose to love and show favor to certain people more than others; but, in very fact, it is one of the principles he himself operates on.
In this next lesson, which will be our Part 2, we are going to look at the negative forms of showing respect of persons (partiality). These negative forms of partiality are primarily and almost exclusively related to judgment. We are not permitted to pervert justice under any circumstance.
The problem with modern society is that they have distorted what justice means. Justice does not mean equality. Justice does not mean the absence of favoritism or in-group privileges. Let us delve into scripture and examine when it is not permissible to have respect of persons.
“And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.” — Deuteronomy 1:16-17
Here, in Deuteronomy, we can see the mind of God and the underlying factor of respect of persons being a negative concept. It has to do with judgment. Every judgment under the law that is made must be dealt with righteously and justly. The law cannot be twisted or perverted to the favor of one person against another.
In this instance, we see the example of the small vs. the great. Perhaps there is a situation where there is someone of great reputation. Maybe he has a lot of money or power or influence in society. Or maybe you just like him better than the other person. The law must not be spurned in favor of the law breaker because of his status, his money, or any other factor. The judges are not to fear man or fear the consequences that may arise because of their choice to make a righteous judgment according to law. God is the ultimate defender of truth and justice and righteousness. Judges must fear God; and fearing God involves judging according to God’s law.
Notice what the scripture does not say. It does not say that our laws must protect against specific groups of people being discriminated against. However, justice under the law must be equal. The law that states “Thou shalt do no murder” (Matthew 19:18) applies equally to all; rich and poor, popular or unpopular. It applies whether you are an Israelite or foreigner. It applies whether you are a priest or farmer.
We read further in Deuteronomy:
“Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.” — Deuteronomy 16:19
Here we have further clarification on wresting (twisting) justice. God warns against taking a gift, or in other words, a bribe. In our nation today, we see this very thing, over and over again. It typically happens where someone of great wealth or influence is able to get off the hook legally for crimes because of their wealth, influence, etc. in society.
Our politicians and judges are bought off by big corporations and other wealthy individuals who put in a lot of money to make sure that, most of the time, the criminal cabal is never even called in to questioning for their crimes, let alone arrested and tried. We have a huge distortion of justice in our land that is related to the violation of the principles we are speaking of in God’s word.
Everyone knows these kind of perversions of justice happen, but there has not been much we can do about it. Our nation has abandoned God and thus God has removed his hand of protection from our legal process.
In the Proverbs we read further warnings about respecting persons that support the law of Moses in this area (Proverbs 24:23, 28:21).
God Does Not Respect Persons in Judgment
God describes his own judgment as being without respect of persons. Judges are to judge justly because this is also the character of the LORD himself.
“And he (Jehoshaphat) set judges in the land throughout all the fenced cities of Judah, city by city, And said to the judges, Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment. Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.” — 2Chronicles 19:5-7
The New Testament scripture writers continue to affirm God’s character, in that he does not respect persons in judgement (Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25, 1Peter 1:17)
In the previous study we saw that God had a special love toward Abraham and his seed, particularly Israel. God showed favor toward Israel that he did not show toward other tribes and nations. Yet at the same time, God is no respecter of persons when it comes to judgment for descendents of Israel.
John Baptist made this clear in his preaching:
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” — Matthew 3:7-10
John Baptist made it clear to those Israelites trusting in their racial lineage that they would not escape God’s eternal judgment if they did not repent. God has never and never will overlook anyone’s sins based on their racial lineage. All must repent and all must come to Christ. Many dispensational professing Christians, such as those who are taught by John Hagee, claim that God favors and loves those who call themselves Jews today because of their physical lineage. Yet, the scriptures teach plainly that they are under God’s curse and judgment. The wrath of God is abiding on them to the uttermost for their rejection of Christ:
“…for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” — 1Thessalonians 2:14-16
In another passage we read the words that may be attributed to John Baptist:
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” — John 3:36
Respecting Persons in Personal Judgment
In the previous lesson, we learned that it is entirely righteous for a father to show partiality to his own children in matters of privilege. But when it comes to judgment, it is impermissible to pervert justice in favor of your own children.
For example, if my child and the child of my Christian brother are in a dispute, and I pervert the truth and ignore the facts of the situations simply because it is my child who was in the wrong, this would be sin. And this is the emphasis of the 9th commandment which forbids bearing false witness against your neighbor. When we pervert the truth in a manner that harms our neighbor, we are sinning. Any kind of respecting of persons that perverts justice is a violation of the 9th commandment and is something that the LORD greatly abhors.
An example in scripture that highlights this principle is found in Deuteronomy 13:
“If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is among you.” — Deuteronomy 13:6-11
We see from this passage that, once again, the principle of not having respect of persons is tied in with the subject of justice and judgment. We are not to pervert biblical justice and judgment based on our personal relationships. While there is nothing wrong with protecting loved ones from unjust or tyrannical government edicts, we must never thwart the justice of God via the state for a loved one. The law of God and our love for the LORD must supersede our love for our kinsmen and friends.
Jesus further emphasizes this point, as recorded in the gospel of Luke:
“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple…
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” — Luke 14:26,33
The Right and Responsibility of the Firstborn
Another example of something we looked at in the previous study is in regards to the rights and responsibilities of the firstborn. We read that the firstborn was to receive a double portion of his father’s goods.
“If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.” — Deuteronomy 21:15-17
In the same passage where we learn that the firstborn son receives special rights, privileges, and duties, not based on his merit, but on his birth order, we also read that favoritism of the child of a more loved wife cannot be used to pervert God’s established law. The right of the firstborn under God’s law cannot be circumvented because of a father’s preference toward a different wife and/or son. And because it would be unjust in God’s eyes, this form of discrimination would be prohibited.
Respecting of Persons in a Negative Fashion Before the Law
“The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin. Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge:” — Deuteronomy 24:16-17
Inasmuch as God forbids the respecting of persons in matters of judgment in favor of someone, he also forbids the reverse; in judgment, negative forms of punishment are forbidden to individuals based on the behavior of a relative. This does not imply that negative social consequences may not happen to a father or son because of their relative’s behavior, but it does protect someone being punished for someone else’s crime (in matters of law and justice). This law also does not negate the items previously discussed in the 2nd commandment about God visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.
James Chapter 2- Respect of Persons
James Chapter 2 is an often cited scripture passage by promoters of equality as a proof text that God is against showing partiality of any kind. On the surface of the passage it would appear that God is condemning the showing of favoritism within church meetings. But this is not the case. From the Mathew Henry Commentary we read:
“We have this sin described and cautioned against, by an instance or example of it (Jas. 2:2, 3): For if there come into your assembly a man with a gold ring, etc. Assembly here is meant of those meetings which were appointed for deciding matters of difference among the members of the church, or for determining when censures should be passed upon any, and what those censures should be; therefore the Greek word here used, synagoge, signifies such an assembly as that in the Jewish synagogues, when they met to do justice.”
Henry goes on to say:
“But we must be careful not to apply what is here said to the common assemblies for worship; for in these certainly there may be appointed different places of persons according to their rank and circumstances, without sin.”
I highly recommend reading the entire commentary on this passage of scripture. The main point I want to emphasize here is, obviously, that once again the scripture is referring to matters of judgment in regards to respect of persons being something negative.
Never do we read in the scriptures that showing respect of persons in general is deemed as a negative thing, or a sin. Showing respect of persons is specifically a sin when matters of justice and the law of God are involved. We must not pervert the law of God or perform any action or distortion of justice in judgments and decisions.
We must be cautious in two things:
1) That we do not pervert justice in any way due to a partiality in favor or against someone. We must be careful that we do not allow the influence of gain for ourselves or loved ones (whether it is reputation, money, or anything else) to sway us in a manner that causes us to not judge justly according to God’s law.
2) That we do not unjustly judge other Christians and charge them with sin for something that is scripturally not sin. The Holy Scriptures are what determines right and wrong; they alone determine what sin is and what is not.
Certainly we are not forbidden from using scripture and drawing practical application from it in making our judgments. But we must be sure we are not misinterpreting what the scripture is actually saying. If showing partiality is unrighteous in all or even in most situations, then God himself in an unrighteous schizophrenic hypocrite. But this is not the case. Let God be true but every man a liar.