Balanced, impartial, unbiased views are going out of style in our culture today. While we like to think that we act with fairness and have a balanced way of looking at the world, I don’t think most of are as impartial as we’d like to be. We tend to prioritize emotional arguments over facts and logic (or vice versa, depending on our personality). We may favor certain groups of people when making decisions. Or perhaps we think that what’s “fair” should always work out in our favor. We’re partial to certain types of arguments, certain types of people, and to our own self interests. Those are very human reactions. In contrast, James tells us that godly wisdom operates without partiality.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. (James 3:17, all quotes from WEB translation)
Acting without partiality is a hard thing to do, but it is a godly thing and therefore worth doing. Part of growing to have the “wisdom that is from above” involves setting aside our automatic human reactions to situations and replacing them with how God would react.
Impartial Gift of Wisdom
Before we start looking at how we’re to be impartial, it’s important to note that God doesn’t show partiality regarding whom He blesses with wisdom. James writes, “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” If you meet the basic requirements — seek God and ask in faith (James 1:5-6) — then God will give wisdom regardless of your age, background, ethnicity, status, ability, etc. He is not a “respecter of persons” who shows favoritism or twists His rules based on who someone is (Deut. 10:17; 2 Chr. 19:7; Acts 10:34).
Just as he who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all of your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy; for I am holy.” If you call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judges according to each man’s work, pass the time of your living as foreigners here in reverent fear (1 Peter 1:15-17)
Part of becoming holy is learning to be like God, and one of the ways He operates is without showing favoritism. If we respect Him as Father, then we should know Him as impartial judge and respect Him by living in reverent fear. Interestingly, this sort of fear is called “the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10, see also Prov. 15:33; Is. 33:6).
The Ungodliness of Partiality
Shortly before telling us the wisdom from above is “without partiality,” James gives us one example of what ungodly partiality looks like.
My brothers, don’t hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with partiality. For if a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, comes into your synagogue, and a poor man in filthy clothing also comes in, and you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing and say, “Sit here in a good place;” and you tell the poor man, “Stand there,” or “Sit by my footstool” haven’t you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
When we show partiality we separate, make distinction, discriminate, and prefer one thing or person over another. That’s what diakrino means (G1252, Thayer’s dictionary definition). In contrast, wisdom is adiakritos — without diakrino (G87). Wisdom does not practice favoritism, discriminate, or see distinctions. When we respect God, who is impartial, we begin to learn wisdom and become more and more like Him. To show partiality is to not “be holy as the Father is holy.” In contrast, to act impartially is to become more like God.
Learning to Be Like God
Learning not to show partiality can be a process, much as learning wisdom is a process. Peter is a good example. When the Lord revealed to him through interactions with the Roman believer Cornelius that God welcomes non-Jews into His family, Peter said, “Truly I perceive that God doesn’t show favoritism; but in every nation he who fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35). Yet even after that, Peter still needed Paul to call him out on his hypocrisy for separating himself from Gentile believers for fear of the Jews (Gal. 2:11-14).
“There is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2:11), and therefor there should be no partiality among us. Paul particularly emphasized this point for those in authority, presumably because they have more opportunities to either pervert or uphold impartiality. Masters are to treat their servants well and stop threatening them, knowing they too have a Master “in heaven, and there is no partiality with him” (Eph. 6:9). Paul also commands Timothy, and we can assume other pastors as well, to follow Jesus and “observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing by partiality” (1 Tim. 5:21).
The wise know how to act without partiality. They’ve learned to follow the commands, “You shall not be partial to the poor, nor show favoritism to the great … you shall hear the small and the great alike” (Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17). As we grow in wisdom and become more like God, we’ll learn to see people as He does, without showing favoritism in any direction.
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