Show No Partiality…
About a week ago I was putting the finishing touches on my high school Sunday School class when I realized I had to put aside that lesson. Racial injustice was in the public eye, social media was flooded with views, and it was obvious I needed to talk to my class on the subject. What does the Bible say about racism? I’d never heard this question addressed directly. But while prayerfully preparing, it became clear this is not a political issue — it is a moral issue, and the Bible has something to say about it.
this is not a political issue — it is a moral issue, and the Bible has something to say about it.I am white and I felt insecure about teaching this class. I haven’t felt the pain of racism but if I didn’t address the subject with the young people, who would? Our class is diverse and our relationship is strong, so we launched into the subject.
God’s word provides practical guidance for every aspect of our lives and it was clear from the students’ responsiveness, they were hungry for the message. The Word of God is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). The thoughts and intents of our heart are what influence our actions. These young people want to know what God expects us to think and do! The answer is clear, as the Sunday School class and I discovered.
Feel uncomfortable. Consider your ways. Be transformed and renewed
The topic of racism is emotionally charged, and I imagine I am not the only one who has moments of insecurity when bringing this topic up. Perhaps this discomfort is good; It motivates us to seek a clear view of God’s perspective.
And there is a clear message. One that needs to be articulated for everyone’s sake but especially for our young people, who are looking for guidance. They need to know the Word has answers to life’s toughest questions. They need to know faith is about the way we live. The days leading up to our Lord’s return will be violent and chaotic but we need to know how to respond faithfully. To be silent, in light of the clear teachings of the Bible, is inexcusable.
A Message Deeply Embedded in the Gospel
To be silent, in light of the clear teachings of the Bible, is inexcusable.In the beginning, God created man in his own image (Genesis 1:27). Abraham was given the promise that in him all families of the earth would be blessed. (Genesis 12:3). God gave his son for the redemption of all who believe in him (John 3:16). Having put on Christ “you are all the sons of God through faith and inherit the promises made to Abraham” (Galatians 3:26-29). Being a follower of Christ doesn’t look a certain way on the exterior; God looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7). God is calling out a people for His name (Acts 15:14) from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” (Revelation 7:9). God desires that people of all races, cultures, and experiences be part of the bride of Christ.
Fundamental to the character of God is His impartiality
Partiality is the tendency to favor one group over another, unfairly. Fundamental to the character of God is His impartiality. After the giving of the law, God made clear to Israel what He expected of them, because of His character. In Deuteronomy 10:16-18 He told them to
Notice that the first active quality of God is His impartiality.
Before mentioning His justice, before mentioning His love, God is described as impartial.
Despite these clear directives, Israel struggled to reflect the character of God. Even Samuel had to be told “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). At another critical juncture in time God taught Peter a similar lesson. Right before the rugged Jewish fisherman went to meet the Roman centurion Cornelius, he was given a clear message. Peter was so impressed by the message that despite a lifetime of prejudice, he could exclaim, “TRULY I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35). I picture Peter saying this with a sudden clarity like Job’s when Job proclaimed, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;” (Job 42:5). Both marveled at the wonder of understanding, and personally experiencing God’s extraordinary will.
Overcoming the Condition of the Human Heart
It is sadly not surprising that the sin of partiality can continue to impede healthy relationships in ecclesial life. James’ words teach us to recognize bias is inconsistent with faithful living. He describes partiality as a behavior that can end in a guilty verdict:
It is very uncomfortable for us to imagine ourselves going before a judge in a court of law and being convicted. But that is exactly the tone of the apostle James when pointing out the seriousness of this sin of partiality. Remember the law in Deuteronomy 10:16-18: the first active quality describing God is His impartiality. What James describes is ugly behavior within the ecclesia. It takes careful self-examination to remove this from our thinking. No wonder God used the image of circumcising the heart in Deuteronomy 10:16. A beautiful contrast to the works of the flesh comes to mind — “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23).
James moves from speaking of partiality to addressing faith without works. Saying the words “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” is not enough. Similarly, to say we’re impartial, but to be indifferent in our actions, is no good. If our faith doesn’t lead to action, it is dead. Jesus said the things we do are done to him, and the things we fail to do are not done to him. (Matthew 25:40,45).
My white brothers and sisters, if we, like the Levite and Priest in Christ’s parable, cross to the other side of the road, when we see black and brown people wounded and in pain, because, “I saw his pain, I looked at her wounds, but I crossed to the other side of the road because I did not think it would be right for me to get involved,” we must not be surprised if our Master looks on us and says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matthew 25:45)
Be transformed: with renewed minds, discern the will of God (Romans 12:2)
So, what do we do?
- Ask questions, and listen: with no ulterior motive, listen. A phrase that stands out to me is “seek to understand rather than be understood.” There is no need to justify yourself. Simply listen with love.
- Learn more: google, read, watch videos, and carefully weigh up what is said in light of the Scriptures. What does racism look like? We may not be aware of our own biases. We may also be unaware of the experiences of brothers and sisters of color.
- Recognize your advantages: we all have privilege in one way or another. For example, as a child, I was never taught to fear the police. In fact, I was taught they would help me if I were in trouble. This is not the experience of black children whose parents have to carefully frame warnings about interaction with the police. Recognizing privilege may feel uncomfortable, but it is a necessary step in the right direction.
- Love your neighbor as yourself. As yourself! Love esteems others better than oneself. (Philippians 2:3).
- Pray: Prayer is NOT a last resort. “All I can do now is pray” does not give power to prayer. Prayer changes us. Prayer is our incredible access to our Father, the King of the Universe. He is powerful to help us. He gives wisdom generously to those who ask. Praying for each other will make a difference. Most of all, we must pray for the return of Christ. Psalm 72 paints the picture of a righteous ruler, one who will defend and deliver, and crush the oppressor. This is the ultimate solution to the world’s problems, and the focus of our precious hope, and our message to those distressed by the inequities of this time. Brothers and sisters, this is the King for who’s coming we plead.
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