Pastoral Perspectives

The Church Should Have No Favourites

When it comes to the issue of partiality, it all boils down to how we base our treatment of someone on something that should not be the basis of how we treat them. In the context of James, the basis of how people were treated in the church was riches and poverty (James 2:2-3). To bring the illustration up to date, those who step into church with their Ferragamos and clutching their Bottegas are given a red-carpet welcome while those who looked like they just raided the reject pile of a thrift shop are given the cold shoulder.

Although James does not give us the reasons why the believers discriminated against the poor, he rebukes them unapologetically and points out that those who do so possessed evil thoughts (v.4). In other words, when Christians make distinctions and place more value on a rich person over the poor, it only reveals our wrong motives and how we have judged people on the wrong basis. Furthermore, James tells us that when we are partial, we are actually sinning against God (v.9). In addition, we are failing to demonstrate love since we have deemed the poor to be unworthy of our attention and concern.

In an economy driven by profit, is understandable why the rich often receives preferential treatment. After all, it is the well-heeled and big spenders are pampered in the first-class departure lounges and get invited to glitzy joints because they are believed to be good for business. The problem is when such pragmatism begins to pervade the church as believers pander to the rich, hoping to gain something out of them or mistaking that a local congregation will rise in status simply by being associated with them. Whether we are church leaders or members, we need to guard ourselves against the tendency to bend over for the sake of the rich and powerful, especially in the areas of church discipline and ministry directions.

To be sure, there is a difference between showing respect and honouring a person and being partial towards him. In the Bible, Christians are instructed to honour our parents and the elderly and to obey our national and church leaders. Likewise, we can give deference to the opinions of a person on matters involving his profession and where he has a proven track record.

However, it is a separate matter if a church should excuse a believer who for example blatantly parks on the handicap lot simply because it is more convenient to leave the church compound in the event of emergency calls. Similarly, a church would do well to ensure it is not left to those who handle huge funds or oversee a big number of staff at their workplaces to dominate the discussion in church matters. After all, God is no respecter of persons and only those who fear him are acceptable to him (Acts 10:34-35).

Sometimes, Christians have also shown partiality by paying more attention to those who are good-looking, talented or eloquent. It is most unfortunate that especially amongst the young people, it is usually such individuals who tend to be popular or get approached to take on responsibilities in church. If a Christian community is to be different, we must be intentional in cultivating a culture where every person is affirmed as someone wonderfully made in God’s image and precious before the Lord.

Evidently, we do need to search our hearts about why we sometimes treat people differently. According to John Piper, he explains that often the origin of our partiality is either craving for human glory or out of fear. Indeed, if we are honest with ourselves, it would seem that showing partiality has more to do with our lack of trust in Christ than anything else. Instead of trusting Christ to be our glory, believers are mistaken into believing that we can receive glory from the rich and powerful. We think that when they are well settled in our churches, our churches can embark on bigger projects and benefit from the media attention. On the other hand, we are anxious over how our churches may lose much if we fail to give adequate consideration to the talented or successful.

It is understandable that within a church context, there will be some whom we can connect better with or feel we can identify with more. After all, not everyone will share our enthusiasm over a particular soccer team or rave with us over a specific hawker stall. But it would be a different issue altogether if we are partial towards someone simply because he could afford to fly over to watch the match live or pay the chef to cook for him personally.

Pastor Edwin Wong

September 16, 2012