17 May The Stained Glass Divide: Confronting Church Partiality
In the tapestry of the church, woven with threads of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and socio-economic statuses, an issue often emerges – the issue of partiality. Partiality, or favoritism, presents itself when we unfairly prefer one person or group over another, often based on external factors like wealth, social status, or physical appearance. This issue is not new; it has subtly infiltrated the church throughout history, creating divisions and discord amongst brothers and sisters in Christ.
However, our faith offers a potent antidote to this divisive problem: unity in Christ. As followers of Jesus, we are called to view one another not through the lens of worldly standards, but through the eyes of Christ. In the body of Christ, all are equal, all are valued, and all are loved. Upholding this unity, this oneness in Christ, serves as a powerful defense against the disruptive force of partiality.
The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, offers a stark warning against such divisive behavior: “Give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27 ESV). In this context, ‘giving an opportunity’ signifies a metaphorical foothold or an opening for the devil to create disunity among believers. Partiality, in its various forms, provides just such an opportunity. Therefore, as we delve into this issue, let’s bear in mind Paul’s caution, recognizing the spiritual implications of our actions and attitudes within the church community.
Understanding Partiality in Biblical Terms
To fully grasp the implications of partiality, we must first understand it in a biblical context. In essence, partiality is an antithesis to the foundational Christian belief in Imago Dei, the concept that all humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27 ESV). This principle implies that every person, regardless of their worldly standing, bears the divine imprint of their Creator and thus possesses inherent dignity and worth. When we show partiality, we deny this fundamental truth, favoring certain images of God over others based on external, worldly criteria.
The book of James provides a clear admonishment against such behavior. In James 2:1-7 (ESV), the Apostle writes, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” He proceeds to paint a vivid picture of a rich man and a poor man entering a gathering. If we were to give the rich man preferential treatment based on his appearance, we would not only be making “distinctions among ourselves,” but we would also become “judges with evil thoughts.” Such behavior sharply contradicts the principles of love, respect, and equality that underpin the teachings of Christ.
Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 (ESV) further emphasize this point: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This verse embodies the equality we share in Christ, irrespective of our race, status, or gender. In the shadow of the cross, the ground is indeed level, reminding us that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace. None of us is spiritually superior or inferior to the other. We are all equal at the foot of the cross, recipients of God’s unmerited grace through Christ, and thus called to reflect this grace in our interactions with one another. Hence, when we live in unity and resist partiality, we truly honor the Imago Dei in each person, affirming the equality and worth that God has bestowed upon us all.
Biblical Examples of Fighting Against Partiality
The early Christian church, as depicted in the book of Acts, offers us the first practical example of addressing partiality. In Acts 6:1-7 (ESV), we encounter a situation where the Greek-speaking widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. Recognizing this partiality, the apostles acted decisively. They appointed seven men, full of the Spirit and wisdom, to ensure equitable distribution. This act, which led to the establishment of the diaconate, shows how the early church acknowledged the issue of partiality and took steps to rectify it.
Another powerful illustration comes from the Apostle Paul himself, in his confrontation with Peter as recorded in Galatians 2:11-14 (ESV). Upon observing that Peter was showing partiality by withdrawing from Gentile believers out of fear of criticism from certain Jewish believers, Paul openly rebuked him. He pointed out that Peter’s behavior was not in line with the truth of the Gospel, demonstrating the importance of standing against partiality, even when it involves confronting respected leaders.
Jesus, in His teachings, frequently challenged the norms and expectations of His society. In Luke 14:12-14 (ESV), He tells a parable in which a man hosts a great banquet. Instead of inviting his friends, relatives, or wealthy neighbors who could repay him, the man is urged to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Jesus’ point is clear: in the kingdom of God, worldly status holds no value. By teaching His followers to extend their generosity to those who cannot repay, Jesus underscores the principle of impartiality and the true measure of Christian love. This parable serves as a timeless reminder to resist partiality and to extend our love and service equally to all, as Christ did.
In the Christian life, partiality is not just a social concern—it’s a battleground. When we allow partiality to seep into our relationships within the body of Christ, we inadvertently create an opening for the enemy to sow discord and division. We give the devil a foothold, as Paul warns in Ephesians 4:27 (ESV). The enemy thrives on division, using it to weaken our collective witness and hinder our mission. Therefore, standing against partiality is not just about promoting social unity—it’s about spiritual resilience.
In Ephesians 6:10-18 (ESV), Paul uses the metaphor of the armor of God to describe the spiritual resources at our disposal in this battle. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit are all tools that can help us resist the divisive impact of partiality. This passage encourages us to stand firm against the schemes of the devil by upholding truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation—all of which are incompatible with partiality. As we arm ourselves with these spiritual resources, we strengthen our resolve to maintain unity in the body of Christ.
Peter, too, reminds us of the active and relentless nature of our adversary in 1 Peter 5:8-9 (ESV): “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” This vivid depiction serves as a reminder of the vigilance required in our spiritual lives. It’s a call to resist the devil by rejecting partiality and standing firm in our faith, fully aware that our unity in Christ is a formidable defense against our prowling adversary.
The Dissonance of Division
Partiality and divisions wreak havoc within the church, distorting its mission and undermining its witness. These internal fractures divert our focus from the Gospel, stir up strife, and mar the beauty of Christian fellowship.
To illustrate this, consider a symphony orchestra. Each musician in an orchestra plays a unique instrument, from the soaring violins to the rumbling percussions. Though each instrument produces a different sound, they all come together under the conductor’s guidance to create harmonious music.
Now imagine if the musicians started to show partiality, if the string players decided they were superior because they played the melody more often, or the brass section thought they were better because they played louder. Suppose they began to favor their own section, refusing to listen to the others, and even trying to drown out the other sections with their own music.
The result would be a cacophony of sound, an unbearable discord that would drive the audience away. The orchestra, once a source of beautiful music, would become an instrument of noise and disharmony. The musicians, instead of working together to create a symphony, would be competing against each other, undermining the purpose for which the orchestra was formed.
Similarly, when partiality and divisions enter the church, they disrupt the harmony of the body of Christ. They undermine the church’s mission to be a witness of God’s love and grace to the world. Instead of working together to serve God and others, church members may end up competing against each other, creating strife and disunity. This not only damages the fellowship within the church but also tarnishes its witness to the outside world.
Therefore, it’s crucial for the church to guard against partiality and strive for unity, recognizing that every member of the body of Christ has a unique role to play in the symphony of God’s kingdom.
Extending Grace Beyond the Stained Glass Windows
Let’s envision a bustling church community, filled with well-meaning, devout Christians who live out their faith in accordance with biblical teachings. They actively participate in church activities, help their neighbors, and aim to live out the virtues of love, kindness, and mercy. On the other side of the stained glass windows, we find someone who represents the harsh realities of life outside the church walls. This individual, carrying the scars of a traumatic upbringing, has sought solace in drugs, alcohol, fleeting relationships, and sexual perversions. In their search for belonging, they have aligned themselves with causes and lifestyles that clash with Christian principles. But the world has failed them, they’ve come to the end of themselves, and they wonder if God could ever accept them.
The challenge, and indeed our Christian duty, is to bridge this gap. We are called to extend compassion and grace to the lost and broken. In Mark 2:17 (ESV), Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus didn’t come for the spiritually healthy, but for those in need of healing and salvation – a profound reminder for us to extend His grace and love to all, without partiality. We can offer support, a listening ear, or even a simple, heartfelt prayer. We can aim to show them the transformative power of Christ’s love, which transcends all boundaries, heals all wounds, and offers hope where there was once despair.
When we actively resist the temptation to show partiality, our churches transform into true sanctuaries, places of refuge where anyone, regardless of their past, can encounter the redeeming love of Christ. Such a church does not just exist for its congregation; it serves as a lighthouse for those lost in life’s stormy seas, guiding them towards the safe harbor of God’s grace. As we let this radical, inclusive love shape our actions, we mirror Christ’s teachings and offer a powerful testimony to the world around us.
The Comfort of Familiarity and the Illusion of Safety
Our adversary does not always employ tactics of overt chaos or obvious evil. Sometimes, his strategy is subtler, using the allure of comfort and the familiar to lull us into complacency.
The appeal of our established social groups within the church, our routine worship practices, and the reassuring rhythm of a “safe little church” can be strong. This comfort can create an illusion of safety, making us feel that our Christian lives are thriving while we remain insulated from the harsh realities outside our church walls.
Why would the enemy want this? Because a comfortable church is a church that is not pushing its boundaries, not reaching out, not challenging the status quo. When we’re at ease within our familiar circles, we’re less likely to step out and welcome those on the peripheries.
The consequences are significant. Those who are lost and broken, those outside our church walls, remain alienated. They continue to wander, often led towards spiritual destruction, while we remain within our comfort zones, oblivious to their plight.
We must remember that the call to follow Jesus is a call to disrupt comfort for the sake of love. It’s a call to carry our cross, to reach out to the lost, and to break down the barriers of partiality. As we break free from the comfort of the familiar, we open the doors to those who need to experience the transformative love of Christ.
Answering the Call to Faith in Action
As we have seen, partiality has no place in the body of Christ. It disrupts the harmony of our fellowship, hinders our mission, and goes against the very teachings of Jesus. Now, more than ever, we are called to stand against this divisive force and strive towards a church that truly reflects God’s love for all.
The call to action is clear: we must actively resist partiality in all its forms, both within our churches and in our daily lives. But how can we put this into practice? Here are a few practical steps:
- Be Aware: Recognize the signs of partiality in ourselves and our communities. Acknowledge it when we see it, even if it’s uncomfortable.
- Be Inclusive: Strive to make everyone feel valued and heard, regardless of their background, appearance, or life situation. Extend our tables, widen our circles, and ensure our fellowship is truly inclusive.
- Be Compassionate: Show empathy towards those who are different from us. Listen to their stories, acknowledge their struggles, and offer support where we can.
- Be Vocal: Speak the Truth in Love: When confronted with instances of partiality, whether subtle or overt, let us find the courage to address them. This doesn’t mean pointing fingers or harshly judging others, but rather, speaking the truth in love as Ephesians 4:15 (ESV) instructs us.
As we take these steps, let us remember that the fight against partiality is not just about social justice—it’s a vital part of our spiritual warfare. By promoting unity and equality, we strengthen our collective witness, enhance our fellowship with one another, and most importantly, we align ourselves more closely with the heart of God. Let us strive, then, to be a church that truly represents the inclusive, unconditional love of Christ, a church where everyone has a place at the table, and where the unity of the Spirit is our unshakeable bond.
Sermon & Sandwiches
Discussing a sermon after its delivery can be a valuable practice. Not only does it allow for a deeper understanding of the message, but it also facilitates the application of the sermon’s teachings to daily life. Here are some conversation starters to help initiate such a discussion:
- “How do you think we, as a church, can better ensure that everyone feels equally valued and included, regardless of their background or circumstances?”
- “Can you recall any instances where you’ve felt we might be unknowingly showing partiality within our community? How can we address this?”
- “What are some practical ways we can resist the temptation to favor those who are similar to us, and instead extend our love and fellowship equally to all?”
- “How can we more actively demonstrate that we value every person as created in the image of God?”
- “In what ways do you think we might be staying in our comfort zones within our church community? How can we step out of these familiar spaces to reach those on the peripheries?”
- “What does it mean to you to ‘speak the truth in love’ when we notice instances of partiality or exclusion?”
- “How can we personally contribute to making our church a true sanctuary, a place where anyone, regardless of their past, can experience the love of Christ?”
- “In what ways can we make our everyday lives a reflection of the inclusive, unconditional love of Christ?”
The Daily Devotion
Here are five daily devotional assignments based on the sermon’s theme, promoting understanding and application of the message throughout the week:
Monday: Read the book of James, focusing specifically on James 2:1-13. Reflect on the message of showing no partiality and loving your neighbor as yourself. Write down any thoughts or feelings that arise.
Tuesday: Prayerfully reflect on any areas in your life where you may be showing partiality or favoritism, even unconsciously. Ask God for guidance and grace to change these attitudes.
Wednesday: Journal about how you can more actively show love to those who are different from you. This could include people within your community, workplace, or even within your own family.
Thursday: Do a random act of kindness for someone who you wouldn’t typically interact with. It could be helping a stranger, reaching out to a colleague you rarely talk to, or expressing appreciation to someone often overlooked.
Friday: Spend some time in prayer, asking God to help you to see people as He sees them – created in His image and equally loved by Him. Make a commitment to carry this perspective into the following week and beyond.
Remember, these activities are meant to help you internalize and live out the teachings from the sermon. They are personal, and you can adapt them to your circumstances as needed.
Explaining the essential truths from this sermon to your children is a wonderful opportunity to engage with them on significant topics like love, equality, and respect. Use the following guide to break down these concepts into age-appropriate discussions and activities.
For Younger Children (3-6 years old):
Explain that God loves everyone equally, just like how you love all your family members the same. Everyone is special and important, no matter how different they might look or behave.
Activity: Draw a big heart and let your child fill it with pictures of different people – friends, family, and even characters from their favorite TV shows or books. Ask them, “Do you think God loves all these people the same?”
For School-Aged Children (7-12 years old):
Discuss the concept of favoritism. Ask them how they would feel if their teacher gave more attention to some students and ignored others. Relate it to God’s love, emphasizing that He doesn’t play favorites – He loves everyone equally.
Activity: Have them write or draw a story about a time when they felt left out or when they saw someone else being left out. Talk about how they can show love and kindness in those situations.
For Teenagers (13-17 years old):
Dive deeper into the issue of partiality and prejudice. Ask, “Can you think of a time when you might have treated someone differently based on their appearance, interests, or background?” Discuss the importance of viewing and treating everyone as equals.
Activity: Encourage them to take action. Maybe they could invite someone who is usually left out to join them in a fun activity. Or perhaps they could find a way to stand up against discrimination or bullying they witness.
Remember, these are not one-time conversations. Use everyday situations and observations to keep these discussions going, reminding your children that God’s love extends to everyone, and so should ours.