An Impartial God and What He Expects of His People
Posted by January 30, 2017on
Improper ideas and attitudes about race infect our society. Sadly, these kinds of attitudes can also exist in God’s Church. How can we make sure we don’t have them?
This past year has shown that the United States is still very much divided—with hatreds and prejudices still existing in so many areas of the American psyche. We see this divide erupting in politics and religion, but it seems especially emphasized in issues of race. As situations unfold, seemingly every week, the emotions that play out increasingly polarize, rather than unify, people of all ethnic groups.
It also feeds fear in many of us. Sometimes, as a black woman, I worry about what might happen if my 6-foot-3-inch, 265-pound husband was pulled over by a policeman. He walks with a cane. If he reached for it to balance himself as he got out of the car, would a nervous, or maybe overly zealous, officer mistake his action as reaching for a weapon? Would his voice be heard? And, quite likely, that officer lives with some degree of fear of some hate-filled person trying to take his life just because of his occupation. I think about my neighbor, who is a police officer, and wonder if someone will try to take his life just because of his occupation.
Racism can be found around the world in all colors, ethnic backgrounds and ages. Like a discarded cigarette flicked into the forest, it smolders until it eventually ignites a wildfire. But it can also be extinguished by a change in heart, character and obedience to God. Ideally, it would never exist in God’s Church, but we all have our past influences to overcome, plus the world’s attitudes can creep in. Either can challenge the unity and brotherly love that God intends for us to have.
Can (or should) Christians take sides? “No” is the logical answer, but the Bible shows that it is very possible even for us—well-meaning Christians—to let it slip into our thinking. Experience shows it too. A few years ago, while walking to the snack table at church, I overheard a conversation where some brethren were talking about how “our black president” was ruining the country. The premise that the ruin of our country is all because of one person is, of course, overly simplistic, but making it a racial issue made it sting deeply. Let’s take a look at two biblical examples of partiality that showed up in the Church of God in the New Testament.
Partiality in the early Church
In Galatians 2 we are told about a sad incident involving Peter and Paul:
“Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?’” (Galatians 2:11-14).
This was the same Peter who had been shown by God that he “should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28) and who had strongly defended allowing gentiles to join the Church at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). Even though Peter knew that God showed no partiality, he let himself slip into this hypocritical behavior.
We read of another injustice that occurred in the early Church in Acts 6:1: “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews [Jews of Judea] by the Hellenists [Jews from outside of Judea], because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.”
Some were making a distinction between Jewish widows based on their place of origin. These new Christians still had much to learn about how God viewed His people and how He expected His Church to operate without prejudice or partiality.
What about God’s people today? Let’s take a look at factors that may influence us.
Our adversary, Satan, rules the “airwaves”—broadcasting ideas and emotions that destroy and divide people (Ephesians 2:2). It seems obvious that he is very active in these times—causing division and hatred along racial lines. We, as God’s people, have to remember to keep God’s perspective in mind—that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4, emphasis added). Satan wants us to have ideas that compromise this truth and think that certain people are superior or matter more.
In our society today, we see misconceptions and negative feelings between racial and ethnic groups and hateful voices on television, in politics and in entertainment. Society can influence us to buy into generalized ideas that “all Mexicans are …” or “all black people are …” or “those Arabs are …” or “all white people believe ...,” etc.
These attitudes can affect God’s people and can infiltrate the Church—just as the society of Sodom and Gomorrah threatened to infiltrate Lot and his family (Genesis 18-19).
On the other hand, God’s people can also show the world a living example of God’s love by our examples of unity and togetherness—that despite being of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, we eat together, we visit one another, we stand together in parking lots laughing and talking, we greet each other with hugs, etc.
Most understand that prejudices can be instilled in us by our surroundings and that conversion is a process of transforming our mind (Romans 12:2)—which includes our attitudes toward others. One way we can begin to recognize if racism exists in us is by asking ourselves if we are thinking of our brethren as (spiritually) “common or unclean”—in other words, do we hold attitudes or assumptions about them that are wrong?
We can learn much from the good example of Philip in Acts 8. He worked with the Ethiopian eunuch without hesitation or prejudice. He spent time with him and did not question his ability to understand or to be called into the Church.
This is an issue that can require us to look deeply within ourselves through fasting, meditation, Bible study and prayer to God—because we serve an impartial, loving God who will help us overcome any issue if we genuinely seek to change.
For more about racial issues, read: