A Necessary Change of Perception: Eliminating the Partiality Complex
Oh no. We know where this is headed. Another post about how messed up America is and how desperately it needs to return to the Father. Another essay demonstrating the degree to which America has left its roots and turned from God.
Well I hate to disappoint you, but my writing now is not critical of America as a whole. My purpose in what I am about to write has nothing to do with political reform or financial gain. I write from a place of deep personal conviction and intense realization of an incredible grievance and travesty in my own life. The problem I now write about is a consequence of Christian philosophy in predominately middle-class, suburban churches in America. Many such churches double as social clubs, self-help groups, political gatherings, business endeavors, or charity centers. The pursuits of churches such as these seem noble, but at the core are incredibly empty, self-centered, and detrimental to true pursuit of God. It is difficult to deny these assertions, and your experience likely confirms my accusations. At this point you may be steaming with anger or simply annoyed. Stop. I assure you that my purpose in writing is not judgment and that I share equally in this problem. I have been convicted of my sin and had to deal with the same issues I will address hereafter. Stop before you continue. Set your emotions and self-image aside. Do not take my words as personal affronts. Rather, let the Spirit work through these words and observations. Pray now, pray as you read, and please be honest with yourself. This post is not meant to be pleasant or easy to read. It is meant to dig deep, so open your eyes and let the Spirit search your heart. Pray.
Members of churches such as the ones I described above have developed an interesting and concerning philosophy and at times have attempted to incorporate and combine the American dream with the call of Christ. I do not have time to go into how the idea of the American dream is fundamentally flawed from the perspective of the gospel so I will simply state that the American dream based on American societal and cultural philosophy is the attainment of pleasure and success through the attainment of possessions, power, and popularity. In churches composed of predominantly comfortable, middle-class members, it is nearly an imperative to develop a philosophy that incorporates the principles of the American dream. Many who come from the type of churches I am describing do ministry work and “spiritual” activity in order to promote themselves and gain popularity and power through a sense of spiritual attainment and authority. Their focus is not on loving God or loving others and is resultantly sinful. The heart of the issue is clear; when the American Dream is brought into Christian philosophy it is no longer a Christian philosophy clearly identifiable with the message of the gospel and the cross of Christ. Perhaps the best name for such a philosophy is a “spiritualized American dream.” It is fundamentally flawed and inherently wrong, yet scores of American Christians adhere to it without even recognizing the error in their thinking.
American culture operates based on systems and classifications. We are organized into groups based on what kind of job we have, how much money we make, and how influential we are. Success is measured as a function of these three categories as I previously mentioned. It leads those who live by worldly philosophy to view those who do not have as much money, power, or fame as less valuable. The person who works the cash register at McDonald’s is viewed as unsuccessful, unmotivated, and ultimately less valuable than the famous neurosurgeon or wealthy professional athlete. A person’s value is judged based on their ability to contribute to society and to build their own proverbial kingdom.
With all of this in mind how could the church adopt or even incorporate a philosophy that operates on such flawed values?
How does such a perspective influence the way we view ourselves and others?
Is this a partiality akin to the racism and sexism that has dominated our world for the entirety of its history?
The answers to these questions are indications of a disastrous dilemma.
I must begin with my story over the past several years. I have spent time ministering to people in a variety of settings and environments over in that time. I have been to Brazil on the foreign field and likewise served in urban, suburban, and rural settings here in America. Everywhere I have gone, I have come to see more and more that American Christians are often quite flawed in our thinking. I have seen how I served and ministered at times for my own benefit. I have been guilty of valuing myself above others and developing categories that I immediately insert people into. I have attempted to love less desirable members of society with a lesser love, a different love, than that with which God has loved me. At first I didn’t even realize I was doing these things, but as time has progressed God has deeply convicted me of these fundamental issues in my thinking. My mindset in ministry has often been flat out sinful. When I evaluate and judge others to be less valuable than myself, it is a personal affront to God. When I attempt to love people differently than He loves me (unconditionally and incomprehensibly), I distort His very character. When we operate in such a way, the consequences can have eternal significance in the lives of those whom we assault with our words and insult with our actions.
I will develop these thoughts more deeply as this post continues, but I would like to begin by providing some more specific examples of categories and harsh descriptors that we all have likely seen used or used ourselves at some point in our lives.
Drug Dealer Stupid
Factory Worker Poor
Learning Impaired Unsuccessful
Many of us may never explicitly or verbally use these labels to describe people, but we still have a fundamental issue that causes us to devalue the lives of individuals that have made poor decisions, have a physical disability, or choose not to work hard. People in these positions deal with judgmental glances and incessant verbal assault for the majority of their lives to the point that they begin to believe the lie that society tells them. They believe they are not valuable and have no real purpose. Ultimately, they live lives corresponding to the label they are given.
I have come to recognize that I am incredibly partial, demonstrating greater openness and love to those who look like me, act like me, or measure up to what I maintain to be succesful. I have seen the damage words can do. Words certainly have the power to speak life or to bring death, a blessing or a curse (Proverbs 18:21, James 3:9-12). The issue of the value that others hold is of paramount importance, and the words we use to talk with and refer to others are critical.
Take a moment to ask yourself whether or not you participate in such verbal abuse or partiality. It is a sneaky sin and can easily go unnoticed. Spiritual reasons can quickly be contrived and taken out of context to justify a continuance of such a value system. Don’t do it. It is unbiblical and contrary to the character of God. Stop.
The people we come in contact with every day all have the same unique and inherent value in the eyes of God. We are all created equal. Do you hear what that is saying? You have no more ascribed worth the panhandler you pass on the sidewalk and no less than your wealthy boss. God created Adam in His image (Genesis 1:27), and as a result every person to come after bears the image of God. He uniquely forms people in their mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16). There is no distinction and no partiality with God. The same message of hope through Jesus is available to every person on earth.
The universality and inclusivity of the gospel is a message made clear to Peter in Acts 10. Up to the point of this revelation and vision the apostles and disciples had primarily if not solely been taking the message of the gospel to the Jews. They maintained a message promoting and ascribing greater worth to Jewish descendants, heirs of God’s physical covenant with Abraham. Yet if we turn back to God’s promise to Abraham it is clear to see that God’s goal is to bring a blessing to the whole earth through the line of Abraham (Genesis 17:5-7). This is not to belittle the standing of the spiritual Israel in the Old Testament, but it is to say that God did not intend to redeem only one people. If you read Acts 10 and 11 to see Peter’s interaction with Cornelius and his report to the council of elders in Jerusalem, it is clear that there is a drastic shift in his perception and mindset.
Acts 10:28-29, 34-35
And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me…” Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”
Do you see the consequences and results of this revelation?
God does not show partiality. He does not regard one person as more or less valuable than another. This is clearly seen in Jesus’s earthly example as well. He spent time with people in every level of society. He called fishermen and tax collectors to follow. He ministered to lame and sick, the wealthy and powerful. He showed the same love to all. How dare we call any person unholy or unclean?
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
This is probably the most well known verse of Scripture throughout the earth among the pagan and Christian alike. Have you ever stopped to seriously consider the implications of it? When Jesus says “the world,” He is not merely referring to the earth that we live on. He was referring to those who bear His image who wonder the face of this planet. In saying “God so loved the world,” Jesus makes it incredibly clear that there is no distinction with God. God has loved every person on the earth with a love greater than this world has ever known. He loved the world so much that He was willing to lay down His heavenly throne to walk on a cursed earth and suffer a gruesome death that He might restore the immortality and brokenness of the crowning being of His creation. The death that Jesus died for you and I, he died for the prostitute and the priest, the genius and mentally handicapped, the gangbanger and the CEO. His Love carries no weight of partiality. He died for every human-being trapped by the curse of sin. He died for the man who molests children or spends his money on prostitutes. He died for the fruitful member of society who is considered to be a good person. He died to set us free from ourselves, and His blood makes each one of us whole. It restores the intended design. Can we even begin to understand this love He has shown?
Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity
And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?
He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights in unchanging love.
He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquities under foot.
Yes, You will cast all their sins
Into the depths of the sea.
You will give truth to Jacob
And unchanging love to Abraham,
Which You swore to our forefathers
From the days of old.
These are the closing verses of the book of Micah. God spent the first 5 chapters chastising Israel for their failure to follow Him. In those chapters, God repeatedly rebukes His people for their failure to trust Him and their propensity to chase after dead, worthless idols. He then reminds His people in chapter 6 and 7 about what He has done for them. God tells Israel that He will ultimately judge their oppressors and that His chastisement and judgment is for their good. He promises to remind Israel of His righteousness and to show them His good purpose and plan for their restoration and salvation. He reminds them of how He has proven faithful in the past. The entire book culminates in the three verses above. Read them again. What do we find?
We find truths that provide incredible comfort and truth to a dark and broken world. God shines light into what appears to be a hopeless situation. These verses are promises and a revelation of God’s character. He does not cling to remembrance of our sin and iniquity, nor does He maintain His anger forever. He does not find joy and delight in His judgment and anger. No, He delights in UNCHANGING LOVE. He prefers compassion and forgiveness. God would rather cast our sins into the depths of the sea and to remember His covenant with those who believe in Him. He is light and truth. He is love.
1 John 4:8-9
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
God sent Jesus that He might bring life to dead men in a dying world. In this He has demonstrated His essential character. He is love. This is what Micah points to. This is what Jesus demonstrates. It is what God has stated repeatedly through many prophets over the course of history. We see it all over Scripture. God is a restorer and redeemer. God is love. If we attempt to show a different kind of love to people based on our perceptions, judgment, and valuation of them, we have not truly come to know God.
1 John 4:16-18
We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also we are in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
The world is full of fear, shame, guilt, judgment, darkness, brokenness, pain, frustration, and disappoint. How dare we find ourselves fighting against God by presenting a counterfeit love? How dare we perpetuate judgment and superiority? How dare we view ourselves more highly than we ought? How dare we find our pleasure in authority, power, and things of this earth? Why do we choose counterfeit gods and broken philosophies? We must begin to step up to the plate and live as redeemed and restored representatives of God’s amazing, unchanging love demonstrated through Christ. We must start to live differently. Our perception must change. We must be the salt of the earth and light of the world. The rocks will cry out and demonstrate God’s majesty and love if we fail to love as He has. Our church culture is in need of change all across America. We need to open our eyes and begin to see humanity in light of God’s design and His image dwelling in each and every person. This world is in desperate need of unchanging love.
Jesus loved the ordinary, the outcast, and the exceptional with the same love. He valued the prostitute, the doctor, the tax collector, and the centurion all the same.
Stop chasing the American Christian dream, a foolish spiritualized worldliness…
Stop living for the things of this world…
Stop adopting the value and that culture places on people…
It is human nature to categorize and group, but we must stop placing value on the categories we develop. That is what culture does. That is what this world does. It is not what Christ did.
Start opening your eyes.
Start changing your perception.
Start loving with a love that is not your own, His love.
WE LOVE, BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED US…