The Sin of Favoritism
Robert Wurtz II
Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality. Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure. (1 Timothy 5:19–22 NKJV)
Our passage brings to mind the awesome responsibility of handling difficult situations that arise within the churches in a God honoring way. The directive is challenging from the beginning because most people don’t like being put in a position to have to do what’s being asked here. Whereas the tendency would be to overlook leaders when they sin and keep the situation “quiet,” the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to charge the other leaders saying, “Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” This is the exact opposite thing to what usually happens and the consequences are disastrous.
When a leader sins and “gets by with it” they have a tendency to get proud and go forward as if they never sinned. They may even laud the fact that their sins are “under the blood” and forgiven. However, Paul doesn’t seem to take that into consideration. The issue is not whether a minister, deacon, elder, leader, pastor, evangelist, etc., can be forgiven. Paul is concerned with handling the sin properly to make sure everyone learns from what happened, and nobody is encouraged to commit similar sins. Moreover, once the offending party is dealt with publicly, everyone will know about it and the person will be less inclined to develop a proud Pharisaical attitude towards others when they sin.
Charged to Observe These Directives
Paul did not leave it to Timothy’s discretion as to whether he should follow this directive. He did not tell Timothy to pray and seek direction from the Holy Spirit. He told him plainly, I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality. It is folly to pray for wisdom and direction when these things happen. We are already told what to do. No substitute action can replace what God has said; God’s commands cannot be improved upon. To disobey this directive will have many unintended consequences.
Paul not only charged Timothy to, “observe these things” but to do so, “without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.” “Pre-judging” (prejudice) means that an accusation would be received without two or three witnesses and then “judged” without giving the man a chance to answer the charges. He is guilty without a fair hearing. Not even the Romans behaved that way. A Roman citizen had rights and could not be locked up without due process. Should the churches of God be less just than the Romans? Obviously not. When due process is not followed it is always because the prosecutors are wanting the accused person prosecuted — irregardless of guilt. Such actions would warrant an outcry in society, how much more in the churches of God?
An Old Testament Example
On the other hand there is the possibility of a person being guilty by the testimony of two or three witness and yet they are not held accountable. Their sins are overlooked. Why? Partiality. Paul charges leaders to “do nothing with partiality.” We have an example of both prejudice and partiality together in a familiar Old Testament story.
During the time of the judges, Eli was a notorious High Priest who fell from grace in a most horrendous way. God had warned him repeatedly about allowing his sons to cause Israel to despise the worship of God. Nevertheless, he honored his sons more than he honored God (see 1 Samuel chapters 1-3). This is always a temptation for anyone who has children in ministry. In fact, Eli’s sons were functioning in the priesthood and were “sons of Baal.” Perhaps he thought getting them involved in ministry changed that fact. It did not. All it did was pollute the ministry — it never changed his sons.
In spite of God’s repeated warnings, Eli let his sons by with all kinds of gross sins and yet had the nerve to accuse Samuel’s mother of drunkenness without even hearing the matter out. She was crying to God for a child because she was barren; yet Eli assumed she was drunk and reprimanded her. He pre-judged (prejudiced) Samuel’s mother, defaming her in the process. And he never apologized. Why? Eli’s never apologize — not even to God. He slandered Eli’s mother while being partial to his own family — overlooking the sins of his philandering sons. Sound familiar? Sadly, the spirit of Eli lives on today. What he did not know what that this woman was “praying in” his and his families’ replacement.
Favoritism is from the Greek word prosopon and it means “to receive the countenance” of a person. Leviticus 19:15 tells us that we must not respect the countenance of the rich or the poor. We must do things fair and without favoritism (compare Luke 20:21; Romans 2:11; and Jude 16.). Everyone understands this principal because it is one of the easiest behaviors to spot. A child can see it. When nine children receive five candies each and the tenth one receive eight candies — all the children notice and will protest. Why? Because God has placed in us a sense of equity or fairness. Why did the nine get five and the one get seven? There must be a reason and the children know that. They may not be able to explain it, but they know that the one has been exalted above the others. They assume that the one child is “better than them.” What does the scripture say?
“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1–4 NKJV)
It is evil thinking to show partiality in the kingdom of God. Yet it happens. A family comes into a church and contributes much to the offerings. A poor person comes in and is homeless. Who do you suppose will receive the preferential treatment? Who will be invited out for lunch? Who will have all of their life events celebrated — from birthdays to baby showers? If the poor are shunned and the wealthy are favored it is evidence of evil thinking. And evil thinking is progressive. It’s bad enough to have favoritism in the events listed above, how much more when it comes to the ministry? Favoritism will destroy a church and leave it in total chaos. This is why Paul’s warning and directive are worded so strongly. He did not “ask” Timothy to follow it… he “charged” him to follow it.
Favoritism of Four Groups
So we see then that here are four groups of people that are inclined to receive partiality:
Paul knew the story of Eli and he knew the attitudes that brought the travesty about, He may have even been thinking upon the story of Eli as he penned his words in 1 Timothy 5. Who knows. Nevertheless, he adds to these directives, Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure. In other words, don’t be quick to restore people to ministry or cover up their sins. Don’t give family, friends, rich people, or famous and “well liked” people a free pass. It will only lead to complete disaster. It may take 10-20 years to manifest, but it will surely happen.
The clear implication of these verses is that if we disregard what the Holy spirit is telling us through Paul we will surely become partakers of the sins of fallen ministers that we do not handle properly. We are responsible before God for these things. You may think you are doing a friend a favor for covering their sins up, but God says we will share in their sins. The person is almost certain to become prideful and problematic to the churches. Don’t be partakers with them. Follow God’s procedure for handling them and by doing so you will keep yourself pure.
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