The Bible says over and over that God is no respecter of persons
During my senior year in college, I had an experience which taught me that God loved everyone equally. I also learned that if God is no respecter of persons, then I shouldn’t be either.
I was taking a class on the history of the Middle Ages. We started at the fall of the Roman Empire and went all the way up to the Renaissance. It was a fascinating class and connected a lot of loose bits of information I already knew and taught me a whole lot more.
The professor was wonderful. She had a passion for the subject and could go into great detail, not just explaining what was happening at a given point in history but she would give deep insights into how people were thinking at given time periods depending on what their situation in life was and the time period.
But as the class progressed, I began to feel like this teacher did not particularly like me. When she called on a couple of classmates in particular, her face would light up and she would act like they asked the most brilliant questions.
When I asked, what I thought was an equally valid or important question, it seemed she would give me the cold shoulder or act like it was not a good question, or the answer was so obvious, why would I even bother to ask it.
In short, it seemed like this professor had a favorite or two in the class and gave them preferential treatment. And I was definitely not one of her favorites.
Now I realize she may have already known those favorite students of hers and I was new to her. Maybe she was their advisor and she had a relationship with them. I don’t know. But I felt totally on the outside of her circle of preferred students. And I realize this may have just been my perception. She probably was not consciously treating me like a second-class citizen, but that is nevertheless how I felt.
I asked a friend to pray
I remember asking a friend to pray about this with me sometime during the second semester of the class. I had quit trying to impress the professor or get her to like me. I just wanted to have a little respect for the effort I was making in the class.
My friend suggested I think about how God loved the professor just as much as God loved me. God did not have any favorites or show partiality. My friend pointed out that God is not a respecter of persons and loves everyone equally.
That was not exactly what I had wanted to hear, but it was exactly what I needed to hear.
As I focused on and prayed more with this wonderful idea that God is not a respecter of persons, I began to express more appreciation for the professor and she began to treat me with more respect. We didn’t become bosom buddies or anything, but we came to both appreciate each other.
And once, when I was in her office asking a question, I saw her copy of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. I mentioned a particular passage which she was unfamiliar with. She was grateful and even more respectful after that.
In looking back on this situation, it’s interesting that the thing that really helped me get over feeling that the professor had favorites, and that I was not one of them, was realizing that God doesn’t have any favorites, that God is not a respecter of persons, to use a Bible phrase.
When I saw more clearly that God loved both the professor and me equally, I realized I had been sort of a negative respecter of persons, and I was trying to get someone to be a respecter of me, while not really respecting myself or her the way I should.
It was a valuable lesson for me and one of the first times in my life I actually put the idea into practice and not just pontificating about it, that God loves everyone equally.
Bible theme: God is no respecter of persons
This idea that God is not a respecter of persons, is not partial, toward people is a theme throughout the Bible. And God instructs us that we should not be partial to people, but always judge rightly.
In Leviticus Moses reminds the children of Israel
You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. Leviticus 19:15 NKJV
And again in Deuteronomy, he tells them.
Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: Deuteronomy 1:17 KJV
I’m quoting from the KJV in many of these verses because it uses the word “respect” or “respecter of persons,” whereas other translations often use the word “partial” or “not show partiality.”
God doesn’t want us to show partiality because He does not.
there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, 2 Chronicles 19:7 KJV
This idea shows up in the New Testament quite often.
For there is no respect of persons with God. Romans 2:11 KJV
For God does not show favoritism. Romans 2:11 NLT
And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him. Ephesians 6:9 KJV
But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons. Colossians 3:25 KJV
Do you show favoritism with church visitors?
So how does this play out in our everyday lives? The book of James gives us a perfect example, especially in the context of church.
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:1-4 NIV
Has that ever happened in your church? Someone comes in dressed nicely and everyone goes up to that person to welcome them and give attention. But what if a fellow in dirty overalls showed up smelling like he had been drinking, would you respond with the same love?
I know of lots of times when love was shown to someone who didn’t look like they had their act all together. It made all the difference.
A lady showed up to church one time in her scruffy overalls just to prove to herself that people wouldn’t be nice to her. She had an attitude about church.
But after the service someone came up to her and said, “I love your overalls. Where did you get them?” The visitor felt so much love, she decided that was the church she wanted to be part of and ended up joining.
But it happens the other way too sometimes. We need to remember to treat everyone with equal love. Jesus said we should not judge according to the appearance of things, but judge righteously. (John 7:24)
We could paraphrase that, Judge everyone with love and compassion. Look through the lens of love at people.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible brings out the importance of not being partial in who you love or share your faith with.
Cornelius the Roman Centurion
This is the story of a Roman Centurion who prays to God on a regular basis. An angel of God appeared to him and told him his prayers had been heard. He was instructed to send men to Joppa to ask Peter to come to him. The angel gave very specific instructions on where to find Peter. Cornelius sent two servants plus a soldier to protect them on their journey to find Peter.
Meanwhile, just as these three men were approaching the house where Peter was, God was preparing Peter for what would happen. Peter saw in a vision of a tarp full of animals that were not considered appropriate to eat according to Jewish law. But he heard a voice telling him to eat some of these animals.
But Peter refused because he had never broken the Jewish dietary laws by eating something unclean. But the voice told him to not call something unclean which God had made clean. (Acts 10:14, 15)
This happened three times. Then the vision was over. Peter was puzzled about what this meant.
Right about that time the men sent by Cornelius knocked on the door. And the Holy Spirit told Peter there were three men asking for him and that he should go with them and not to doubt what would happen.
He went down to greet the men; they explained why they had come. They spent the night with Peter and the next morning Peter and six of his fellow Christians (Acts 11: 12) went with the men back to see Cornelius.
Imagine what they talked about
Peter had had plenty of time to think about everything that was happening and how it related to the vision he had seen. You can imagine what the conversation might have been like as they all journeyed back to Cornelius’s house.
By the time they arrived, Peter had come to understand what that vision of the animals meant.
He explained to Cornelius that, as a Jew he shouldn’t even come into Cornelius’s house. (Acts 10:28)
Cornelius then tells the story of how the angel had appeared and told him to send for Peter. He had called together his relatives and close friends, (Acts 10:24) and invited Peter to talk to them. (Acts 10:33)
The first thing Peter said was that he could clearly see now that God is not a respecter of persons. (Acts 10:34)
Peter then went on to tell this little audience about Jesus.
You can read what he said in Acts 10:34-43.
Something totally unexpected happened
As Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon everyone listening. Peter’s friends were amazed that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit just as they had. Peter then asked if there were any reason why Cornelius, his friends and family should not be baptized. No one could argue with that so he baptized them. (Acts 10:44-48)
God had prepared Cornelius and Peter to be ready for this opportunity. And this story has so much for us to take in.
What if Peter had not taken any of his fellow Christians with him? He would have the only one to witness what happened when the Holy Spirit descended and the Gentiles began speaking in tongues. His friends could corroborate Peter’s testimony.
As it turns out, when news got back to Jerusalem that the gospel had been preached to the Gentiles, not everyone was too excited about it. Some folks were opposed to what he had done.
Gasp! He had gone in to talk to and eat with uncircumcised Gentiles.
Peter knew he was breaking the Jewish law and even mentioned this to Cornelius when he arrived at his house. But Peter was obeying the call of the Holy Spirit.
He was able to explain the whole chain of events, put it in context for those who opposed him, and then pointed out that God had orchestrated this, the Holy Spirit had descended on the Gentiles just like it had on them.
Peter concluded his remarks, “Who was I to stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17 NLT)
Fortunately, the people who had opposed what Peter had done saw the light. They realized that God had worked a mighty work in opening up the gospel for everyone. (Acts 11:18)
A mindset shift for the whole Church: God is no respecter of persons
I talk a lot about the mindset of Christ on The Bible Speaks to You Podcast. Can you see the mindset shift that has just taken place in the infant Christian Church, if you could even call it a church proper yet?
They have gone from a very limited and narrow mindset of who the gospel was for to a much more universal mindset. They began to understand that the message of Jesus Christ of Nazareth was for all mankind and not just a select few.
It was not up to them to get to decide who was loved by God. God was not a respecter of persons. God did not show partiality or favoritism. God loved everyone and the message of salvation was for everyone, regardless of religious background, ethnic origin, etc.
This was a pivotal moment in the history of Christianity.
This mindset shift started with Peter, then blossomed in the whole church. We need this to happen in our churches today.
Is the church a respecter of persons?
Unfortunately, too many times throughout history, and all too often today, the Christian church has reverted to playing favorites, showing partiality, and being a respecter of persons, instead of embracing the lesson Peter learned from his experience with Cornelius.
How can you and I take the lesson from the story of Peter and Cornelius, and all the Bible says about God not being a respecter of persons, and apply these ideals to our lives today?
It’s easy to see when a boss, a co-worker, a church leader, a politician, or a family member shows partiality to someone, especially if it’s not us. But it’s not as easy to see if we are the receiver of that partiality and especially if we are the ones showing partiality.
We all need to talk a humble look at ourselves, and the organizations we’re members of, to see if we can do a better job of being impartial and inclusive the way Peter was with Cornelius.
There’s a bigger picture here
There was so much more going on than Peter going to talk to a Gentile and this Gentile, along with his friends and family, believing in Jesus.
This event had a profound effect on the direction the Church took.
When you and I individually, and especially our churches collectively, can follow Peter’s example, it could benefit not just the people we’re expressing love to. It could, and I’ll say it will, contribute to the forward progress of the whole Christian church worldwide.
Every time we express this all-encompassing love of Christ for all mankind, something happens, something changes.
It starts with a change in our hearts. It moves the changes in the hearts of those we help, but then it radiates out into the whole world.
Then next time you’re in church, or it could be anywhere, think about how you can stop being a respecter of persons.
Is there someone who you think shouldn’t be there, for whatever reason? Have you not welcomed this person in your heart?
Have you showed favoritism to some people because of their wealth or social status? We’ve all probably done it at one time or another.
Please make a special effort to express God’s unconditional, universal love to everyone equally, regardless of who they are, where they’re from, and all those other things we judge people by.
God is no respecter of persons
And as God’s children, we should not be either.
You have that impartial love of God in your heart for all mankind. Just love everyone with it.
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
Leviticus 19:15 NKJV
15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.
Deuteronomy 1:17 KJV
17 Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s:
2 Chronicles 19:7 KJV
7 Wherefore now let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.
Romans 2:11 KJV
11 For there is no respect of persons with God.
Romans 2:11 NLT
11 For God does not show favoritism.
Ephesians 6:9 KJV
9 And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.
Colossians 3:25 KJV
25 But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.
James 2:1-4 NIV
1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.
2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in.
3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,”
4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
John 7:24 NKJV
24 “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
Acts 10:14, 15 NLT
14 “No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”
15 But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.”
Acts 10:24, 28, 33, 34 NLT
24 They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends.
28 Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean.
33 Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”
34 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.
Acts 10:34 KJV
34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
Acts 10:44-48 NLT
44 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message.
45 The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too.
46 For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God.
47 “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?”
48 So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.
Acts 11:17, 18 NLT
17 And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”
18 When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”