Prosopolemptes: Does God Play Favorites?

 

Word of the Week

July 23, 2022

Prosōpolēmptēs: Does God Play Favorites?

 

Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality.”

Acts 10:34

 

“Dad always let you get away with anything!” How many kids grow up figuring that their sister or brother got preferential treatment?

Favoritism is a dark shadow in family relationships, but it is even more harmful when it shows up on a societal level, labeling an entire group as inferior.  You need only to skim the news feed to see how deeply it can divide a nation.

Prejudice is an inescapable issue today, but it was also a part of life in the first century.  And the New Testament had something to say about it.  That’s why the Greeks had a word for it.

It was a long word – prosōpolēmptēs, one who shows favoritism or partiality.  This word cluster includes a verb and another noun, plus a phrase or two that mean the same thing.  Like many Greek words,  prosōpolēmptēs comes from two other words:  prosopon {“face”) and lambanō (“take, receive”).  You might say that a person who shows partiality decides how to treat a person by looking at his or her face.  More accurately, he gives preferential treatment to certain categories of people.  The prosōpolēmptēs  labels a person by economic status, ethnic or religious identity or some other factor and applies one standard to the privileged group and another to the “outsiders.”

What does God think of this kind of favoritism?

The book of James declares that it has no place in a Christian assembly.  Chapter opens with a clear statement:  “My brothers, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (James 2:1).

James gives a verbal video of a church service where the ushers welcome a rich man and show him to the best seats, while they just tell a poor man to sit in the corner.  They make distinctions based on wealth, ignoring the more important realities of faith and character.

His verdict? Such behavior sidesteps the command to love our neighbor as ourselves.  It breaks one of the pinnacles of the law.  “If you show partiality,” you are committing sin and are convicted by the Law as violaters (James 2:9).  It’s a sin so prevalent that it is often respectable, but verse 10 points out that anyone who keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point is still guilty of being a lawbreaker.  In context, favoritism is the “one point” that he has been discussing.

People sometimes ask, “What’s so wrong about this?  Aren’t there genuine differences between people? Don’t I have the privilege of choosing how I treat folks?”

All the other New Testament uses of this word group provide the answer: We should not play favorites because God doesn’t do it.

  • God is impartial when it comes to judgment.

“For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11).  Everyone is accountable to Him for their sin, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.

 

  • God is impartial in holding us accountable for the way we treat others.

“And masters, do the same things to them [your servants], and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him (Ephesians 6:9).  Those who own slaves – or manage employees today – are responsible for their actions, whether they are wealthy property owners or slaves with no property at all.

 

  • Jesus was impartial in speaking the truth to all.

Everyone knew that He would preach fearlessly, never pulling his punches.  When a group of pro-Roman Herodians and anti-Roman Pharisees plotted to catch Him in a careless statement, they prefaced their question by saying, “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to anyone.”  Even though their motives were deceptive, they did recognize that the Lord didn’t adjust His message to please His audience, whether they came from the political left or the right.

 

  • Best of all, God is impartial in offering salvation to all.

Peter was soaked in the concept that the Jews were God’s chosen people.  Gentiles were outside, cut off from the way to God.  It was a deeply held cultural prejudice, strengthened by the fact that there was a theological rationale for it.  But when the Roman centurion Cornelius asked to hear the gospel, God showed Peter that salvation was not just for the Jews.

 

The next day when He stood before an eager audience of Gentiles, Peter could honestly share the good news that God doesn’t play favorites.  His salvation is not just for Jews; it is for all.

 

He could have added that salvation is not just for the rich or the privileged, just as it is not limited to the poor and downtrodden.  All of us stand on level ground at the foot of the cross.  God’s holiness and His grace are the same, no matter who I am or how others see me.

 

Much of today’s public discussion sees people merely as representatives of particular classes or groups, but God sees humanity as one, made in His image and needing His salvation.  He deals with each of us as individuals – never watering down His standards of righteousness or turning off the spigot of grace because of our background.  As John 3:16 explains, He loved the world enough to send His Son.

Study Hint:

Here are the words in this word cluster:

Prosōpolēmpteō – to show favoritism – James 2:9

Prosōpolēmpsia – favoritism = Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; James 2:1

Lambanō prosopon – idiom meaning to show favoritism, literally “to receive a face.” – Luke           20:21; Galatians 2:6.

 

I suggest that you read each of these verses in its full context to get the full picture of the passages we used in the main article.

 

Bonus: Uno, Dos, Tres . . .

When I was a kid, I learned how to count to ten in Spanish – and my dad taught me how to count to ten in Japanese.  So just for fun, here’s how to count to ten in Greek?

1 – heis (hayss)

2 – duo (DOO-oh)

3 – treis (trayss)

4 – tessares (TEH-sah-ress)

5 – pente (PEN-the)

6 – hex (hehks)

7 – hepta (hep-TAH)

8 – oktō (ahk-TOH)

9 – ennea (en-NEH-ah)

10 – deka (DEH-kah)

 

Coming Up

We often read about the Spirit of God in the New Testament, but the Greek word for spirit has multiple meanings.  Next week we will get acquainted with the possibilities.

©Ezra Project 2022

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