No Pre-formed Opinions or Group Partiality
I have been currently preaching a sermon series entitled The Zeitgeist: Christian Thinking in a World of Ideas. Each week, we tackle different cultural ideals and ideologies that could creep into—or already have crept into—Christianity and the church. This past Sunday, we looked at the concept of favoritism. Favoritism thrives in our culture, manifesting itself in almost every sphere of our daily life. Racism, injustice, and corporate brown-nosing flow from favoritism. Needless to say, this is a problem in our culture and in the church.
My studies from the past week brought me to 1 Timothy 5:21. The verse states, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.” Two words speak to the topic of favoritism: prejudging and partiality. Prejudging is forming an opinion before the facts have been established, and partiality is favoring a party regardless of the circumstances just because it is a preferred party.
Before I explain why I wanted to write an article on this verse, let me first help set the stage with some background. The majority of instances where favoritism or partiality is addressed in Scripture is in the context of justice. One way that God’s people were to be distinct from the surrounding nations was through their refusal to accept bribes and show partiality in the courts. Early in their history, God makes it clear that they were to be a just nation, refusing to judge with prejudice (Deut 1:17; 16:19). This concept of justice carries into the New Testament in 1 Timothy 5:21. The situation is this passage concerns the accusation of an elder. Paul lays out the process in verses 19-20 in similar language to the law procedure in the Old Testament (Deut 17:6; 19:15-19).
Then, Paul reminds Timothy that this whole process should be free from prejudgment and partiality. In other words, when an accusation is made against an elder, all parties involved in determining the legitimacy of the charge must come to the case without any pre-formed opinions or bias towards either the accused or the alleged victim.
As I read this passage, I was struck by how much partiality plays into our trial-by-media culture. We are quick to blame the media for its "conclusion first, facts later" approach to accusations of any kind, but we fan the flame through our own pre-formed opinions or party affiliation. We retweet and repost without specific details or knowledge. How often do we deem a position or judgment inherently wrong just because of its source? This mentality is what Paul addresses in 1 Timothy 5:21. Granted, the immediate context concerns accusations regarding an elder, but the principle should apply to any matters of debate, conflict, or dispute.
Our political, religious, and social dialogue overflows with favoritism. In some minds, the prejudging lands in favor of the victim; in others, the alleged perpetrator. Who doesn’t want to affirm the nastiness of the privileged or the depravity of the uncultured? As much as we cry for justice, we immediately distort it with our pre-formed opinions and party commitments (don’t just read Democrat or Republican here).
We would do well to heed the advice Paul gives in 1 Timothy 5:21. No. We would do right to heed this advice. If we call ourselves Christian, we cannot hold to pre-formed opinions or group partiality (cf. Jas 2:1).