Although our title is composed of three words, the New Testament Greek has one word for respect of persons. This one word is really a compound: one part has the meaning “to receive,” and the other part means “person.” Since the person is perceived most clearly in the face, this word is often translated as “face.” Hence, “to receive the face.” The word “face” stands for the appearance one presents by his wealth or poverty, by his rank or low condition. To be a respecter of persons is to pay attention to outward circumstances and external1 conditions, to regard appearance, and to allow the outward appearance to influence us in our judgment and treatment of a man or a woman. We sense immediately that something is amiss when we do this; indeed, the Word of God throughout forbids us from being respecters of persons.
The great reason why we are forbidden this is that God Himself is no respecter of persons. God did not respect persons when He chose the church unto salvation (I Cor. 1:27-29). He taught Peter that there is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile, “but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34). Those that seem to be somewhat (false teachers, for example) ought not to be held in admiration, for God accepts no man’s person (Gal. 2:6 and Jude 1:16). God is no respecter of persons in judgment, but in perfect justice and impartiality He judges according to each man’s work in the light of His holy law (Col. 3:25). Masters are enjoined to treat their workers justly and without threatening, knowing that their Master in heaven is no respecter of persons (Eph. 6:9). Rather than admire someone’s wealth, looks, social position, or influence, we ought to admire God, who is not influenced in the slightest by such things. And why should He be? Has He not given wealth, positions, and abilities in the first place?
As God has no regard for persons, so there ought not to be found among us this tendency. One cannot believe in Christ and at the same time show this partiality. In James 2:1 the apostle warns us away from trying to hold faith in the Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons. The two are incompatible; it is not merely difficult to do so, it is impossible. James goes on to show that having respect of persons is sin (2:9), for it leads to partiality in judgment and to a despising of them who are in need. Besides, those who would impress us with power and wealth are often those who oppress the church and blaspheme the name of Jesus.
There is something in us that regards the outward appearance. We fawn over the rich and powerful, while distancing ourselves from the poor and weak. This is true of society in general, but this is also true in the church. Children, young people, and adults are guilty of this for various reasons. Perhaps we think that by cozying up to the wealthy a little bit will rub off! And by keeping away from the poor and “unsuccessful” we will avoid failure! If God were a respecter of persons, where would you be? Where would I?