“God Is No Respecter of Persons”

ACTS 10:34,35 READS: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” These words were spoken by the Apostle Peter at the conclusion of a wonderful experience which marked a great change in God’s dealings with men, when the Holy Spirit came upon Gentiles for the first time. It was a change in the sense that it was a step forward in the outworking of God’s marvelous plan of salvation.

The Jews had been God’s favored people for centuries. Being the natural seed of Abraham they fell heir to the promises which Jehovah had made to them through that patriarch. In Psalm 105:9-11 we read these words: “Which covenant he [God] made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; and confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant: saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance.”

The Israelites enjoyed basking in the sunshine of God’s love. Nevertheless, they refused to live up to their obligations to Jehovah. Surely, they said in their hearts, this favored arrangement will continue forever. When, in due time, their iniquity came to the full in their rejection of the Messiah, whom they hanged upon a cross, their house was left desolate. The predetermined time of seventy symbolic weeks of favor had run out; God’s special protection and care over that nation was withdrawn completely.—Dan. 9:24

Only a remnant of Israel were considered worthy to pass from the house of servants to the house of sons, or to aspire to the higher spiritual promises and blessings. The rest, being blind, were rejected as unfit. They were not only unworthy to receive the high calling of God, but also were unworthy to continue to remain under the Law Covenant blessings.

During the centuries that Israel had ridden the crest of divine favor they had looked down upon the other nations as Gentile “dogs.” This was a deep-rooted tradition in every Jewish heart. Jesus, himself, referred to it in his conversation with the woman of Canaan, who desired to have her daughter healed, and requested this special blessing of Jesus.—Matt 15:22-28

The apostles did not escape this influence either, as is dearly shown on the occasion when Peter was chosen to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. The Lord had to especially prepare Peter to be used as his agent in this matter. Peter had climbed to the housetop for meditation and prayer, when he had a vision sent to him by God. In this revelation a large sheet was let down from heaven filled with all kinds of unclean animals. And a voice spoke to Peter telling him to rise, slay and eat the animals. But Peter answered, “Not so, Lord.”—Acts 10:14

From his words it is evident that he recognized from whom the instruction had come—from his Lord, Jesus Christ. He said, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing … unclean.” The voice countered, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” This scene had to be repeated three times before Peter could accept that, in spite of the fact that the Jewish Law forbade the eating of unclean food, he was to partake of the unclean animals because “what God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”

Immediately after this amazing turn of events, Peter went down to the ground floor of his home where he found three Gentile men awaiting him. They had a request from their master, Cornelius, who required Peter’s presence in his home. Peter suddenly began to realize that the vision of the unclean animals meant that the Lord expected him to accept the invitation to the home of this Gentile man, and that he was not to consider him ‘unclean’. He hastily assembled six brethren to go with him, and started on his journey to the home of Cornelius.

After arriving there, and introductions had been made and the situation explained, Peter began to preach to them. He spoke concerning the great God of Israel who was carrying out a far-reaching plan of salvation centered in his Son, Christ Jesus. And he told them how Jesus died for the sins of all the people in order that they might live. Then he showed them that only through Jesus can come forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God, the Father.

When Peter had concluded his message an astonishing thing happened. The very same blessing which had come upon the Jewish believers at Pentecost was repeated in the house of Cornelius upon Gentile believers. They received the Holy Spirit! (Acts 10:25-48) The thrill of this marvelous experience caused Peter to make the statement recorded in verse 34. Peter could understand that now God was accepting Gentiles into his special favor, and that they would receive the same blessings as their Jewish predecessors who became Christians.

The acceptance of Gentile believers into the church caused quite a stir among the Jewish brethren. Up until that time the church had been strictly Israelitish. Some believers who had come from the sect of the Pharisees introduced the suggestion that Gentile believers should be circumcised and instructed to keep the Law of Moses, in order to be acceptable as brethren in Christ.

Paul and Barnabas, who evidently were a little more enlightened than some of the other disciples concerning this new feature of God’s plan, contended with them in an endeavor to show that it was not the way of the Lord to insist that the Gentiles keep the Law. They explained that Gentiles were now acceptable on the same basis as the Jews were. And since Jews had discovered that they could not become justified before God through the works of the Law, neither would Gentiles find justification through the Law. They had learned that righteousness and acceptance by God was possible only through faith in Jesus and by following in his steps.

This new truth which was just dawning upon the infant church was strong meat to some of the Jewish brethren. And their suggestion was an attempt to modify the Lord’s arrangement, to make it more palatable by insisting the Gentiles must follow the ordinances of the Law. However their suggestion met with the Lord’s disapproval, and this message was conveyed through his chosen servants. Even Peter came to the defense of Paul and Barnabas, contending that the Gentiles were now just as acceptable to God as were the Jewish brethen simply through faith in Christ.

Paul expressed the will of God in this respect with these words, “There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.” (Rom. 10:12) What a tradition-shattering statement this was upon the Jewish ear! For eighteen long centuries they, as a people, had enjoyed the special blessings of God, which they thought would continue forever. Yet the great Apostle Paul, himself a Jew, enlightened concerning the works of God and his ways, made a clear statement that no longer is there any difference in God’s sight between Jews and Greeks [Gentiles]—absolutely none whatsoever! This unique idea entirely cast away tradition—it rid men’s minds of the cobwebs which beclouded the issue concerning God’s outworking of his plan on behalf of all people. But let us note what a peculiar turn events then took.

In another incident, Peter was again the chief actor. He who was so wonderfully used to open the high calling to the Gentiles, and who testified that God had revealed himself to be an impartial God, was now cast in an opposite role. Peter went to Antioch to enjoy the fellowship of the church there. It was predominantly a gathering made up of Gentiles, with only a few Jewish Christians. While they were enjoying a meal together, the Apostle James and a few other Jewish brethren came down from Jerusalem to drop in unexpectedly on the Antioch church. The account tells us that when Peter saw James and the Jewish brethren come into the gathering, he feared what the Jewish brethren would think when they discovered Peter eating with Gentiles. This, of course, had been forbidden under the Law arrangement. He feared those of the circumcision, and so immediately he separated himself from the Gentiles.—Gal. 2:11-21.

The Apostle Paul, who was also on the scene, noted this hypocrisy on the part of Peter, and immediately he reproved him. Had Peter learned the lesson that God was truly no respecter of persons? He himself had declared this wonderful statement! He himself was used on that special occasion when God demonstrated this great truth to him openly by shedding abroad the Holy Spirit upon Gentiles! Yet here was Peter, under a different set of circumstances, behaving himself contrary to the Lord’s definite and plainly stated instructions at the time he had showed his acceptance of Cornelius and his household into the body of Christ. The great Apostle Peter should have been teaching others concerning this truth. Instead, it was very difficult for him to accept the lesson. On this occasion he showed his weakness along this line.

How did the Apostle Peter react to this reprimand by Paul? Peter later called him his beloved brother! (II Pet. 3:15,16) Peter had accepted the reproof in the right manner, and to him Paul was a “beloved brother” who loved him enough to help him stay on the right pathway. The Lord’s Word tells us, “Let the righteous … reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil which shall not break my head.” (Ps. 141:5) Again in Proverbs 19:25, “Reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge.”

Once Jesus was invited to the home of a chief Pharisee for a dinner. A sick man was brought to Jesus and he healed him immediately. While he sat there at the meal Jesus told them a parable, the lesson of which was humility. (Luke 14: 8-11) It concerned an invitation to a wedding. When you arrive at the wedding, he instructed his listeners, do not seek the chief seat. If you do, perhaps a more important man than yourself may come in. Then the host will show him to your seat and say to you, “Pardon me, but the seat you are occupying is a chief seat which was reserved for this important gentleman. Would you mind letting him have that seat, please. Your seat is way over there—one of the lesser seats in the room.” We continue to paraphrase Jesus’ words: “Rather, when you are invited as the honored guest at a dinner, look for the least important seat in the banquet hall—the humblest seat, one way over in a corner. Then when the host notices that you have arrived, he may ask you to rise, escorting you to the place of honor. In this way everyone will recognize your true character of humility. They will also realize the wise choice the host made in bestowing particular favor and honor upon you.” “Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.—vs. 11

Because of his simplicity and guilelessness, Jesus’ words and teachings were stamped with heavenly wisdom. Once again he turned to the host to continue his lesson. He spoke another parable, saying, “When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors; lest they also bid thee again and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.”—vss. 12-14

Then he spoke still another parable—the parable of the great supper: “A certain man made a great supper, and bade many; and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. Mother said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So that servant came, and showed his lord these things; Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.”—Luke 14:16-24

The ones bidden to the “great supper” are described in this parable in the same manner as when he gave advice to his host concerning whom he should invite to his home for special occasions—“the blind, the maimed, the poor, and the halt.” The master of the house desired to have his house full so that he may provide his guests with a feast. His servant went into the highways and byways to urge whoever would to come to the wonderful supper which had been prepared.

The interpretation of this parable concerned the leaders of the Jewish nation who had spurned the invitation Jehovah had offered to them through Jesus. The call then went out to those represented as the poor, maimed, halt and blind—yes, to the Gentile “dogs.” His servants went out into the highways and byways—beyond Jerusalem’s environs—so that the full number would come in.

The Apostle Paul offers us help in interpreting the lesson of the parable. He said, “Ye [Gentiles] see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things … the weak things … the base things … things which are despised … and things which are not [esteemed by men] God hath chosen to bring to naught things that are [esteemed by men] that no flesh should glory in his [God’s] presence.” (I Cor.1:26-29) This revelation of the character of God was evidence that he was no respecter of persons. All who were of the right heart attitude and who would respond to the invitation would be drawn to occupy a seat at that great supper. Such has been the case throughout the Gospel Age, and it still is true today.

Jesus recognized this great truth. On one occasion he made particular note of his followers as they gathered about him. He could readily perceive that they were those whom society had cast off as undesirables. They had been attracted by the message and were drawn to follow him. How did he feel—this sinless Son of God who had come down from the ivory palaces to this sin-cursed earth—when he saw that the lowly individuals of society were drawn to him, and to the Heavenly Father through him?

In prayer he said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.” (Matt. 11:25,26) Jesus thanked his Father for this revelation of his wonderful character. God was pleased to invite the blind, the poor, the maimed, and the halt, the babes, and to reveal to them his wonderful spiritual truths, setting aside the wise and the prudent of Israel.

Whom has the Lord touched with his great favor in our day? God was no respecter of persons in Jesus’ day, or in the Apostle’s day, and he still is unchangeable in that respect today. The Apostle James said. “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?”—James 2:5

The Lord’s counsel to his host, the Pharisee, as well as the lesson of the parable of the great supper, was intended to inspire us to Godlikeness. God invites to take part in his great favors those who cannot repay him. He counseled his host to do the same. The ultimate objective of the Lord’s dealings with all people, either in this age or in the age to come is that they must develop this same Godlikeness in their characters or they will be unfit to receive eternal life.

When Saul was chosen for the position of king of Israel, we read of him that “there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.” (I Sam. 9:2) What a man to choose for a king—a majestic leader of the people! Yes, he would be a man whom Israel could look up to as general of their army; one who would lead them from victory to victory. But shortly after Saul was chosen to be the first king of Israel, he disobeyed the Lord’s instruction to utterly destroy all the Amalekites and every living thing, including the animals. He saved the king, Agag, and he permitted the people to set aside some of the choicest cattle for a purpose which he invented in his mind. When he was questioned concerning this breach of the Lord’s commandment, he replied that he had saved the best animals to offer as a fitting sacrifice to Jehovah.

Samuel’s reply was this: “To obey is better than sacrifice.” (I Sam. 15:22) God puts a premium upon obedience, rather than upon sacrifice. The Apostle Paul told us that if we gave all our money to the poor, or gave our bodies to be burned, if we did not have an obedient heart—which is love in its fullest sense—it will avail us nothing. We will be as a “tinkling cymbal” (I Cor. 13:1), and no more.

The Lord did not have respect for Saul, the king, although from his outward appearance he was a handsome, outstanding man, a true leader of the people. But when the Lord looked upon his heart, King Saul was rejected from kingship, and his house rejected forever as the lineage from which future kings of Israel would be chosen.

The Lord sent Samuel on a mission to choose a successor to Saul. “Fill thy horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.” (I Sam. 16:1) Samuel obeyed immediately, although with some fear and trepidation. But he was assured by the Lord that all would be well. He asked Jesse to call his sons forward to see which one would be the logical successor to the throne. From the oldest on down to the youngest, seven fine young men passed before Samuel. Samuel looked upon the eldest son and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before [me].” “But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature: because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”—vss. 6,7

Then the second one came before Samuel, and all the men passed by, right on down to the seventh son. All were rejected. “Are here all your children?” asked Samuel. “There remaineth yet the youngest,” answered Jesse, “and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him.” (vss. 10,11) David was not considered important enough to be present for that momentous occasion when the Lord’s choice for king was to be made. When David arrived, “the Lord said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.”—vs. 12

King David was a wonderful man—a man after God’s own heart. (Acts 13:22) He was one of the few kings of Israel who found favor in God’s sight. But at one time in his life he committed grievous sins against the Lord. (II Sam. 11:2-27) He took Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, to be his wife, after having put Uriah in a position in the army where he was certain to be slain. For this transgression, the Lord punished him severely; although he was spared the penalty prescribed by the Law for this sin—which was death.

The Lord was no respecter of persons. Even though he was the king, David was rebuked by Samuel the prophet, and for his grave misdeeds was punished by the death of his and Bathsheba’s first son when he was just an infant. But because he admitted his guilt, accepted his punishment, and was unreservedly repentant and humble before the Creator, he was returned to God’s favor in due time.

James spoke to the matter of respecting persons. (James 2:2-9) The incident he related, and which we quote here, concerned the attitude of the Christian church. James said: “If there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil’ thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he bath promised to them that love him? … If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced [convicted] of the Law as transgressors.”

We know that this lesson did not only apply to the church in the days when James lived. It is still true today, else the scripture would not be preserved. What powerful words, well worth repeating: “If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well: but if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced [convicted] of the Law as transgressors.” James indicated clearly how serious this matter is. If we show partiality to those who are personable, well dressed, more highly educated, more successful in this life, and shun those who are less ‘well heeled’, we are guilty of committing sin, and are convicted as transgressors under God’s law.

On page 100 of the sixth volume of Studies in the Scriptures, entitled “The New Creation,” Brother Russell, wrote concerning the “wisdom” which is “without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17) : “This heavenly wisdom is declared to be without partiality. Partiality would imply injustice, and the purity and peace and gentleness and mercy and the good fruits of the spirit of wisdom from above lead us to be no longer respecter of persons, except as character demonstrates their real value. The outward features of the natural man, the color of the skin, etc., his nationality or what have you, are ignored by the Spirit of the. Lord, the spirit of wisdom that comes from above—it is impartial and desires that which is pure, peaceable, gentle, true—wherever found and under whatever circumstances exhibited.”

What wonderful counsel! His words are a fitting climax to the scriptures and incidents we have been considering in this study on impartiality. The wise advice given to us by our Pastor emphasizes how wrong It is when partiality is exhibited in the church. The Spirit of the Lord directs us to recognize true character, “under whatever circumstance or condition it is found”; only this judgment has any worth in the Lord’s sight. A character replete with the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit is ‘premium quality’ with our Heavenly Father. “Them that honor me [and my principles] I will honor.” (I Sam. 2:30) If we obey and honor God by keeping his commandments, then the Lord will honor us with “glory, honor, and immortality, eternal life.”—Rom. 2:7

The Revelator adds his testimony concerning the impartiality of our God in his selection of a bride for his Son, Jesus Christ. John wrote, “They sung a new Song, saying, ‘Thou art worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals: Because thou wast killed, and didst redeem to God, with thy blood, out of every Tribe, and Tongue, and People and Nation; and thou didst make them to our God a Royalty and a Priesthood, and they shall reign on the earth.’“ (Rev. 5:9,10, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott) The selection has been a general one, not one limited to the elite among nations! No, not even to one particular, superior nation! Those who have been invited to this high station come from every kindred, every tongue, and people, and every nation; and that description is all-inclusive!

This composite body of Christ will have representatives from every sort of people who have lived during the Gospel Age. They will so well represent all mankind that they will be able to rule impartially and justly, when together with Jesus they begin the great work of blessing all the families of the earth. All—both Jew and Gentile—will then have a full, free opportunity to learn the character of their God. They will learn that God—their God—is an impartial God. They will discover that everywhere, in every nation, those who work righteousness, the Lord will approve.

Dawn Bible Students Association
|  Home Page  |  Table of Contents  |