Serving an Impartial God

The last time we were in Galatians, we learned that Paul had traveled to Jerusalem and met with the apostles there. And while there, he fought to preserve the pure, true gospel message. He fought to preserve the message that salvation is not about our works, not about we do, but it’s about what God has done for us in Christ. We left off there last time in verse 5, so verse 6 is where we’ll pick up today.

Galatians 2

6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. 

There is a truth about God that is stated very plainly in the first verse of this passage, which is that our God is an impartial God. In verse 6 Paul says, “God shows no partiality.” And we see this truth about God’s character stated just as clearly in other places in Scripture.

Romans 2:11 – “God shows no partiality.”
Ephesians 6:9 – “Masters…stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”

In several places it is made clear that God is impartial. But what perhaps isn’t quite as clear, is what exactly that impartiality entails. What does it mean that our God is an impartial God?

It would be a mistake to say, that because God is impartial, then He must treat everyone exactly the same. It would be a mistake because Scripture refutes that claim. In Romans 9:15, God is directly quoted as saying, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So He does not treat everyone exactly the same.

Perhaps the most significant evidence of that is the doctrine of predestination. We believe, based on Scripture, that our God sovereignly chooses who will be saved. And it is not everyone. So God’s impartiality cannot mean that He treats everyone exactly the same. What does it mean?

John Piper has tackled this issue, and he has given what I think is a very helpful explanation. He says that impartiality “means basing your treatment of others on the right kind of considerations.” So, based on this definition, God being impartial means that He bases His treatment of others on the right kind of considerations.

Piper gives the illustration of a judge in a courtroom. A judge is tasked with being impartial. If a judge is trying to decide whether an accused person should go free, or whether they should receive punishment, impartiality requires that the judge not make his decision based on the wrong considerations. He should not make his decision based on how tall or short the accused person is, or whether the accused is male or female, whether they are rich or poor, or what the color of their skin is. Those are all wrong considerations. If you’re a judge in a courtroom, and you are to be impartial, then your decision will ultimately come down to one question: is the person before you innocent or guilty? That is the only right consideration.

Impartiality would not mean that the judge lets the accused person go free, just because everyone else in the courtroom gets to go free. The judge should not treat everyone equally in that regard. But he should treat them equally where equal treatment is appropriate.

So, if we’re applying this to God, then God being impartial means He doesn’t choose to save people based on how wealthy they are, or how old or young they are, or whatever other wrong consideration you can think of.

But, this is where the courtroom illustration falls apart. Because we know, that when God is deciding who to save, we know that the consideration God uses is not the same consideration as a judge in a courtroom. He isn’t making His decision based on a person’s innocence or guilt. How do we know that? Because everyone is guilty. There are no innocent people for God to save. None. We all deserve punishment, we all deserve condemnation. And so, God’s reason for saving some, has to be something else. It can’t be innocence or guilt.

In Ephesians 1, starting at the end of verse 4, Paul writes, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.” Based on this verse, the consideration God uses to decide who to predestine, who to save, comes down to this one thing: “his will.” The verse says that He saves according to the purpose of His will. So God’s will, and God’s will alone, determines who He saves. That can be a beautiful truth, and it can be a truth that we struggle with.

On the one hand, it’s a wonderful thing that God’s grace is given freely, regardless of who a person might be. Regardless of their past. Regardless of their social status. Grace is given freely according to the purpose of God’s will. We love that truth, don’t we? Saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.

But then we struggle. Because many of God’s reasons for saving some, and not saving others, remain shrouded in mystery to us. We get some other detail, even in Ephesians 1:4, we see that He saves in love, He does it to the praise of His glorious grace. So we do get more factors behind God’s reasoning, but so much is still a mystery to us. There’s a lot we don’t know, a lot we may not understand.

But despite all that’s unknown to us, we can take comfort in what we do know. What we do know, is what kind of God He is. We can find rest in the comfort of His character. Find peace in knowing, that He always does what’s best, He always does what’s right. His purposes, His will, they are better than our purposes, our will. He is God, and we are not – and if we know ourselves very well, then we’ll know that that’s a very good thing!

What it comes down to for us is: will we trust what God says about Himself? Will we trust in who He is, and trust that He makes the decisions He makes in the best way those decisions could possibly be made? Will we trust that He is impartial? Will we trust in Him?

If so, then our trust in God’s character, in His impartiality, will lead us to be less partial ourselves. The reason for that is simple. If He chose us to be His children, not because of our gifts, our talents, our achievements, our devotion – if He chose us, in love, simply according to the purpose of His will, then there is no room for pride in our lives. There is no room for pride in the way we relate to others. Christians should be the most humble of people. And the most humble of people are also the most impartial of people. We’re going to see that in today’s passage.

There are two things from our passage that we’re going to focus on:
1. How impartiality changes the way we view our work.
2. How impartiality changes the way we view other people.

Starting at the end of verse 6, Paul writes:

those…who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles) 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

We see here that Paul’s work of ministry was not the same as Peter’s work.  Paul’s primary mission was to take the gospel to the uncircumcised, meaning Gentiles, whereas Peter’s primary mission involved taking the gospel to the circumcised, to Jews.  Both had unique responsibilities, and yet neither person’s job was more important than the other’s. And that’s true for all of us in the church.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, Paul explains how the church is the body of Christ, and each member is a different part of the body. Starting in verse 17 he writes:

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:17-20)

All of us have been uniquely gifted by God. All of us have been entrusted with different ministries, and all of these various ministries we have work together to accomplish God’s purposes. God is impartial, and He gives work to each person according to His perfect will. He does this for the good of the church, and the good of the world around us.

The apostles mentioned in Galatians 2 recognized this. When Paul presented himself to them in Jerusalem, and told them of his ministry, it’s like they said, “Yes! Praise God that you are doing His work among the Gentiles, just as we are doing it among the Jews.” The common denominator is that God’s work was being done.  Verse 8 says, “he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles”

If we believe that we are serving an impartial God, and we trust His impartial judgment, then we won’t complain about the work He’s given us to do.  We won’t envy someone else who has a different job than us, a different gifting than us, or different ministry than us. God calls us all to do His work. He calls us all to ministry. And that ministry can look very different from person to person. Some are given the ministry of welcoming elderly parents to live in their home.  Some are given the ministry of teaching in the local church.  Some minister as stay at home moms.  Others minister in the workplace, whether as CEO of a big company, or as the janitor of that company.  Some enter into foreign contexts and make their home among those who are hostile toward them.  For many of us, the biggest ministry opportunities are in our homes. Ministering to, serving our spouse, or kids, or brothers, sisters, parents. 1 Corinthians 12 verse 11 says, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” Different people have different assignments. And each assignment is made by God. By His perfect will.

So, if we’re not to complain about the work we’ve been given, how should we respond? How does the child of an impartial God view the work their Father gives them? If we view God rightly, and we view that work rightly, we’ll be grateful and amazed that we can be used by God.

Paul says in verse 9 that James, Peter, and John perceived the grace that was given to him. Ministry for Christ, ministry with Christ, is a gift of God’s grace. It’s a gift. Even though we’re honestly not very qualified to do His work, on our own, in His grace He gives us significantministry anyways. Even though we were once His enemies. And even though now we still struggle with sin, we still struggle to love and serve Him the way He deserves, despite all that He gives us His grace, and He allows us to take part in His plans. He uses those who have struggled with addictions, to help those who are still struggling. He uses those who have made lots of mistakes, who have sinned in lots of ways. He uses us to build His kingdom.

We shouldn’t be upset that someone else has a different job, a different ministry than us. We should be amazed that we have a part to play at all, and grateful that that part is significant in God’s plans for the world.

Our understanding of God’s impartial nature changes our view of the work He gives us. And, it also changes our view of the people He’s placed around us.

We see this change in Paul’s life. In verses 6, 9, and 10, we see how Paul views other people in light of God’s impartiality. Verse 6 says:

6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 

Paul viewed “influential” people in the right way. He didn’t overly exalt them. He didn’t put them in too high a place.  He knew that they were just men.  Fallen men, imperfect men.  So rather than making them out to be some sort of “Super Christians,” he kept his focus on God.  Rather than being captivated by these men, he remained captivated by the one true God.

Martin Luther wrote, “it is a natural vice that we highly esteem another’s person and outward appearance and pay more attention to this than to the Word of God.”

We can get so drawn in by people who seem like they have it all together.  People that we look up to. Maybe people who are really gifted leaders.  We can get so drawn in that we lose sight of what’s important.  Rather than keeping our focus on God, rather than exalting God, esteeming Him and His Word – we place too much of our hope in a fellow sinner.  We make idols out of other people, and spend ourselves trying to be like them, or trying to earn their approval. And all of this distracts us from the one who is truly perfect, the one who truly deserves our devotion, our adoration.

When we view mankind impartially, like Paul did, we will see the reality that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, that every person on this earth is a sinner. And every person on this earth falls so far short of the glory, and the excellence, and the majesty of our God. God is the one that’s to captivate us. He is the one that should own our utmost affections.

This is one example of impartiality being put into action. It helps us to not exalt other people as idols, and thus it helps keep our focus on worshiping God. We see two more things in verses 9 and 10.

Starting in verse 9, Paul writes:

when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. 

Verse 9 says that James, Peter, and John embraced fellowship with Paul and Barnabas. Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but in a way it is. It’s significant because Paul and Barnabas were clearly coming from a different place than these apostles – they’d had different experiences than them, they were focused on serving different people than them, living in different cultures and contexts – and yet, the apostles in Jerusalem did not think that their own way of living was better than that of Paul and Barnabas. They didn’t show partiality. Instead, they reached out and united with Paul and Barnabas, engaging in true Christian fellowship and partnership with them.

One commentator wrote of this passage, “Christians today…need to understand that there can be differences among true believers, and that such differences…need not tear us apart. Indeed, where there exists a basic agreement in the essentials of the gospel, Gal 2:1–10 sets before us a prototype of mutual recognition and concern for one another, despite our differences.”

Within the church there should be no looking down on people who are different, or who make different choices than us. There should be no “us vs. them” mindset – it’s all of us together, united by the blood of Christ.

And even outside the church, it still isn’t “us vs. them.”  We should strive to find common ground where we can.  Though we may be different in lots of ways, we are all sinners.  We are all weak and lowly.  Apart from the grace of Christ we are no different than anyone else. And so we can strive to love sacrificially, to be compassionate, and sympathetic toward those who need Christ just as much as we need Him. Impartiality promotes unity even amidst differences.

The last thing we see in our passage is that James, Peter, and John asked Paul and Barnabas to remember the poor. This fits in so well with the things we’ve already seen. We are all sinners, and we are all lowly, so we can sympathize with the lowly in society.  We are all needy, so we can sympathize with the needy. If we are impartial, we will not overlook the needs of others, no matter who they are. I think that in many ways, the things we’ve just talked about build up to this point. If we are impartial like God is impartial, we won’t wrongly exalt or esteem certain people, or certain groups of people. And we won’t neglect fellowship with others simply because they’re different than us. So, as a result of these things, the poor will not be neglected by us. They will not be overlooked by us. They weren’t overlooked by Jesus, aren’t overlooked by Him.

I think it’s only fitting, as we reach the end of this passage, to remember the gospel message that Paul has been proclaiming all throughout this letter. Our good news is that we have a Savior who came to rescue the lowly. We have a High Priest who sympathizes with the lowly, because He became lowly for us.

Philippians 2 says, starting in verse 6:

6 though he was in the form of God, [Christ] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus’ whole life was a declaration of His impartiality. He served and healed so many people with diseases.  He healed lepers, lepers who were societal outcasts. He washed the feet of His disciples, even the disciple who would betray Him. He ate and drank with sinners and tax collectors, as well as the religious elite. And, He was crucified, dying a criminal’s death – and not on behalf of people who were spiritually rich. Not on behalf of the innocent, because no such people existed. He died for those who were absolutely destitute. Those who were spiritually dead.

Our God is an impartial God. If He wasn’t, we would have no hope. But He is. And because He is, we have the greatest hope in all the world.