My family and I were gathered around my mother's bedside when a young man who worked for the convalescent center entered the room. My wife tells the story far better than I could; here's what she wrote:
As soon as he stepped into the room I formed an opinion of him. The young man had long hair pulled back in a ponytail. A large metal ring protruded from one ear. His body, though covered with a white lab coat, seemed to me thin and weakly.
I imagine you've formed an opinion of him just from this description.
Without looking in my direction he approached my mother-in-law's bedside.
"How are you today, Thelma?" he asked in a pleasant, cheerful voice that somehow didn't go with the perception I had formed of him.
Of course Thelma wasn't at all well. She had come to the convalescent center with the knowledge that her days were numbered. Her kidneys had failed and she was slowly dying. It was small wonder, then, that she had complaints. As I watched the young man listening patiently to her list of woes and trying as best he could to alleviate them my perception of him changed.
Here was a young man who genuinely cared about people. He did not have a prestigious job. In fact, he probably got paid little for his labor. Yet he was putting his whole heart into what he did, trying his best to ease the discomfort of those whose lives were drawing to an end.
I had much the same first impression of this young man. My wife and I didn't realize that when we judged this young worker because of his appearance we were failing to follow God's instruction found in John 7:24 "Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment." We made a mistake. Yet it's a mistake we've all been guilty of at one time or another. Judging others based on what they look like is a human trait that's hard to rid ourselves of. Of course, part of the reason we make hasty judgments is because sometimes they work; sometimes a person does reflect their character in how they look. In this particular case, however, we were able to see our mistake and changed our opinion of the young worker.
How often, though, do we make lasting mistakes because of outward appearance? Such mistakes can harm relationships, and if we voice or act on our judgment, it can negatively effect how others view the person we've judged.
The Bible tells us repeatedly that God is not a respector of persons. He shows no partiality. Yet it's so easy for us, as physical human beings, to look on the outward appearance and decide what a person is like inside. Showing partiality to some while disdaining others.
There are six direct statements in the Bible that say that God is no respector of persons, and I'm sure there are many more indirect statements. If we are to reflect God's character doesn't it follow that we too should show no partiality?
Let's look at James 2:9 and see just how serious God views this matter, "but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors." That's pretty serious.
In 1 Peter 1:17 we can see how God judges a person. "And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear." This scripture shows us how we should be behaving in our dealings with others.
God has one set of rules for everyone. He judges without partiality. You'll find in Colossians 3:24-25 that slaves and masters receive the same reward and the same punishment. God doesn't look at human status. God judges us according to what we do, with what we have. God looks on the heart and our willingness to serve others (1 Samuel 16:7).
If you read Galatians 3:28 you will find that, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
We know that in the world things don't usually work that way. Studies show that teachers, even female teachers, show partiality to the boys in their classes, calling on them more often than they do the girls. An attractive young woman gets faster and better service at the store than does an older person. We've come to expect that sort of treatment in the world today.
It is sad to say, but there are those who claim the name of Christ who fall into the same trap. James addressed such a problem in James 2:1-4, "My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, 'you sit here in a good place,' and say to the poor man, 'You stand there,' or, 'Sit here at my footstool,' have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?"
Along a similar vein, I recall sitting in a youth oriented meeting, several years back, where a woman rose and gave an opinion on a particular subject. Little attention was paid to the idea. A few moments later a man rose and said almost the same thing word for word, and the idea was jumped on as though it were something new and wonderful. The gentleman in charge didn't realize that he had shown partiality just as surely as had the people who had respect for the richly clothed invididual over the poorly dressed one.
Of course, it could have just as easily been a young person who was slighted or an old person, or a person in out of style clothing, or a short person, or a person with a physical handicap. The list of people who are judged by outward appearance is extensive.
Instead of judging others by their outward body, we need to be busy taking on the mind of Christ. It's a mind that holds no partiality and that looks on each individual as a potential member of the Family of God.
Does that mean that we can't make any judgments where others are concerned? Certainly not. We are instructed to make righteous judgment. That judgment is based on what a person does, not their outward appearance.
We find in 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 that the saints will judge the world. Let's take a closer look at what it says. "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?"
God expects us to make judgments. But they must be righteous judgments. Our judgments aren't based on whether a person is Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. That's not how God judges a person. For we know that the Bible tells us we're all one in Christ Jesus and that God doesn't show partiality.
Righteous judgments are judgments based on God's law and whether or not a person is following God's teaching. God doesn't really care if you have a Ph.D. behind your name, or what your body looks like or how young or old you are. He doesn't care if you're male or female. God looks on the heart and that is what we need to be doing.
Let's stop forming hasty judgments based on outward appearance. Let's make sure that all our judgments are righteous judgments. Remember also that judgment should began with ourselves. If we're busy removing the beam out of our own eye we'll be far less concerned about the speck in our brother's eye.
Sometimes, of course, we need to judge by outward appearance. If I were apporached by a burly fellow dressed in leather, with a three day growth of beard, a swastika tatooed on his forehead and a bicycle chain wrapped around his knuckles, I wouldn't immediately assume he wanted to give me free tickets to the ballet. But that's not what we've been talking about.
Remember that God is no respector of persons. He can use us all no matter what our outward appearance or state. We need to be using the talents God has given each one of us, working together as a team and be busy doing His work.