Proverbs 28:21

To have respect of persons is not good: for for a piece of bread that man will transgress.

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A good man is always fair. He exercises righteous judgment and avoids corrupting justice or truth. But a foolish and wicked man will show partiality, when the compromise can benefit him. This evil character trait makes a man vulnerable to even small temptations.

Warnings against financial haste surround this proverb. Diligent labor works, but vain ideas of quick riches lead to poverty (Pr 28:19). A faithful man works diligently and is blessed; a greedy man cheats for riches and is judged (Pr 28:20). Greed for riches, rejecting diligent labor, leads men to evil ideas, which bring them to poverty (Pr 28:22).

The Bible warns repeatedly against respect of persons – corrupting judgment for family, friends, the rich, the poor, or those who can benefit you. True equity and righteous judgment never consider the persons involved, but look only to the facts and justice of the case. God condemns this form of hypocrisy and compromise in many places (Pr 17:23; 18:5; Ex 23:2,8; Deut 1:17; 16:19; II Chr 19:7; Jas 2:1-10).

Solomon declared elsewhere, “It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment” (Pr 24:23). And the LORD God declared through Moses, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour” (Lev 19:15).

All men have special friends, even the Lord Jesus Christ, Who loved and favored John (John 13:23). Preferences do exist among men, which we can even read about in the best of men (Gen 37:3; I Sam 18:1; Phil 2:19-23). But any such affection or favor cannot ever enter into the judgment of the merits of a case. Good men must see truth and justice only.

A man at first might require a considerable bribe to cheat justice and compromise his ruling, for his inhibitions against corruption keep him from considering a lesser price. But once he has seared his conscience, it is much easier the next time. Soon he is reduced to violating truth for the mere proverbial piece of bread – hardly anything at all. He has set a terrible personal precedent and brought his evil heart into motion. He is likely ruined.

Reader, consider your own partiality. Do you mistrust a teacher criticizing your child due to your sentimental affection for your offspring? Are you more gracious and serving to successful church members than to others? Are you more merciful overlooking the faults of friends than enemies? Do you apply company policy equally to friend and foe in the workplace? Are you perfectly consistent in your treatment of each of your children?

Jesus Christ’s ministers are gravely warned against preference and partiality in the decisions and judgment of the church (I Tim 5:21). For it is a mark of the profane reprobate that admires and promotes the more advantaged in the church (Jude 1:16). Thus they must be men that are not given to filthy lucre. Let every man of God take heed.

Respect of persons cannot be mingled with the religion of Jesus Christ (Jas 2:1), for it is totally incompatible with the perfect integrity of Jesus Christ and His true saints. Even the enemies of Jesus Christ knew He was impeccably virtuous in this matter (Matt 22:16). And respect of persons is also a practical shame, for those kinds of men that are a temptation for Christians to favor them are often the enemies of the gospel (Jas 2:2-10).

This proverb teaches you the great importance of justice, truth, and righteousness. A godly man will settle his heart and make up his mind that he will always say and do what is right, no matter the consequences or influences of his family, friends, or colleagues. This principle of godliness should be instilled in children very young and then enforced.

This proverb also teaches the danger of precedent, deceitfulness of sin, and damage to conscience. Once you compromise your convictions, it is easier to do so again. When you have done it several times, you will have a crowd of evil men expecting even more from you for less reward. You will be trapped by your sin and reduced to a helpless puppet.

What is the cure? Isaiah gave it: “Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Is 8:13). Exalt God and His love of righteousness as high as you should, and fear doing anything to ever offend Him. Do not fear them that might kill the body; have no desire for ungodly gain of any kind (Luke 12:4-5; Ex 18:21-22). Put your trust in the LORD, and you will be both safe and fed (Pr 29:25; Ps 37:3).