Sam hired two painters to paint his home, Pete and Jim. When the job was done, he did not give Pete a cent, but double pay to Jim, with the words: “Jim, spend this money fairly on the both of you. Remember that Pete worked as hard for the money as you. Pete, ask Jim if there is something you want. He can then decide if the money should be used for that – or not.”
Sam insisted that he did not favor Jim over Pete. After all, he expressly said Jim should share! “But Sam,” asked someone, “is Pete in some way incompetent in handling money, like an alcoholic who will spend it on cheap wine or something?” Sam insisted that this was not the case, since Jim and Pete were equal as persons, and he did not find the one more competent than the other.
Then why did he favor the one over the other? “As I already told you,” said Sam, “I did not favor the one over the other! I wanted them to have equal enjoyment of the money!” Did you, at least, make sure of Jim’s character before doing this, Sam? “No need to. As a matter of policy”, Sam explained, “I always let whoever’s initial comes first in the alphabet lead. Whenever I have more than one worker, I do that.” “Why?” I asked him. “Well, someone has to lead! But remember: I am no respecter of persons!”
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Do you believe Sam if he says that he does not favor one over the other? Neither do I. The complementarian interpretation of Ephesians 5 seems to regard what God does like what Sam does above. After starting with “submit to one another”, this passage discusses wives, husbands, children, parents, slaves and owners. It then ends with:
…there is no favoritism with him. (Eph 6:9, NIV)
Before you accuse me of picking my favorite translation, other Bibles say it like this:
there is no respect of persons with him. (ASV)/ … there is no respect of persons (no partiality) with Him.(AMP)/ … he has no favorites.(CJB)/ …he treats everyone the same.(ERV)/ … there is no partiality with him.(ESV)/ neither is there respect of persons with him.(KJV)/ He makes no distinction between you and them. (MSG)
In case you are still not convinced that this is a truth the Bible teaches in other contexts too, see Act 10:34, Rom 2:11 and texts that call God just or righteous.
I can see why parents will have more authority than children in a world where God does not favor anyone: In a parent-child relationship, provision, love and wisdom are largely one-sided and most all the good comes from the authority figure to the subordinate. Children also grow up and no longer need parental authority as they mature.
But how – if slaves and wives are equally wise and capable as owners or husbands; and also do a lot to help and enrich the owner/husband; and one-sided submission is the will of God for these relationships – would this be a God who shows no favoritism? Only one answer makes sense to me: Paul was reminding the Ephesian Christians that God shows no favoritism, that the men-and-slave-owners-on-top system comes from human favoritism and not from God.
Paul talked about how to live in an unjust and unequal world. Since, for the time being, these Christians were in that unjust society where favoritism was shown, the higher-ranking ones should help the lower-ranking ones who had less opportunities in life, and treat them well, with Paul not giving one word about the high-ranking having to lead. Then Paul reminded the readers that the injustice and inequality that they had to submit to; the greater privilege which husbands and slave owners had was not from God.
God shows no favoritism.