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Every age of the church has its “acceptable sins.” Oftentimes, those sins that we overlook aren’t easily observable. This is, in fact, what makes them so dangerous. Sometimes, we even rename sins so that they don’t sound like sins at all. I think this is the case with opportunism (Rom. 2:8; Phil. 1:17; 2:3; James 3:14, 16). The opportunist is concerned with his own gain. He’s a pragmatist, picking and choosing what he will or will not do based on what makes him look the best in the end or based on what will benefit him.
This mind-set lends itself to another acceptable sin: favoritism or partiality (1 Tim. 5:1; James 2:1–13; 3:17; Jude 6). The opportunist will be favorable toward those from whom he can derive some sort of benefit. If there’s no prospect of gain from the relationship, the opportunist will show little interest in maintaining it. Some call this brown-nosing; God calls it sin (Deut. 16:19; Prov. 24:23; 28:21; Mal. 2:9; Luke 16:15).
Opportunism-driven partiality damages families, friendships, and churches. It’s a temptation that we all face, and we ought to regularly examine our hearts. Are we kind to our employers to show them honor and respect or merely for the possibility of advancement? Do we post on social media just to gain an audience? Do we love our spouses merely to gain reciprocal love? Are we willing to assist a friend in need only if we’re confident that the favor will be returned? Do we succumb to the temptation of flattery?
Several biblical narratives reveal the perilous effects of opportunism-driven partiality, particularly those found in the book of Genesis. Jacob was opportunistic in procuring Esau’s birthright. He was partial in his love for his sons from Rachel, his favorite wife, for whom he had to labor fourteen years due to Laban’s opportunism. Joseph’s jealous brothers were opportunistic in their treatment of him. But there’s a sweet break in the narrative chain of opportunistic partiality. In Egypt, Joseph was faithful, shrewd, and ambitious; he was not opportunistic (Gen. 40:14). Yet, he still rose to power second to only Pharaoh himself (41:40).
Of course, anything Joseph did, Jesus did better. Jesus was no opportunist, Paul says:
Though he was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:6–8)
Grasping greedily for unjust gain (Prov. 1:19; 15:27; 28:16; Isa. 57:17; Jer. 6:13) is unbecoming of those who follow Christ, for in the end it’s only that which is brought low that will be exalted along with Christ (Ezek. 21:26; Matt. 23:12; Luke 14:11; 2 Cor. 4:14; Phil. 2:9–11). Christians are to act in accordance with what we shall gain upon death (Phil. 1:21), not according to what we can gain in this life only.