Today we are continuing our repost of my study on James originally posted by me on Truth In Palmyra
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
God Is Not Partial, Why Are We?
In the eyes of God, what things do we all have in common? Two things are common to us all. First, God loves us all. Second, all are sinners.
What things divide us into categories in the eyes of God? Well, in the eyes of God, there are only two kinds of people: Those who are unforgiven sinners and those who are forgiven sinners.
How does God not divide us? Let’s look at some ways:
God does not divide us based on appearance.
God does not divide us based on ancestry.
God does not divide us based on age.
God does not divide us based on achievement.
God does not divide us based on affluence.
If God does not divide us by any of these things, then why do we divide ourselves based on any of them? What even gives us the right to establish divisions among people based on criteria the Creator of the Universe does not use Himself?
Eww..Look at THAT Guy
For the remainder of his epistle, James is going to deliver some good, hard doses of practical Christian living. In each case, James is going to use examples of real life situations in the lives of the believers he is writing to and offer them guidance.
We covered previously that God is not partial; He is no respecter of persons. Now James is going to move directly into a situation that was occurring somewhere; in fact, this very situation is probably occurring in some church almost as we speak.
Let’s take a look at this situation on more modern terms and see what might be going on; it may be shocking to us; we are going to take some liberties with the written words briefly.
If the local bank president walks in your church, followed by the rough guy down the road with the tattoos, how do you react? Does every one make sure to greet the bank president heartily(probably seeing dollar signs for the church offering), and not say a word to the tattooed guy? Do we escort the bank president to sit by us and say a little prayer that the tattooed fellow will stay in the back? If we do, then we are guilty of trying to take God’s place and be the judge of people.
We don’t know what God’s plans for any person are; God has one for all of us and He is not selecting people for his works based on the same criteria we would use. For all we know, his plan for the bank president might be to mow the church lawn, and for the guy with tattoos to be called to preach God’s Word. We simply don’t know, and it not our place to try to decide.
One last question. What actually shows God’s power and glory more? Somebody who seems perfectly capable doing great things because they are able, or somebody we would never think was able doing great things because of the power of God in his or her life?
Jesus Was Not Partial; Neither Should We Be
We often throw the word, “Christlike,” around fairly casually. Well, here is an instance of a situation where we have an opportunity to behave exactly as our Lord did when he was here on this Earth.
It may be important to cover just a little background here before moving on. It was common to the Jewish culture of the day to covet the recognition of one’s peers, and to even vie and compete for it. It seems likely that James was addressing this concern and instructing the scattered believers he was writing to, to not become guilty of this offense.
So, the question arises; on what basis was James coming to the conclusion that partiality was wrong? Well, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Jame is simply teaching us to act like Christ!
Jesus certainly did not respect persons. A simple look at the disciples would reveal that to us. We have simple fishermen, men with no credentials whatsoever: Peter, John, James and Andrew. Of course we have the hot headed, impulsive Peter himself. We certainly cannot forget Matthew the tax collector. The other Simon, Simon the Zealot was possibly a revolutionary. Jesus certainly did not choose those who would take His church into the world based any criteria we would use.
Jesus Himself was despised and rejected. He had no home or place to lay his head. He grew up in the despised town of Nazareth, from which it was said nothing good could come. He ultimately died the death that only the worst of criminals died. His outward appearance and background caused Him to be rejected by the powers of His day, yet He was actually God in the flesh!
In addition to all of this, we know that Jesus was repeatedly rebuked for the kind of company He kept. The Pharisees despised Him for associating with publicans and sinners. He offered forgiveness to the woman caught in the act of adultery. He willingly talked with the woman at the well even though she was three times rejectable; she was a sinner, a woman and a samaritan!
Do we make any real claim on being Christlike? If we do, then we simply cannot show partiality to others based on any criteria of our own, but only that used by our Lord Jesus Christ. That criteria was that there WAS no criteria.
God Loves the Poor as Much as the Rich
James has a bit to say about rich people and poor people. As we pointed out earlier, the scattered believers James was writing to were most likely all suffering poverty. Many would have been poor to start with, and many more would have been made poor as a result of their conversion to Christianity. In many cases they would have been driven from jobs and homes, and then likely unable to find work in the places they finally settled.
First of all, let’s clear up any thoughts that James was condemning the simple fact of possessing wealth. James is not doing that, and neither was God. We need only to look at such examples as Job or Abraham to see that God often actually blesses His followers with great wealth.
Nor was James saying the poor people are automatically righteous and rich people automatically unrighteous. James was not saying the poor people have some special merit with God, or are loved more by Him than rich people.
On the other hand, The Father in heaven and Jesus Himself while here on this earth clearly have a special place in their hearts for the poor and the oppressed. And it certainly seems true that the poor and downtrodden have far greater willingness to give their lives to God than those who are wealthy and powerful.
Isn’t this really about attitude? James is not condemning the fact of wealth, but the attitude of wealth. Remember the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-27? It was not his riches which kept him from Jesus, but his attitude towards his money. Remember 1 Timothy 6:10? It is not money per se, but the love of it which causes evil.
Another issue is that those who have nothing but poverty in this life can more easily respond to the promise of riches in the life after, while those with great riches on earth may struggle to see that something could actually be better than what they have here.
Remember, we have choices. We can be poor in this life and rich in the next. We can be rich in this one and poor in the next. We can be both poor in this one and poor in the next. We might even be rich both now and in eternity. It’s all about choices, and it’s all about what choice we make about what we will do with Jesus Christ.
Did You See Who’s Treating You So Badly?
James gets into some serious irony in this section. Remember, he had just discussed the wrongness of their preferential treatment of rich men who would enter their assembly. Now he points out that not only is that treatment wrong, but it’s really quite absurd. If we can take some literary liberties with the passage, what James was really saying might go something like this: “Hey, the very people you are falling all over in church are the same people making your lives miserable outside in the real world..what gives?“
There was nothing new in the mistreatment of poor Jews by rich Jews in Israel; it was common even back in the days of the Prophets. Good examples can be read in Micah 2:2 and Zechariah 7:10. Paul teaches us that this oppression of the poor by the rich continues right into the New Testament in Hebrews 10:32-34.
So, the scattered believers were still being oppressed by the wealthy, just as had been true for centuries already. Not only were they being oppressed, but the rich were taking advantage of the legal system to harass and oppress them further! These men were using legal means to steal even more or their resources. Finally, these men were blaspeming the Holy name of Jesus Himself. They may have been literally committing blaspemy, or they may have been simply committing it by the things they were saying and doing against His followers; it’s the same thing after all, isn’t it?
Here is a parting thought for this section of this Chapter. There is the possibility that James in this particular passage may have been speaking to middle class type believers rather than the poor ones. Later in his epistle he gives some warnings to rich men themselves. He may have been speaking to people who not only had suffered oppression at the hands of those with more resources than them, but who also had sufficient resources to do the same to those below them in the stations of life. They may have been guilty of oppressing the poor while they were simultaneously being oppressed by the rich.
In our world today, most of us would fit this category. Few of us are rich, but few of us are also truly poverty stricken; most of us are in that middle area where some have more than us, and we have more than some. How do we act?