Wednesday, October 26, 2005

James 2:5-6

God has Called the Poor, but You Dishonor the Poor.

God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith, and heirs to his promised kingdom.

The early church was not made up of the wealthy ruling class; it was largely made up of the poor people. God did not choose only the poor, but James point here is clear, God does not discriminate against the poor. Again James’ teaching is closely paralleled with the teaching of Christ. In Matthew 11:5 Christ echoes this same idea. Based on the words of Christ I think that we can push the principle of James’ teaching beyond just the poor. Those whom the world designated as second class citizens God chose to be heirs to the eternal kingdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 Paul teaches this same thing. God has chosen the things of this world that are perceived to be weak so that no one may boast. God blesses those who willingly recognize their spiritual bankruptcy, and those who are willing to humble themselves before Christ. The early church was made up primarily of the poor not because God chooses people just because they are poor, rather often times it is easier for the poor to humble themselves before Christ.
Because of this humility the poor really aren’t the poor. Through Christ the poor have become rich in faith and heirs to the kingdom. Their riches are found in a different realm. The world may only see the poverty of the poor, but God sees their exalted state that comes from his election of them to eternal glory in Christ. We could say that they are outwardly poor, but inwardly rich. If you have accepted Christ, no matter how poor you may be you now possess spiritual wealth, and you can anticipate an even greater blessing in the future. God has promised an eternal kingdom to those who love Him. This can be seen earlier in the book of James in 1:12. To those who endure, to those who have been humbled before the cross, to those who love him there is a kingdom coming.
In this kingdom there will not be any second class citizens. There will be no poor in heaven. If we are going to be a part of this kingdom, if we love God, then we must reflect God’s character. We must show His great love and care for those in need by our actions. In short, those who love him will show their love biblically through action; the kind of action that is inconsistent with favoritism.

You dishonor the poor.

It is clear that James’ readers were showing favoritism. In verse 6 James says that they “dishonored the poor man.” Maybe today we might say that they “discriminated against the poor man.” The point is that God chose the poor, and the recipients of James’ letter insulted the poor. Their treatment of the poor was very different from God’s treatment. It is becoming easy to see how inconsistent their conduct was with God’s character. God’s choice of the poor people to inherit His kingdom is evidence of his great love for them, and shows how wrong Christians are to discriminate against these poor people. It is unbecoming and disgraceful for a child of God to look down upon those whom God exalts. Clearly their inconsistent actions did not reflect the character of God.
These kinds of actions are not only inconsistent with the character of God, but they also show disregard for God himself. Proverbs 17:5 tells us that when “we mock the poor we taunt God.” This is a very serious offense of which we have all been guilty of at some point. Do you realize that when you mistreat someone because of how the world sees them you are taunting God? If we disdain the poor and fail to help meet the needs of the helpless we disdain God. Look at what Christ says in Matthew 25:45-46. How we treat others reflects how we think about God. We must work to fulfill Peter’s command in 1 Peter 2:17: “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the King.”

You honor the rich who oppress, sue, and blaspheme.

Not only does favoritism reflect an inconsistency with the character of God but it also reflects an inconsistency with the actions of the rich. The rich were oppressing the believers; they were taking the believers to court; and they blasphemed the name of their Savior. This of course does not represent every rich person. James is speaking of the rich class in general, and he does so in this manner to discredit the idea that someone should be put on a pedestal just because they are rich. We need to understand that James is not denouncing wealth, and advocating a reverse discrimination whereby the rich are hated and the poor favored. James is simply pointing out how strange it was for his readers to show favoritism to the rich in light of the treatment they had received from their wealthy neighbors. As a class of people the rich had been the most powerful opponents of the Gospel. These people in particular were run out of Palestine by the powerful Christ-rejecting Jews. In Acts 4:1 we see the rich Sadducees were instrumental in the persecution of believers; and in Acts 13:50 we see that it was rich ruling class that played a key role in the persecution of Paul and Barnabas.
We see here that not only did James’ readers discriminate against the poor, but they did so in favor of the rich. They sided with the very people who persecuted them. Based on what James says here their sole reason for favoring the rich was their money. They made themselves a tool for persecution siding with the blasphemers of Christ against Christians. Their actions were contrary to the character of God, and they fawned over those who blasphemed the name of God. What is so strange is that most, if not all, of those whom James was writing to were poor. It makes no sense for them to fawn over the rich; perhaps they were trying to avoid further persecution, but that was not working very well. James further describes this rich class in 4:5-6.
James saves his most serious charge against the rich (wealthy class) for last. They blasphemed the “fair name by which you have been called.” This phrase that James uses here is very similar to the phrase that Amos uses in Amos 9:12. This is a phrase that was used in the OT for Israel as the people of Jehovah; or a wife taking husbands name; and children named after their father. This may very well be a reference to the title of “Christian” by which we are now known. This was a title that began as a derogatory title in Antioch, and it appears twice in the NT (Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). We are not sure if this is what James was talking about, but it is clear that the rich were slandering the name of Christ.
These were the people that James readers were showing favoritism towards. It was very foolish to repay the acts of the rich with kindness (Not to say that we shouldn’t turn the other cheek and love one another, but it is unwise to show an undue preference to the rich at the expense of the poor). James’ readers belonged to Christ and were not at liberty to practice partiality and dishonor the Glorious name of Christ.

Do you realize that it is not just the rich that you can show favoritism towards, or the poor that you can discriminate against? If you want to put this into youth group terms you could say “upperclassman vs. Jr High kid,” “well-dressed vs. 1995 dressed,” “cool kids vs. dorks,” “funny vs. slow witted.” Do you realize how petty all of these things are? You could miss out on a great opportunity for Christian fellowship if you judge people by these standards. If you want to take advantage of opportunities to minister to people, and be ministered to then you must see people the way God sees them: justly in love with grace.

*Posting for the remainder of the week will be limited. This week our Church is host to the 1st ever "Brandon Biblical Theological Conference."*

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