James 2:1–13comment (0)
July 30, 2009
By Jay T. Robertson
Related Scripture: James 2:1–13
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Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
LET’S BE FAIR ABOUT IT
Ignore Externals (1–4)
There is no place for prejudice in the life of faith. Prejudice is what makes people down on what they are not up on. Partiality is inconsistent with faith in Christ. We should not judge a person by “laying hold of his face,” or outward appearance. Few things can hurt the Church more than snobbishness. “Meeting” probably refers to a Christian house church. Two types of people arrived: one with a gold ring and fine clothing and another with dirty clothes. The wealthy person was told to sit in a good place, a place of honor (perhaps in the front), while the poor person was shown contempt and told either to stand (probably in the back) or sit down in the floor like a servant. Those who make such distinctions show themselves to be judges with evil thoughts.
Christians are not to judge each other (Matt. 7:1–5; Rom. 14:4; 1 Cor. 5:12). To do so reveals that one’s mind is consumed with evil thoughts (opinions or conclusions). We must never judge a jewel because it comes in a plain box. Every human being is created in God’s image and is to be treated with dignity and respect. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. There is no superiority in the Church. The rich, the poor, the mighty and the meek are all somebody in Christ’s body. Everybody is somebody in His body. We must ignore externals. We sin when we place people into artificial categories.
Honor God’s People (5–7)
The poor are the special objects of God’s concern. Discrimination against them is therefore an affront to God. Mistreatment of the poor defies His will. This does not mean that His choice has been limited to the poor; nor does it mean that all the poor have been chosen. But as a matter of fact, they have been more open to the gospel and have more readily received its blessings. James declared that the poor have a special place in God’s economy of salvation. They are rich in an eternal sense because they are heirs of the Kingdom.
There were wealthy people who were dishonoring and oppressing the poor. This exploitation reflects a situation of radical social polarization in the first century, with merchants and landowners taking land and possessions from the poor (James 5:1–6). James challenged the Christ-followers as to why they would honor the rich in the assembly when it was the rich unbelievers of the world who blasphemed the name of Christ. The wealthy even drug the poor into the courts. As frequently recorded in the Old Testament (Amos 4:1; Hab. 1:4; Mal. 3:5), the wealthy often used the court system to steal from the poor. This situation was the primary reason for the revolts in Galilee that led to the war of A.D. 66–70.
We must understand that God is not putting down the poor or the rich. James is teaching us that we are not to elevate one person over another person. The fact of the matter is that churches tend to treat the Mr. Goldfingers with respect when they make their way to worship. But when the family who knows the benevolent committee members by name makes its way to worship, we tend to question its motives. Sadly we often are not gracious to others who are not like us. May God help us repent and demonstrate His love to all — poor and rich and everyone in between.
Extend Love (8–13)
Favoritism and discrimination are violations of the Kingdom law of love. James zeroed in on two options for treating others: We can love them or we can sin against them. The bottom line is clear: If we do not treat people in ways that express love and mercy, then we are committing sin. James quoted Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He called it the royal law because it is the law of the King, Jesus. Christ taught that all who need our help in any way are to be thought of as neighbors. The command to love our neighbor may then be seen as a summary of the horizontal dimension of the law.
Favoritism (9) is the antithesis of the love command. Favoritism toward the rich violates the Old Testament commands to treat the poor equitably (Lev. 19:15; Deut. 16:19) and is a serious transgression of God’s law.