As is often in life for those of us committed to living like Jesus, the price tags are all wrong! Least is most, last is first, and here, the poor are wealthy!
James 2:5-7 5Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? To the early church, James strikes at the heart of this hypocrisy, so counter to the life and message of Jesus, remembering the majority of the early church were the converted poor and the slaves, as follows:
- Poor in physical terms, rich in spiritual reward and standing. Like we were reminded in James 1:9-10, the poor have a high standing in the kingdom and the rich a low standing, if in fact the rich think they have a measure of ‘not passing away’. Wealth has a smoke-and-mirrors false sense of security. It pretends to insulate us from the vicissitudes (unpleasant and unplanned events) of life. The New Testament is replete with warnings about the beguiling nature of wealth. Conversely, though counter intuitive to our eyes and ledger sheets, the poor have a high standing – rich in faith and inheritance in the Kingdom. We are moving toward the theme of SALVATION in all its fullness in this chapter – the concept most misunderstood in this epistle. This subject is introduced through the poor – those inheriting spiritual reward and standing in the Kingdom.
- Spiritual Wealth – The Two Biblical Themes. There are two basic themes in the Bible, (1) what we typically call ‘salvation’ (but more clearly can be called ‘being born again or regenerated’) to save the term salvation for the broader scope of a Christian’s total life; and (2) discipleship, or loving and following Jesus, loving the Lord with all our heart, and loving others rather than ourselves, which call also be put under the broad umbrella term ‘salvation’ as is it used in the Bible. Here James makes the inexorable (impossible to separate or disconnect) connection between inheritance in the Kingdom and reserved for those who love him. Do you see this? Our eternal life with God is guaranteed as we are born again. Our reward in heaven for ‘well done’ is not guaranteed, but conditioned on our life of love of God and others, and commitment to walking the road of Jesus. The first is guaranteed, sealed to you in faith, never to be removed. The second is reserved only for those who are rich in faith, which, here, James says is most likely to reside with the poor. Not hard to understand. We look to God for provisions in life as our own resources are limited or gone.
- Hypocrisy is not Logical or Honorable. And as if to emphasize the point, James reminds these believers that they are ‘sucking up’ to the rich, to the very ones who are mistreating them, exploiting and taking advantage of them, dragging them into tribunals, brazenly slandering the name of their Savior. Shame on these early first-century hypocrites! And shame on our 21st-century churches who also sidle up to or favor the rich and powerful over the poor. This should have no place in the workings or assemblies of our churches.
Periodically, I am asked to speak to different groups or churches. I am tempted, when at this passage, to set up a ‘sting’; to bring in a friend or friends poorly dressed, sitting in the front row, to watch the reaction of the church members. I did this once before many years ago, as what I think was an effective modeling of the problem. Remember, visiting the widows and orphans in their distress is part of our claim of religion that is pure and faultless (James 1:27). God’s best to you as you and I continue to rethink and make wise commitments consistent with these truths.
– John Moore