Listen, 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? But 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? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
James is in the midst of a section dealing with favoritism, and as you might recall, he has been clearly telling his readers that they must not show favoritism to the rich. Continuing now, he is making the point that God has chosen those who are poor in the “eyes of the world” to be “rich in faith.” This is an important point for all of us to reflect upon, for actual money probably isn’t James’ only consideration here. The key, it seems to me is “in the eyes of the world”. What kinds of people or things really look great in “the eyes of the world”? Money, yes, but what else? Accomplishment, fame, athletic prowess, talent, connections…
Our world, maybe more than that of the first century, places a high value on fame and celebrity, and that doesn’t always mean someone is financially rich. Would we welcome a famous person into our congregations more than anyone else? Would we show favoritism on racial or ethnic grounds?
Yep, there’s a lot to think about here.
James continues to make his point by reminding his readers that the poor will inherit the kingdom with the implication that if God shows such regard for his less well-to-do children, then they are worthy of no less honor than anybody else. Then he contrasts this with the fact that there are plenty of wealthy people who actually oppress the poor, particularly those in the Body of believers. The wealthy can be quite evil in their ways, just like anybody can, and thus their money cannot make them any more worthy of honor than anybody else.
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
How does favoritism demonstrate loving our neighbor as ourselves? Obviously it doesn’t, thus there can be no special favor shown one person or group over any other, and James is making the point that the cultural “norm” simply doesn’t apply within the church. He uses the example of the old Law to demonstrate the point. If you were to break any of the 613 laws of Moses, you were a lawbreaker; you might just as well have broken all 613. Jesus has commanded that we love one another. If we show favoritism, then we might be showing love to one or two, but not to the rest, and we become lawbreakers.
When we just break the passage down like this, it’s hard not to see the point of James’ instruction on favoritism, yet historically, our churches haven’t done a very good job of following James on this. We may not be able to change the past, but we can make a difference now, so I must ask: How is your church community doing? And you, how are you doing on this one?