5 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? 6 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? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? ~ James 2:5-7
In our last blog and podcast we considered how wrong it is to show favoritism to a wealthy person at the expense of a poor person. The lesson was we must not evaluate others based upon their socio-economics. Although it is built into our fallenness to divide like this, it is not pleasing to the Lord. Yet, there is a legitimate favoritism to be tolerated in the church. The only legitimate favoritism allowed by God is that we esteem everybody else better than ourselves.
In v.5 of today's text we read, "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?"
Again, James refers to his listeners as brothers and sisters. James is writing to people who have trusted in the finished work of the Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary for the forgiveness of their sin. So, what we have here is sanctification teaching. This is teaching that changes our souls which are made up of our minds, wills, and emotions. And, God's purpose for changing our souls is that we might live a better quality of life while here on this earth. In addition, and I might say more importantly, our sanctification is mostly about the result of others looking at the wisdom of God displayed in our lives. Our sanctification should cause others to wonder what is qualitatively different about us.
James is quick here to highlight the fact that God has chosen the poor of this world. It is not that God does not love the rich, it is just that the poor are most often postured to be aware of their need for God. This is not to say, though, that the economically poor are automatically placed by God into His family and the rich are not.
When the Lord Jesus came to the rich young ruler, He said, "It is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
Here, the Lord Jesus is saying it is impossible for a rich person to get saved apart from believing in Him. In fact, this is impossible for anyone, rich or poor. In Luke's Gospel, Luke uses the word for a surgeon's needle. The Lord Jesus is saying it is as impossible for a rich person to get saved as it for a camel to get through the eye of a sewing needle.
Again, the Lord Jesus said, "With men, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible." It is humanly impossible to get into heaven, but this is why God sent His Son into this world, to make the impossible possible. All we have to do is to trust that His death paid the penalty for our sin. But, people who are rich are not as quick to see their need for a savior as the poor are.
A careful examination of the Bible renders a connection between the poor and those who will end up in heaven. That is to say, the poorest are often the ones who are the most genuine in their need for the Lord. It is not that the poor are any better or have some special gift that the rich do not, but it is that God is non-discriminant, and that the poor are more likely to recognize their own need for the Savior.
At the end of James 2:5 we read, “To them that love Him.” When we put our faith in Christ, we will grow in our ability to love Him. It is a process. This does not happen over night. In Romans 8:28 we read, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." The evidence that we have been made right with God through Christ is the we will grow in our love for God. Or, we might say, we will grow in our ability to give to God our hearts. All believers in Christ receive the same eternal life. So, James is really asking, how in the world can we look down on the poor when God has chosen the poor to be the eternally rich?
In v.6 of today's text we read, "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?"
History tells us that the rich have oppressed the poor. The Pharisees were some of the most wealthy back in that day, and, they were known to not only drag the poor into civil courts, but also into religious courts. The religious not only depreciate our human value, they also depreciate our pure faith in the God of the Bible.
In v.7 of today's text we read, "Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?"
The religious are the ones who blasphemed the Lord Jesus Himself. Wealthy Christ-rejecting Jews, no doubt, in that community, rejected the Lord Jesus as their Messiah, were blaspheming the name of Jesus, dragging these poor people in to courts and harassing them. And so, James reminds us that we belong to Jesus Christ and we are not to practice partiality. These issues that James is addressing are all bound up in the purpose and the person of God in Christ. And if we are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot be partial to the rich and impartial to the poor.
Finally, I refer you to the first beatitude in Matthew 5. "Blessed are the poor in spirit." To be poor is spirit is to recognize one’s spiritual poverty apart from God. It is to see oneself as one really is: lost, hopeless, helpless. Apart from Jesus Christ every person is spiritually destitute, no matter what our education, wealth, social status, accomplishments, or religious knowledge. The poor in spirit are those who recognize their total spiritual destitution and their complete dependence on God. They perceive that there are no saving resources in themselves and that they can only beg for mercy and grace. Any expression of pride has a hard time finding a resting place among the poor in spirit.