Lesson 17--The Consequence Of Partiality (James 2:5-11) PART 1
by John Lowe
5Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? 6But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
8If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. 10For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. 11For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
5. Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
6. But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you 2, and draw you before the judgment seats?
7. Do not they blaspheme that worthy name3 by the which ye are called?
With the plea, “Hearken, my beloved brethren,” James went on to explain why their preferential judgment was wrong. He made his point with four questions, each of which called for an affirmative answer. First, “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith,” to inherit His promised kingdom (1:9). Second, “Do not rich men oppress you 2” and are guilty of extortion and slander. Third, are the rich the ones who constantly “draw you before the judgment seats?” Fourth, aren’t the rich the ones who ‘blaspheme that worthy name of Jesus.” Believers belong to Him, not to the rich exploiters. James’ readers would have to agree with these contentions and recognize that insulting the poor and favoring the rich were wrong and unreasonable.
God’s choosing2is emphasized here, and this involves God’s grace. If salvation were based on merit, it would not be by grace. Grace implies God’s sovereign choice of those who cannot earn and do not deserve His salvation (Eph. 1:4-7; 2:8-10). God saves you and I entirely based on Jesus Christ’s work on the cross, not because of anything we are or have.
God ignores national differences (Acts 10:34). The Jewish believers were shocked when Peter went to the household of the Gentile believer Corneilus, and there he preached to them and even ate with them. The first church council’s focus was “Must a Gentile become a Jew to become a Christian.” The answer the Holy Spirit gave them was “No!” “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile in the sight of God when it comes to condemnation (Rom. 2:6-16) or salvation” (Rom. 10:1-13).
God also ignores the social differences, masters, and slaves (Eph. 6:9) and rich and poor alike. James teaches us that the grace of God makes the rich man poor because he cannot depend on his wealth, and it makes the poor man rich because he inherits the riches of grace in Christ. (See James 1:9-11.) “7The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. 8He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and he hath set the world upon them” (1 Sam. 2:7-8).
From the human point of view, God chooses the poor instead of the rich. “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called” But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty things; (1Corinthians 1:26-27). The poor of this world become rich in faith; as sons of God, they inherit the kingdom’s wealth.
Christians will sometimes defer to those in power, and this could refer to the national, state, and local level – president, congress, governors, judges, mayors, city council members, etc. There are many positions where people can exert power over us – police, the boss, military service, etc. The irony of this is that deferring to those who are “in power” sometimes means giving more power to those who are already hurting the Christians and their message. Eugene Peterson translates James 2:5-7 this way: “Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdoms first citizens, with full rights and privileges. The kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are, abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren’t they the ones who exploit the new name – “Christian” – used in your baptisms?
This group of deceivers does not just include people who are pretending to be spiritually important. Have we ever tried to throw ourselves vigorously into this category on occasion because we wanted to be spiritually elite (whatever that means) to impress others? Have we puffed ourselves up in the “fine clothing” of arrogant spirituality and bragging? Have we worn the “gold ring” of false humility and name-dropping?
It is possible to be poor in this world and rich in the next (1 Tim. 6:17-18), or rich in this world and poor in the next. Or you could be poor both in this world and the next or rich in this world and the next. It all depends upon what you do with Christ and the material wealth He has given you. God promises the kingdom to “those that love Him” (James 2:5), not to those who love this world and its riches.
James gave a stern rebuke in James 2:6-7. “But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” When you despise the poor man, you are behaving like the unsaved rich people.
In that day, it was easy for rich people to exploit the poor, influence decisions at court, and make themselves richer. Unfortunately, we have the same sins being committed today, and these sins blaspheme the very name of Christ. Our Lord was poor, and He too was the victim of injustice perpetrated by the rich of His day. The rich typically showed no mercy or concern for the poor. They would take the poor into court, most likely for not paying a debt. Wealthy moneylenders often took advantage of the poor. A creditor, if he met a debtor on the streets, could grab him and drag him into court. But economic persecution was not the only opposition these believers faced from the wealthy -- there was religious persecution. These rich people are the ones who slander Jesus Christ either by speaking evil of Him or by insulting Christians. James pointed out the irony that Christians would show favoritism to those who were known to slander Christ.