Yesterday, we looked at the first four verses of chapter two. James is challenging his readers to evaluate the depth of their faith. If they give into the temptation to show favoritism based simply on outward appearances, they are following the world’s standards as opposed to the standard Christ established. He continues the same theme in verses five through seven.
“Listen, by 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 has 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?”
One must be careful to avoid concluding that James is stating that ALL poor people are automatically people of faith and all wealthy people are trying to exploit us or drag us into court. For example, Abraham, Joseph, Job, and king David are just some of the men in scripture who were quite wealthy and yet were men of faith.
Scripture records Abraham’s wealth: “So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.” Even as a wealthy man, scripture records the faithfulness of Abraham. (Genesis 13:1-2)God made this declaration about Job: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” And scripture also records that Job was very wealthy. (Job 1:8) When Samuel was seeking the next man God had selected to be the king of Israel after Saul’s failure, Samuel stated: “the Lord has sought a man after His own heart” speaking of David. (1 Samuel 13:14) Joseph was elevated to a position in Egypt surpassed only by Pharaoh himself. (Genesis 41:39-40) So, these verses call for a closer examination as we seek to understand what James is attempting to convey since they are not universal declarations of faith or lack of faith based on financial circumstances.
Here are some thoughts to consider. History has recorded those who have garnered great wealth are more prone to develop the attitude they don’t need anyone beyond themselves to survive. History has recorded that the more self-sufficient people become, the less likely they are to turn to God. That paradigm occurred over and over with the nation of Israel. The more they prospered the less they depended upon God. Speaking of those who have been given great worldly wealth, here is our Lord’s perspective: “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, 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.’” (Matthew 19:23-24)
Allow me to draw your attention to the clarifying phrase: “of the world” in verse five. Just because someone is poor by the world’s standard does not mean they are “poor.” We frequently “judge” people based on their financial situation. All poor people are not poor because they are “failures.” There are people who choose to live simple lifestyles. There are others who face financial hardships due to circumstances beyond their control – medical crisis – loss of jobs – Covid-19! Additionally, there are two kinds of wealth, the wealth of this world and the wealth that comes from being a child of God. Those are two very different kinds of wealth!
Yet another truth often exists. Those who are “poor” are often more open to looking beyond themselves for guidance and support. Biblical history also records that whenever the nation of Israel found themselves in dire circumstances, they turned to God! For those who have become followers of Christ. They realized their “wealth” was found in their relationship with Christ. There are people who realize that the world’s wealth is based on favorable circumstances, which can change without warning. Those are the people who are displaying the wisdom James has already shared God would give to those who ask for it. They have come to realize their wealth is found in Christ. “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.” (Romans 8:17)
It should also be noted that all wealthy people have not amassed their wealth because of their high intellect or astute business acumen. Some wealthy people have inherited their wealth or acquired it through unscrupulous methods. And we should remember that not all wealthy people are going to take us to court or exploit us. Joseph of Arimathea, the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, Levi the tax collector, and Zaccheus are examples of men who were wealthy and yet became followers of Christ. They are examples that the Lord does not maintain animosity towards wealthy people.
It seems that James is returning to his primary subject: growing our faith. Who are we going to depend upon to sustain us through life – wealth or God and where does our true wealth come from? If we are genuine people of faith, we will know the answer to that question is that our true wealth is found in our relationship with Christ.
We must be careful to avoid the temptation to conclude that all wealthy people, by the world’s standards, are the “blessed” ones because God does not use the world’s standard to serve as the qualification to serve.
In fact, as it relates to those who are called by God, the following is recorded: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” (1 Corinthians 1:26) To reiterate, maybe that is because the wealthy are so self-absorbed, they do not believe they need God.
Allow me to share this one more time: no matter what financial circumstances describe our lives, our greatest wealth is in having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Those who put their hope and trust in the world’s standards, in their wealth, are those most likely to oppress, abuse, and even dishonor the name of our Lord.
Should we then make judgement calls simply based on an individual’s financial condition? To dishonor a person just because they are poor by the world’s standard is inappropriate. Honoring a person just because they have worldly wealth is just as inappropriate. To be judgmental based on financial circumstances is showing favoritism based on appearances. NOT A GOOD THING TO DO!