STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
James here addresses Christians who were “playing favorites.” By showing such partiality, they were suggesting that the rich had something to offer to the congregation while the poor did not. In other words, they were picking the “winner” over the “loser.” The apostle explains the great foolishness of this sin of partiality.
James points out that to consider the poor negatively and not worthy of our mission efforts is to set ourselves at odds with God Himself! If God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith, who are we to despise them and consider them unworthy of our time and efforts?
The sin of showing partiality against the poor continues in the church today. Consider our own sinful tendencies with visitors at church. When a visitor comes in well-dressed in their Sunday best, we tend to excitedly think, “This could be a prospective member!” But when one comes in off the streets smelling funny and shabbily clothed, we’re tempted to think, “What handout will be asked for this time?”
James then demonstrates the foolishness of favoring the rich when these were the very ones dragging Christians into court and blaspheming the name of Christ. Again, things have not changed. Those who are wealthiest and mightiest in fame and power are often the very ones that blaspheme the faith and give Christians a hard time.
Also, the rich sometimes have the sinful tendency of trying to buy influence in the church. It’s even worse when we let them. For example, it may be that the congregation’s voters are considering an important decision, and the opinion of the wealthy member, who puts more in the offering plate, is given greater consideration than that of a poor member. Such a scenario helps illustrate the truth of what James says: “if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
Instead, James says we do well to fulfill the royal law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (v. 8) It’s as though he were saying, “You want to be impressed by wealth, prestige, and royalty? Here’s the royal law from God’s Word. Let this be that royal thing that impresses you and is impressed upon you. It’s not a matter of pandering to the rich and ignoring the poor, rather it’s loving all neighbors equally, without picking favorites.” God does not call us to pick winners or losers. He calls us to preach the Gospel to every creature.
God reveals in His Word that because of sin all people are losers, but because of Jesus all people are winners. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24) Every person, no matter how rich, is utterly and completely poor before God. And all people, no matter how poor, have been redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Through God’s Word, may the Holy Spirit keep us poor in sin and unbelief, but rich in grace and faith. And may He enable us to preach the Gospel to every creature without exception and without partiality. Amen!
Chad Seybt is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming.