My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? 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? 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? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
~ James 2:1-9, KJV ~
Down through history, poverty has been one of humankind’s greatest and most widespread challenges. Its obvious toll is usually physical, but the spiritual and emotional damage it can bring may be even more debilitating. In any case, the great Redeemer has issued no more persistent call than for us to join Him in lifting this burden from the people. As Jehovah, He said He would judge the house of Israel harshly because “the spoil of the [needy] is in your houses.” (See, Isaiah 3:14-15)
~ October 2014 – Jeffrey R. Holland ~
A few years ago there was a story that was shared throughout social media about a homeless pastor:
A pastor transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service… only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food… NO ONE in the church gave him change. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church but was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back.
As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation… “We would like to introduce to you the pastor.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up… and started walking down the aisle… the clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him… he walked up the podium and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment…. then he recited from Matt. 25:34-40.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’’
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people… not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples… when will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week telling the congregation that being a Christian is more than something you claim… but it’s something you live by and share with others.
Of course, in the video above this story is based on a real pastor and the response of his congregation – the story above is more of a Christian folklore. Despite the story being fictional, there is a powerful gem of truth that correlates with James 2:1-9 (and the entire second chapter of James).
Christianity and the presenting problem of poverty in America today
The Christian Ethical dilemma and obligation in how to alleviate American Poverty
The Epistle of James focuses on the nature of the poor compared to those who do well. It is a contrast between socioeconomic classes of people. And it is a sad reality that in today’s Western (more specific American Churches) that the poor go unnoticed and disregarded. James does not sugar coat this ethical dilemma either.
In my article (link above) I share insights in how there are two specific missions of the Church. Evangelism and Humanitarian. Here is what I shared:
The heart of the Gospel of Christ is to bring to awareness humanity’s great need of a Savior. The nature of one’s own depravity and condemnation. This is accomplished in a variety of ways where God meets individuals where they presently are at. Christians merely preach the Good news.
The second aspect is the community fellowship of the believer in relation to Christ and the Gospel. According to Harnack, this community of individual believers are to be “…full of active charity, and bound by brotherly love…” This idea of brotherhood exceeds mere discipleship. It is the ability to provide a spiritual atmosphere where the Love of God not only abounds, it is manifested, in the concern and well-being of each individual.
Finally, it is the social context the Christian church finds itself. When we look at the meridian of time, and the life of Christ himself, we find that Jesus addressed the prevailing religious sentiment and teachings; as well as, the social climate of his day.
What this means is the idea that the individual Christian, and the body of believers, have an obligation to seek out, and assist those who are poor. It is the Church, and not secular governmental institutes of social systems, to care for the needy, to clothe the naked, to care for the sick, and to provide necessary sustenance for those who come seeking refuge and help.
The Biblical truth, the Christian worldview, is this: We are individually and collectively responsible to care for the poor, the needy, and to assist in what manner we are called to assist. Otherwise, if we turn away those in need (whether they profess to be Christian or not), we stand condemned as we have turned Christ away.
Probably, one of the most inspiring hymns of my own youth is that of the Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief:
Are you a respecter of persons?
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 2:11 For there is no respect of persons with God. And James 2:1 opens up with the following statement: My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, with respect of persons.
James 2:2-9 continues the discourse on the nature of how Christians may engage in respecting people who are doing well. Wearing fine clothing. Honoring them. Allowing them prominent places in their congregations. Of course, the social context of the day reflects the attitudes of the Pharisees and Sadducee and how they respected the affluent members of society compared to the impoverished members of the community.
Showing favoritism and partiality within the Christian community means:
- We care more for the outward appearance of an individual rather than their heart (See, 1 Samuel 16:7).
- We misunderstand whom God chooses to bless and are important in God’s eyes.
- We make assumptions that those who are well-to-do or not lacking are far more blessed and those who are struggling and impoverish.
- We reveal our own selfishness when favoring those who are doing well compared to those who are suffering poverty.
- We show partiality because of our false belief that those who are rich are able to contribute more compared to the one who is poor and unable to contribute to the community.
Because of this partiality that is evident within the attitude and behavior of Christian and Faith based communities alike; we are rarely standing in agreement to God’s divine and wise counsel. We forsake His direction of loving our neighbors through mercy, grace, and charity. We fail to realize the following truths:
- God has chosen the poor of our community and society to be rich in their faith and heirs to the kingdom of God (See, Matthew 5:3)
- There is greater opportunity for those struggling in poverty to show and express greater faith and gratitude than those who are rich (See, Mark 10:25)
- It is the poor Christ ministered to and preached to while those who are wealthy stood and criticized, judged, despised, and persecuted them (and Christ)
- Far greater are those in poverty in response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ than those who are doing well
- Christ himself humbled and came into poverty during his incarnation
- By neglecting the poor and praising the rich we are missing the mind and heart of God and Christ
Furthermore, we continue to alienate ourselves from God (and those from fellowship within the Christian community) because history of humanity has shown:
- How oft the Rich and well-to-do members of society (and within the Church) oppress the poor
- The rich blaspheme – or show contempt, lack of reverence, and speak contemptuously against God
This attitude and behavior is condemned through scripture and highlighted by James when he says that if we are to fully fulfill the royal law (See, Matthew 22:36-40) then we are to not show partiality. Instead, when we do show partiality under the guise of loving thy neighbor toward the rich we are committing sin and transgressing the royal law.
are we not all beggars?
As Christians, we come to understand that we are all beggars dependent upon our Heavenly Father. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland teaches (quoting Mosiah 4:19) the following:
For one thing, we can, as King Benjamin taught, cease withholding our means because we see the poor as having brought their misery upon themselves. Perhaps some have created their own difficulties, but don’t the rest of us do exactly the same thing? Isn’t that why this compassionate ruler asks, “Are we not all beggars?” Don’t we all cry out for help and hope and answers to prayers? Don’t we all beg for forgiveness for mistakes we have made and troubles we have caused? Don’t we all implore that grace will compensate for our weaknesses, that mercy will triumph over justice at least in our case? Little wonder that King Benjamin says we obtain a remission of our sins by pleading to God, who compassionately responds, but we retain a remission of our sins by compassionately responding to the poor who plead to us.
Whether we are rich or poor – we still are beggars standing in need of mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness. The Epistle of James reminds us of this reality and truth. Therefore, when we shift our attitudes and perceptions from a worldly concept and false belief, we are able to comprehend and understand the eternal principles of God’s divine royal law of love.
This is evidenced of Christ’s interaction with the rich young ruler:
One thing to consider is this. The rich young ruler was asked to go and sell all that he had and to give to the poor. On the surface, he turned his back on Christ. However, when we delve deep into the scripture and what is illustrated here. It was Christ’s commandment to take what he has. Sell it. And use the proceeds to help those stricken with poverty. His very act of turning his back on the Savior and walking away is the very act many Christians do today. We turn our back on our duty to give what God has blessed us with and help those less fortunate.
In the end, if we do not come to Christ with humility and sincerity. Repent and seek forgiveness, we have transgressed the Law of God. And this is the point James teaches us. Our failing to use our blessings to help others is a direct transgression of the royal law to love our neighbors. And, in the end, we may find ourselves like the unknown rich man in Christ’s parable when he had Lazarus with him (See, Luke 16:19–31).
Our failing to use our blessings to help others is a direct transgression of the royal law to love our neighborsTweet
Like the Rich man, our life may be blessed. We may find ourselves comfortable. Able to provide for our own needs – all the while ignoring the needs of the poor – and inevitably find ourselves begging our Lazarus’s with a drop of water to quench our thirst.
Take this next week to meditate and ponder on James 2:1-9 and answer the questions below.
Questions to ponder
- James 2:1 we are introduced to the idea that favoritism is damaging to Christ’s Gospel. How is it damaging to the mission of the Church to preach the Gospel?
- James 2:2-4 exposes the nature of favoritism and partiality within the First Century Christian Church. In what way do we see this type of favoritism and partiality existing in the Church today? How are we best to avoid showing favoritism and partiality? What are the blessings when we do not show partiality and favoritism?
- Is James saying being rich and wealthy a sin? Or, is he teaching us that our love for wealth and riches interfere with our relationship with Heavenly Father?
- James 2:5-7 describes the social mission of the Church that is against favoritism and partiality and provides a moral argument against these two traits.
- James 2:8 How do you come to understand what the Royal Law is and the how an individual transgresses this law.
- James 2:9 In what way does partiality and favoritism cause one to transgress the royal law?
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