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Dishonoring the poor!

I will repeat this post which received a lot of views. I don’t know if that made it the most popular but I think it is worth redoing while I am at a conference and writing time is limited.

Lost Pines church of Christ

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

(Jas 2:5-7)

“Listen!” Just what you want to say to your kids, spouse, and friends sometimes. My wife often comes home from school asking me “Do you hear any sound coming out of my mouth?” “Am I speaking English?” (Apparently, first graders, as well as adults, are prone not to listen.)  He has mentioned the need to listen a couple of times already.  “Listen my beloved brethren, this is something that is needful for you to hear…

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Dishonoring the poor!

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

(Jas 2:5-7)

“Listen!” Just what you want to say to your kids, spouse, and friends sometimes. My wife often comes home from school asking me “Do you hear any sound coming out of my mouth?” “Am I speaking English?” (Apparently, first graders, as well as adults, are prone not to listen.)  He has mentioned the need to listen a couple of times already.  “Listen my beloved brethren, this is something that is needful for you to hear and think about. Be quick to hear this, listen to what I am saying, let it sink in….etc.”

God had chosen the poor….Hallelujah!  I say again, God has chosen the poor. The Good news has gotten better. Now some think that God has chosen us to be rich in this world. No such passage exists!  (correct me if I am wrong!) This verse does say that the poor are rich but rich in faith and more than that, heirs of the kingdom!

Keep in mind that this falls into the context of some in the church shunning the poor in favor of catering to the rich. But that poor man is your brother! How can you do this? James says that in doing this that you have dishonored the poor man.

With what he has just said about widows and orphans, we should not be surprised that he continues with the poor in general. These are likely those who do not need help to feed themselves, they simply do not have much of the world’s wealth. However, they have food and clothing. They can be content.  They can boast! They can boast that they are heirs and rich in faith and that God will keep His promise to them.  They love God and God has promised good things to those who love Him.

“So”, James could say, “This poor man who is heir to the kingdom, loves God, has faith in God, whom God is pleased to honor….you are really going to dishonor him in the name of worldly riches?!!?”  Uh…back away from the rich man and no one gets hurt!

Besides all this, “the rich are the ones who drag you into court.” It is worth thinking about what James means here. Obviously not all rich do this. Nor do I think that a poor man might not. However, if you have to hire a lawyer to go to court, the rich are more able to afford this than the poor. James seems to be saying “why are you putting riches on such a pedestal? Those who possess them often misuse them and you.”

In addition, he talks about blasphemy. Certainly there are passages where Christians were dragged into court and the name of our faith is spoken ill of. Yet, I would like to suggest one other possibility. What if James is talking of rich Christians? Maybe he is thinking of Paul’s admonition in I cor 6 not to sue a brother and to let wise men in the church settle disputes. Could it be that taking your brother to court is considered a blasphemy?  Our faith has a standard has I have mentioned in other posts. Not living up to that standard is to not carry the name of Jesus with the respect and honor he deserves. Yes, I know we all sin from time to time, we do stumble; but no one just accidentally files a lawsuit against a brother.

James is not yet done here. Love is going to play a role in this in the next few verses.

Boast in the Lord!

  Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
(Jas 1:9-11 ESV)

Of all the categories which we lump people into, the category of wealth is the most common: the haves and that have-nots, the rich and the poor, the down trodden and the ‘man’. Yet James’ counsel to both (I hasten to add…inspired counsel) is not to focus on  what they have, whether a little or a lot. He directs their sight and thoughts towards a more excellent perspective.

The lowly brother is to look around at his condition and boast. Because even as poor as he is, Christ redeemed him and exalted him and has promised him a mansion. The poor brother,  in relationship to this world’s benefits, has little but, in relationship to God, has a great deal. James will say later on (5:13) that if one is cheerful that he should sing. This poor brother should be cheerful and what better song than “I’ve been redeemed” or “His eye is on the sparrow” or “This world is not my home” or….well, you get the picture. Boast poor brother Boast!

It is particularly important that poor man boasts in his relationship with God so that he does not fall into the trap of being envious. Jesus says

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
(Luk 12:15)

Which brings us to the rich brother:

James says to the rich that he is to boast in his humiliation. One might ask, “what humiliation?” Not only is he rich but he is going to Heaven!  For the rich, the humiliation is that they cannot do it all; their wealth is as nothing to God because it will not buy them an ounce of grace. The rich are made to be on the same level as the poor, no special treatment is commanded for them, and in the Lord’s church it is not supposed to be allowed (James 2). Riches are easy to trust in when you have them. You can buy the things you need, even get yourself out of trouble by hiring competent attorneys, avoid the drudgery of mowing your own lawn, changing your own oil, get to watch your favorite NFL teams on satellite, dress nice and have people call you Sir or Ma’am. The list goes on and does not only apply to the über rich. However, none of the purchasable items includes Salvation.

In the world, special treatments are normal but in the church of God, they are anathema. In that day, a Christian man may have owned a slave and yet his slave might be an elder in the church. The rich man would need to be subject to his slave in matters of the church even though the slave was subject to him in relation to work to be done.   (No, such does not happen today very often: think employee/employer but it easily could.)  To be made equal is a humiliation enough but to submit to your own slave?  There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, rich nor poor, black nor white all are one in Christ. Christ humiliated himself by becoming equal with His creation. The Rich also should boast in this humiliation. Boast rich man, Boast!

James also reminds the rich that they will disappear. Not in pomp and circumstance but just like grass on a hot, blistering, Texas summer day. The grass withers and its flower fades. Notice James says the rich man will also fade “in the midst of his pursuits”. Working away and Bam! in the blink of an eye he is standing before the throne of judgement.

As quoted above, ones life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. When we do finally get to Heaven, the wealth and magnificence of God’s throne room alone will put to shame everything we have here.

All Christians, rich, poor, or middle class should Boast, but in the Lord. Boast Christian, Boast!

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