Summary: James confronts Christians about the natural tendency to show deference to the wealthy. He challenges us to look at wealth from God’s point of view.
DO WE HAVE IT ALL BACKWARDS?
“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 dishonoured 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 honourable name by which you were called?”
I mentioned in a previous sermon a family that came to a church I pastored. The family related that they sought to unite with a prestigious church, only to be advised that they would be happier elsewhere. They were a family with few financial resources, and the congregation they attempted to join was uncomfortable with people who didn’t “fit.” Consequently, they were advised that the church I then pastored was “an entry-level church.”
That family did come into the church I pastored, and for some years worshipped with us until they moved from our community. While worshipping with us, some of the more “progressive” families of the church pressured me to “do something” about the family. One man, thought wanting a youth ministry for the church, would not send his daughters because the children of the poorer family were active among our teens. “They just don’t fit in,” he whined. “We need to ask them to go elsewhere.” I am quite certain that my response to him did not win his friendship. The family that did not “fit in” was not wealthy, but they were warm-hearted. The children were not part of the beautiful crowd, but they were well behaved and intent on learning of Christ the Lord. Nevertheless, the socially elite among us felt they didn’t belong.
Thus, a family that had few of this world’s goods, and who reflected some of the poorer conditions in which they lived, found both covert and overt discrimination from Christians in our community. Wherever they attempted to attend, they were tacitly held at arm’s length. Had they wandered into the synagogue of the church of which James wrote, they would likely have heard, “You stand over there,” or “Sit down at my feet.” Consequently, the cause of the Saviour would have been disgraced then, as it was in this day.
This incident I related, together with numerous other similar incidents recalled from my days of service among the churches of Canada, convinces me that contemporary churches are infected with a debilitating strain of spiritual virus that saps vitality and leads to spiritual death. No church is immune from this deadly disease that enervates labour for Christ and halts all advance within the Kingdom of God. We will do well to review the words of James, drawing out appropriate applications for our own life as a community of faith.
WHOM GOD CHOSE — “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world?” Note an easily overlooked truth—God chose. It is not that we chose God; but rather He chose us. Woven throughout the warp and woof of Scripture is the refrain, “God chose.” Paul testifies that God chose the Fathers, that is, the Patriarchs of Israel [ACTS 13:17]. At Jesus’ baptism, Scripture states that God chose Jesus as His Son [LUKE 9:35]. God chose those who believe [1 CORINTHIANS 1:27]. Moreover, Christ chose whom He willed to be disciples [JOHN 6:70]. Jesus refers to the redeemed of earth in the last days as “the elect whom He chose” [MARK 13:20].
In the Ephesian Letter, Paul describes God’s choosing that leads to salvation. He writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” [EPHESIANS 1:3-14].