Summary: This is number four in a summer sermon series on the Book of James
As the associate pastor in Abilene I was privilege to preach at several of the smaller congregations around there. After a while I learned not to be surprised at the various habits and rituals of the churches. One of the most unique surrounded the offering at Central Presbyterian in Stamford Texas. In the bulletin was printed offertory followed by doxology. But when the time came, no ushers came forward with plates to take the offering. Instead the plates were brought forward during the doxology and they were prayed over and returned to the rear of the church.
Apparently during the years of the dustbowl and depression Stamford’s church was kept alive by the giving of one family. The man of the family was so concerned that he didn’t embarrass anyone by their inability to give that he asked the Session to just leave the plates in the foyer and he’d just put his offering in there before or after worship.
I mention this because we’re going to get to the issue of wealth and the wealthy and I don’t want us to be led astray on this matter. Wealth is a relative term. John D Rockefeller was asked, "How much money is enough?" to which he replied, "Just a little more." Money doesn’t doom one to hell anymore than it signifies God’s blessings. Nor does poverty immediately grant a special "get into heaven free" card.
James concern isn’t with the so-called rich and poor, wealthy and middle class but with those who were powerful and those with no recourse or resource in life. It is a theme we saw in James 1:19-10 which says, "Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. NLT"
I believe James draws from his personal experience at synagogue in the first part of James 2. It is the picture of an obviously well-to-do person coming in and being ushered to a place of honor and fawned over by the head of the synagogue. The verb used has the sense that they are begging the powerful person to take the best seats. And the contrast is sharpened by the harshness of the command to stand there or sit at my feet given to the poor person. To do such a thing is evidence that several things are wrong.
First is the fact that such distinctions are evil. I didn’t say that, God’s word does. They are evil because those who make such distinctions are letting the world’s view of reality lead them instead of God’s view of reality. When we buy into the wisdom of the world we open ourselves up to an ungodly sense of reality. When we give ear to this temptation we find ourselves in danger of damnation [cf. 1:5 & 13-15].
Second was that it was stupid because it made an idol out of the same people who were often the ones causing the pain and suffering for the rest of the church. For all the problems that James mentions here you need to remember that these early followers of Christ did the unthinkable, they mixed people who would never mix otherwise. In Corinth we have rich and poor, free and slave, worshipping together. We have Jew and Gentile and women and men all learning about Jesus. This was/is radical in our world. Yet there were still issues because of the sinful nature of us humans.