Summary: A look at James Chapter two encouraging the reader to view the book of James in full context with practical applications for the believer. This entire series is available as an ebook entitled "James: Who has Superior Faith" via the ibook store (itunes)
James is my favorite book of the Bible. I have always been drawn to its practical approach and straightforward method of approaching the subject of living one’s faith. James doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing doctrine, though the book is full of doctrinal concepts. Instead, James concisely proclaims how believers are to respond to various people and situations and in doing so truly demonstrate a superior faith.
2:1-6 Riches Still not the Measurement of Superior Faith
James uses a hypothetical situation to condemn those who would show favoritism based on wealth. However, we can almost guess that this was going on in some of the churches that James was writing to. Picture if you will a modern day church meeting in the home of a member (remembering that the early church normally met in someone’s home). As each person comes to the meeting he is assigned a seat based on his economic status. The rich man gets the recliner, the middle class fellow manages a comfortable seat on the couch and the homeless man is given a place to stand or asked to sit on the floor. This is exactly the hypothetical, but likely very real situation that James uses to make his second condemnation of all those who make judgments of people based upon their economic status.
The fact that James spends so much time in his letter condemning rich folks indicates that there must have been those who were seeking social/spiritual standing within the church based on what they had accumulated rather than their spiritual walk. It is even sadder that there were people who were inclined to accept that people must have had a superior faith if they were wealthy or had attained a social position in the world.
It wasn’t just those who were flaunting their wealth that is condemned by James. Such favoritism is condemned because it shows both that those who expected or demanded such honor and those who freely offered it up were using not just a flawed value system, but one based on evil.
This value system was evil because it was based solely on how a person was dressed. The world constantly makes snap judgments based on how people are dressed. Years ago, a con man named Frank Abagnale, Jr. ran around the country passing bad checks. One of the reasons that he was able to do so in such an easy manner was that he had purchased uniforms that matched those of flight crews for various airlines. People looked at the uniform and assumed that he was really an honest and hard-working airline pilot based on his uniform. Hotels extended him great courtesy based primarily on the uniform he wore. He even managed to get on airline flights without payment based on his uniform. This very basis (outward appearances) was used to judge those coming to worship.
This value system was evil because it despised good people based solely on their impoverished economic status. If they arrived wearing worn or dull clothing they were looked down upon. Perhaps the next time you are tempted to look down your nose in disgust at a poor or homeless person you should take a moment and recall that Jesus spent thirty-three years living a life of poverty. Some thought that following Jesus would bring them wealth. Jesus declared that foxes and birds have a place to live but that he literally had no home.
The second reason the value system was evil was because it honored the wealthy without regard for their evil actions. James goes on to point out that some of these rich folks were the very people oppressing members of the church. In fact, some of them were even speaking evil of the Lord. Their value system ignored the evil that these men were doing in hopes of affecting the manner that they were being treated.
The churches are reminded of the need to demonstrate love to their neighbors. The very strong implication (when we look at the context) is that when they were discriminating against the poor they were not showing love. Superior Faith always demonstrates sacrificial love. When these church members honored these unrighteous rich people while rejecting the poor, they had failed to keep that royal law.
James tightens the screws as he clearly states that this spiritual discrimination based on economics was sin. He reminds his readers of the importance of following God’s law and avoiding anything that was not in keeping with God’s law.
There were three dominant sins that caused God to judge both Israel and Judah in Old Testament times. All of us remember that idolatry was a major issue in this period. However, the other two major sins leading to the exiles of both Israel and Judah from the Promised Land and repeatedly condemned by the prophets was mistreatment of the poor and perversion of justice. The rich men (and those who chose to honor them) were guilty of all three of these sins. First, they chose to honor these men based on materialism. Second, by honoring these men they condoned the mistreatment of the poor. Third, they ignored the injustice that these men were bringing into the lives of the poor. They were guilty of violating Old Testament principles.