Summary: There are no 'untouchables' with God!
RICH AND POOR IN THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST
James 2:1. The Greek of this section of the letter of James begins somewhat abruptly: “My brethren, not with partialities!” The impact of the whole sentence is: “Do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ with respect of persons.” This is an allusion to Leviticus 19:15, which is echoed in James 2:9 and sets the tone for the whole argument.
James 2:2. James furnishes us with an “if” clause which will be met with a “then” clause in James 2:4. The illustration the writer uses is that of two men coming into the Christian assembly (literally, “synagogue”): a man sporting a gold ring and wearing a bright toga - perhaps a newly married senatorial candidate; and a raggedly tramp in smelly clothes. We are not told whether either of these visitors, both or none, are professing to be Christian believers - because that is not the point here.
James 2:3. It is as if we were suddenly confronted with the real-life characters out of Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The usher in the meeting place led the well-dressed man into a good seat. The “vilely dressed” poor man was reduced to a ‘standing room only’ place near the door - or perhaps into a grovelling position under the usher’s own feet like a dog!
James 2:4. The “then” clause suggests that such behaviour reflects “a wavering inconsistency in your hearts.” It is a hypocritical ‘facing both ways’: professing faith towards Jesus, but outwardly fawning to worldly wealth. It is an “exercising of judgement with wrong reasoning,” which leads to partiality.
James 2:5. James continues his rebuke by addressing his readers as “beloved” brethren. The writer mentions God’s choice of “the poor of this world.” It is the “rich in faith” who enter the kingdom.
God sometimes chooses ‘untouchables’ like the tramp in James’ illustration. The children of Israel were slaves when the LORD laid His love upon them (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). He is no “respecter of persons” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19): God is not partial.
Our experience teaches us that it is the poor who are most likely to be open to the gospel. James speaks of “the poor of this world” as “heirs of the kingdom” - people like the tramp in his own illustration, or Lazarus in Jesus’ parable (Luke 16:25). Of course, that is a generalisation, as there are several rich believers mentioned by name in the Bible - and at least some ‘noble’ are called and chosen by God, rather than none at all.
Yet our God is a God of surprises, as He takes that which is nought and elevates it into a lofty position (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). His agape love enables people who are scorned as the off-scouring of the world to “love” Him right back (1 John 4:19). It is those who love Him who own the “promise” of His kingdom.
James 2:6. Partiality “dishonours” the poor man. Despising the poor man dishonours God. How can anyone know that the rich man is not a member of the secret police?
James 2:7. James reminds his readers that it was usually (although not exclusively) the rich who persecuted and blasphemed the “lovely Name.” This Name was named over us when God received us into His family (cf. Genesis 48:16). To show partiality is to deny that Name!
James 2:8. There is a “however” here, lost in some translations: “However, if indeed you fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture…” The quotation is from Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” It is evident that our neighbours are the poor as well as the rich - and if indeed we do keep this, we “do well.”
James 2:12. James exhorts us to speak and act as those who shall be judged by the law of liberty.
James 2:14-17 lead us into James’ discussion of faith and works, with its own vivid illustration.