As James continues his discussion of favoritism, he points out how God has blessed the poor and some of the sins of the wicked wealthy.
Jam. 2:5-9 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? (6) But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? (7) Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? (8) If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: (9) But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
Hath Not God Chosen the Poor
James’ readers despised the poor. The word translated “despised” here means to dishonour, or to treat shamefully. This seems strange because some of them were certainly in this condition (1:9). They didn’t want to be around other people like them. (Apparently, they wanted better company than their own kind.)
They were not aware of the exaltation of the poor. God has given those who are poor a special opportunity to trust Him (5). Their needs give them a chance to believe God and find Him faithful to meet their needs. Because of their difficult circumstances, they are backed in to a corner – trust God or do without. Their faith grows strong because it gets lots of exercise. The wealthy don’t know much about this blessing.
Not only do the poor get to trust God uniquely in this world, but He has also promised to make them heirs of His kingdom.
Mat. 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Notice that God didn’t promise this to the poor in general, but “to them that love him.” There is no particular virtue in being poor – whether you’re lost or saved. Sharing in this kingdom is the privilege of all whole love the Lord.
Notice, also, that it is possible to be poor materially and love God. That’s contrary to what some false teachers are peddling, but it’s true.
Rich Men Oppress You
James reminded his readers that the wealthy often oppressed them. The haves used their money, position and influence to take advantage of the have-nots. They were dragging them into court and using the system to take advantage of them. Here are two examples of the kind of persecution James was describing:
Act. 8:3 As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
Act. 13:50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.
If a rich person could successfully claim that some poor person stole from him, or owed him money, he could gain from it. Obviously, getting people put into prison was a way to take possession of their stuff. You could also extort money from family members, since there was a sort of debtor’s prison in that day.
Mat. 5:25-26 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. (26) Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
If you were locked up, the only way to pay what you supposedly owed would be for someone else to pony up the money for you. So the rich were using the legal system to take advantage of the poor. (Some things never change.)
Not only were the rich taking advantage of the poor, but they were often hostile toward the Lord. Jesus told us how hard it is for rich people to enter His kingdom:
Mat. 19:23-24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. (24) And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
Oppression by the rich and their speaking out against God seem to go hand-in-hand:
Psa 73:7-9 Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish. (8) They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. (9) They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.
These rich oppressors might have literally been blaspheming God. They might have also been blaspheming God in the way they were treating His people. They were saying by their actions that God didn’t see, or didn’t care about what they were doing.
Love Thy Neighbor
James’ readers were not to treat rich people well and poor people badly. God didn’t want them to reverse their reactions either. That is, He didn’t want them to treat the poor well and the rich badly. He wanted them to love anyone He sent their way.
Love is called “the Royal Law” here because it is the king of laws – the one that is superior to all others. Both Christ and Paul made this point, too:
Mat. 22:36-40 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? (37) Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (38) This is the first and great commandment. (39) And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (40) On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Rom. 13:8-10 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. (9) For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (10) Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
This is the believer’s obligation: to love rich and poor alike. Anything less is not just personal preference – it is sin.
How’s It Going?
- Do you love all the people God brings your way – regardless of how much or little money they have?
Read James 2:10-14 and figure out how someone who breaks one law can be considered guilty of all.