“Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?” (James 2:5-7)
Salvation is not offered to anyone on the basis of anything that God sees or foresees in that person, because that would make salvation depend on something that originates in fallen man. God’s choice is completely based on His grace and purpose. “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:15-16)
James is not teaching that God chooses all poor men for salvation and passes over all rich men. Rather, it was obvious in the early church, that many more poor people had trusted in Christ for salvation, as compared to the rich. That’s why Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29) Although there is no merit inherent in poverty, poor people often realize how short life is and thus see their need for eternal life more readily than the rich do. As Jesus explained after the encounter with the rich young ruler, it is hard for the wealthy to get into God’s kingdom, because their riches usurp the place that belongs to God alone (Mark 10:17-27). It is those who are poor materially who are also often poor in spirit, recognizing their need for God’s grace (Matt. 5:3).
By choosing those whom the world rejects and despises, God magnifies the riches of His grace. When James says that God chooses the poor “to be rich in faith,” he means, rich in the sphere of faith. They have spiritual riches in Christ through God’s sovereign, gracious choice, which brought them to faith in Him (as Paul argues in Eph. 1:3-14). God’s choice makes them “heirs of the kingdom” (James 1:5). At the moment of salvation, they come under the reign of Christ in their hearts (Col. 1:13-14), but there remains in the future the fullness of that kingdom and its blessings, when Jesus returns in power and glory (Matt. 25:31-34).
James states that by making distinctions based on outward factors, the church has dishonored the poor man. Then he asks two rhetorical questions, based on their current circumstances, to show that by aligning themselves with the rich against the poor, they are siding with God’s enemies, who are also their own enemies. James is not teaching that the church should ignore or despise the rich because of their riches. That would be reverse discrimination! The church should show God’s love and grace to all, whether rich or poor. Rather, he is saying that the rich should not be given preferential treatment, to the detriment of the poor, in an attempt to court their money or influence. James makes two points:
- God’s enemies use their strength to oppress the poor, whereas God is concerned for justice for the poor (2:6). Because of greed and selfishness, in every culture and age, the wealthy tend to take advantage of those who are helplessly poor. “If a creditor met a debtor on the street, he could seize him by the neck of his robe, nearly throttling him, and literally drag him to the law-courts.” (William Barclay explains in Daily Study Bible: the Letters of James & Peter [Westminster Press], p. 67) That’s what James is describing here. It is not wealth that James is condemning, but a lack of compassion and understanding on the part of the wealthy towards the poor. So James’ point is that if you give preferential treatment to the rich man who oppresses the poor, you’re aligning yourself with God’s enemies.
- God’s enemies blaspheme the name of Christ by which Christians have been called (2:7). William Barclay (ibid., pp. 67-68) suggests that the wealthy slave owners may have insulted their Christian slaves or the slaves’ new Lord and Master because of several reasons. The believing slave would have a new sense of independence, and thus no longer cringe at his master’s power or he would have a new sense of priorities, and thus insist on leaving work aside so that he could worship with his fellow believers. These and other reasons would cause these rich unbelievers to blaspheme the name of Christ and those who followed Him. So, again, James’ point is that showing partiality to the rich is wrong, because you align yourself with those who despise God. Why court the favor of those who oppose God?
We should, instead, expect to receive abundance from our Lord. “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) The poor are trained by reason of need, desperation or habit to EXPECT TO RECEIVE. This is a very simple concept, but true. The poor are used to searching to find sources for their practical needs. Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith? (James 1:5) Why are they rich in faith? Because faith is an expectation and they have been trained to seek God until they receive!
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:7-12)