|Vol. 16 No. 6 June 2014||
Commonly used phrases such as “don’t judge a book by its cover” are meant to remind us that preconceived ideas based solely on appearances are not to be trusted. Most would agree with the principle set forth in these idioms. Yet, these expressions are common for a reason; they are regularly forsaken. As a result, the Bible addresses “partiality” frequently and attempts to divert Christians from exhibiting improper attitudes toward others. James commanded Christians (“brethren”) not to habitually hold forth Christianity (“the faith”) while at the same time having “respect of persons” (James 2:1).
The word translated “respect to persons” is a grouping of two words which mean literally “face” and “receive,” and when combined, “to receive face.” In other words, individuals have “respect of persons” when they only consider the outward appearance to make judgments. In the scenario set forth by James, Christians showed partiality for the well-dressed rich men by giving them prominent seating while asking the shabbily-dressed poor men to occupy undesirable areas (James 2:2-3). In the following ten verses, James instructed Christians to avoid showing partiality to the rich because God is not partial toward the rich. In fact, the poor often have the characteristics God desires, and thus they will be part of the heavenly kingdom.
James commanded Christians to listen closely (“Hearken, my beloved brethren”) as he declared what might have seemed to them as an unlikely truth that God had “chosen the poor of this world” (James 2:5a). James was not revealing the hidden agenda of God to arbitrarily reward the poor with spiritual blessings to the exclusion of the rich. Rather, according to the Scripture, it is not intrinsically wrong to be wealthy or poor, but it is “the love of money that is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).
In what sense has God chosen the poor? James clarified by describing the poor with these words, “rich in faith.” God has chosen the poor because they often possess something that is intangible and overlooked by a materialistic society, a heart wealthy in faith. James’ purpose was not to insinuate that the rich are forbidden to receive spiritual blessings and thus destined for spiritual corruptness, for he did not write the poor alone have been chosen. No one is predestined to be saved or lost; instead, each is chosen by one’s personal faith in God, which is derived from the Word of God (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; Romans 10:17). It remains factual, even today, that the poor are often more receptive to the Gospel than the wealthy.
In addition to being rich in faith, the poor are “heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them…” (James 2:5b). An “heir” is one set to receive an inheritance due to his or her relationship with another. In the New Testament it is used to refer to those who are spiritually related to God, as Father and son, and thus will receive the inheritance of an everlasting, incorruptible, undefiled, kingdom (Matthew 19:29; 1 Peter 1:4; Hebrews 9:15). How does someone become a child of God? A person must be born of God, which occurs at baptism (John 3:3-5; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38-42), and which is demonstrated by faithful service (Colossians 3:24).
Finally, James wrote that the kingdom was promised to “them that love Him” (James 2:5c). James reiterated the same message that he delivered in James 1:12, namely, those who love God will be heirs of the kingdom. Many claim to love God, but how is love demonstrated? James taught later in this chapter that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), and Christ proclaimed that love is demonstrated by obedient actions (John 14:15, 23) – not by words only (Matthew 7:21).
Are you like the poor of this world? Christ will not render judgment based on our bankrolls for, unlike the world, He is not partial to the rich or to the poor. Yet, the poor often have characteristics that we should all aim to possess. They often exhibit richness in faith and love for God, and as a result, they will be heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
If I Had a Million Dollars
A Texas farmer, who was a Christian, said one day that if he had a million dollars, he would give it to the church. A few months later oil was found on his property and almost overnight, he became a millionaire. The church of which he was a member suddenly fell on hard times financially and approached this brother about some financial aid. He then said, “You know when I didn’t have that money, I wanted to give it all away to the church. Now that I have it, I no longer have that desire.” Many a man has had the desire to obey God at one time in his life but put it off long enough to lose that desire. Hearts do get hard. Paul said in Hebrews 3:13, “Exhort one another day by day, while it is called today, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”