Living for the Glory of God ~ Vivir para la Gloria de Dios

The Hypocrisy of Partiality (James 2:5-7) ~ A Daily Devotion for January 17, 2014

“Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? ~ James 2:5-7

Explanation of the Text: To continue illustrating his point in regards to partiality, James asks the believers, “Has God not chosen the poor to be rich?” The structure of this verse indicates that the expected answer is yes. This question brings out one of the typical great reversals that are often seen throughout Scripture; those that are poor will one day be both rich and heirs. However, it is not that those who are poor, according to worldly standards, will be rich according to those same worldly standards. Instead, they become rich in faith and will be heirs of the kingdom. Note that the question is in the past tense (has God not chosen), meaning that God already has a sovereign plan in place and promised that those who love Him will be heirs to the kingdom. While James still views the kingdom as being in the future, he also recognizes the anticipatory blessings that can be presently enjoyed.[1]

In examining the Old Testament, New Testament, and even general Jewish wisdom literature, a connection between the poor and inheritors of the kingdom can often be seen, in which those who are the poorest are often the ones who are the most genuine, or devout, in their following of the one, true God. It is not that the poor are any better or have some special gift that the rich do not, but it is that God is non-discriminant, and that the poor are more likely to recognize their own need for a savior (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). In fact, James, being well-versed in the teachings of Christ, is drawing from the language seen in Luke 6:20 in which Luke writes, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” This same passage is paralleled in Matthew 5:3. Although James is referring to those who are poor economically, he draws from a passage that refers to those who are spiritually poor. The word for poor is not one indicative of a person who has some resources, but not sufficient or any extra resources, but instead is actually referring to one who has absolutely nothing and is completely bankrupt. It is this person who is conscious of his own spiritual bankruptcy and thus must come to God to draw on His unlimited resources.[2] “The poor are more disposed to recognize their need for God. Their poverty (and God’s choice) has made them rich ‘in faith.’ It is not that they have a greater quantity of faith but that….they are indeed wealthy.”[3] Whether spiritually poor or economically poor, James tells the believers that they can indeed be rich. It is for certain, that every person to whom we come in contact with is either “rich in faith towards God or they are in abject poverty towards God.”[4] The calling is for persons to be rich in faith.

In showing partiality, the believers in the church have dishonored the poor man. It is most likely that between the poor man and the rich man, the poor man would probably be the one to accept the truth of the Gospel. However, in this oppression of the poor, those in the church have responded to the poor man in the same manner in which the rest of the world has, and thus no distinction can be made between the unbelieving world and the believing church. Indeed, through partiality, they have shown dishonor to the poor man, whom has been chosen by God.

The absurdity of the partiality is brought to the forefront of the discussion in verses 6b-7. The rich were oppressing the believers, taking them into court, and ultimately blaspheming the name of God. It seems incomprehensible that these believers would tolerate the rich, in fact more than tolerate through partiality towards them in light of the fact that the rich suppress poor.

However, even worse than their tormenting of the poor, the rich have blasphemed the name of the Lord. The Greek word βλασφημέω (blasphēméō) used here refers to slander or speaking evil,[5] and in this case, it would specifically refer to speaking evil against God. Anyone who commits blasphemy is in sin, as the rich are here. However, what is also appalling is that by showing partiality towards the rich, the believers are indeed supporting them, rather than taking a stand against it. In his commentary on the Book of James, John Calvin calls on the imagination to picture this verse as though James were nearby saying to the believers, “This name is the very one in which you find glory, or consider it an honor to be called by, yet they defame it. If they proudly calumniate the glory of God, how unworthy are they of being honoured by Christians!”[6]

How illogical it is for Christians to show partiality to those who not only oppress them, but show it to those who also defame the name of our Lord!

Examination & Application of the Text: As we look at this text, there are two things to note. First, it is not that every poor person will be rich in faith and inherit the kingdom. The final part of the verse says God has promised it to those who love Him. This is the same phrase that James used earlier in 1:12. John 14:21 says, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me” (NASB). Genuine love is demonstrated by keeping the commandments of God. 1 John 2:3 even equates keeping those commandments as having a relationship with God. Having fellowship with God is keeping the commandments of God. One can only truly know a person through having a relationship with them. Therefore, as James says that God has promised to those who love Him the opportunity to be heirs to the kingdom, true love comes from having a relationship through Jesus Christ, which his evidenced through obedience. “The one who has been brought into a saving relationship with God finds within himself a growing love for and desire to obey His commands.”[7]

The second aspect of this is to stand firm in the faith. Rather than show partiality towards the rich, who defame the name of God, one should be defending the name of God. By showing partiality towards those people, it is affirmation that you agree with them, or are at least ok with their actions. However, this is not the right attitude. We are called to give a defense of Christ, and this is what needs to be done. The call is now to state your position in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that it may be difficult from a worldly standpoint (as we see evidenced in the life of Christ) but that from a heavenly stand point, we will find riches from God, a life of eternity having fellowship with the one, true God.

[1] Homer A. Kent Jr., Faith That Works: Studies in the Epistle of James, (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2005), 68.

[2] J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Discipleship (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1994), 12.

[3] George Guthrie, James, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 233.

[4] Steven J. Lawson, General Session 8, Shepherd’s Conference, (accessed November 30, 2013).

[5] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000), Entry #987.

[6] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 304.

[7] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1991), 79.

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