James 2:5-7

James 2:5‑7  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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NOR is it only that fawning on rich persons, even when believers are gathered together, is inconsistent with faith in Him Who in His grace became poor though Lord of glory. It is opposed to the law, and still more to the gospel and Christianity. It denies in effect relationship with Him as a secondary thing to the circumstances of the day and the lowest distinction in the world; and it is as far as possible from God's mind, as His word shows and Christ impressively interpreted and livingly endorsed it. “The poor have the gospel preached to them.” What were they that received it in His eyes? To the pungent contrast already given we have an earnest appeal added.
“Hear, my beloved brethren; did not God choose the poor as to the world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those that love Him? But ye dishonored the poor [man]. Do not the rich oppress you, and they drag you before tribunals? Do not they blaspheme the worthy name that was called on you” (vers. 5-7)?
Attention is drawn first to the plain and characteristic fact everywhere manifest in the church that not only is the gospel preached to the poor, but that the poor are those who as a class are chosen by God. So the apostle strongly set before the ease-loving intellectual Corinthians who liked to be on good terms with the world to the Lord's dishonor and their own loss and danger. How little they had read aright the word of the cross which is to those that perish foolishness, but to the saved God's power! For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and set aside the intelligence of the intelligent. Here it is the still more debased assumption of the rich. But in any case the foolishness of God, as they count Christ crucified, is wiser than men, and the weakness of God in the same cross is stronger than men. “For behold your calling, brethren, that [there are] not many wise according to flesh, not many mighty, not many high-born. But God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame the wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the strong things; and the ignoble things of the world and the despised God chose, and things that are not, that he might bring to naught the things that are; so that no flesh should boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:26-2926For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29That no flesh should glory in his presence. (1 Corinthians 1:26‑29)).
The humble estate of the poor is by grace made their decided advantage when they are called. For there is no bondage more imperious than that which “society” imposes on its votaries, nothing more at issue with the Lord of all Who judged it root and branch by being outside it all and ignoring its pretensions, and pursuing His path of holy goodness to all in unswerving obedience. This the poor believer sees, rich in faith, and escapes the will of his class to rise in the world by religious means as by every other way. His insight may not be profound or extensive, but he accepts with joy the gospel which elevates him spiritually, and he seeks no other now, looking onward confidently for the kingdom not of this world, which He Whose it is promised to those that love Him.
The poor “of this world” of Tyndale, Cranmer, Geneva, and the Auth. V. supposes a text which extant MSS. do not warrant, unless it be the exaggerated rendering of the article, without the demonstrative pronoun. This “of the world,” has considerable support of both uncials and cursives, as well as ancient versions, &c., and is the text of Griesbach, Matthaei (both edd.) and Scholz. They were probably misled by the Vulgate, followed by Wiclif who preceded them, and by the Rhemish that came after them, “in this world,” which has one cursive (29) to this effect with the venerable Bede. “In the world” has the support of three junior MSS. (27, 43, 64). The true reading adopted by the latest critics is that of the most ancient and best uncials, though neglected by the ancient versions save the later or Philoxenian Syriac. It is τῷ κόσμῶ, and appears to be the dative of reference, i.e. poor in respect of, or as to, the world, a not uncommon usage.
It may be remarked that “rich in faith” is the simple contrast by grace with their lowly circumstances here below, and qualifies them as a class without any question of different measure of comparison individually. Faith made them all rich if they had nothing otherwise; and faith as well as love would honor them accordingly now, as God surely will and before the universe in due time. Christ gave their confidence in Him, and love to Him. His promise encourages and strengthens them along the road.
In open opposition is the haughty contempt which wealth naturally engenders. How strange and deplorable that the rich as a class should be of any account in Christian eyes? What is “the poor” man (whether in the case described in vers. 2-4 or in any other) but dishonored by their unbelieving self-complacency? More unjust and selfish still is their attitude and habit. “Do not the rich oppress you? and [is it not] they [that] drag you into courts of justice? Do not they blaspheme the excellent name that was called on you?” As a class, and so it is our Epistle speaks, they were hostile to the name of the Lord, which was everything to the poor that believed and confessed Him; as they were heartless toward themselves whose poverty exposed them to all manner of evil surmise and detraction, and so to persecution.
In riches the enemy has a ready means of keeping up the spirit of the world against Christ and His poor. But what is here aimed at is the guilty tendency on the part of any Christian, and especially the poor to honor “the unrighteous mammon,” and those who have nothing else to boast. Friendship with the world is enmity with God. Scripture is dead against coveting their goods, or yet more wronging themselves. Neither this Epistle nor any other countenances leveling. Faith gives the only exaltation of value in the spiritual realm; and this the church surely is, or it is worse than nothing, even salt that has lost its savor, and proper neither for land nor for dung. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.