Faith, real & now: Devotional Commentary for May 31-June 6
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
1My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.
2For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes,
3and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,"
4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?
James continues to focus on the crucial message he initiated in the closing verses of chapter 1. A truly religious person must do that which is truly Christian. A person of faith must also be faithful and obedient to true biblical precepts. Now James addresses a consequential Christian misconduct that has a negative impact on Christian relationships and interactions.
He starts out by laying down a basic principle to address the issue. His remarks imply, our faith in Jesus Christ must never be modified, conditioned, or influenced by our natural inclinations. Our faith in Christ must not be held with the corrupt perspective of the natural man. It should neither be expressed nor practiced with the attitude of partiality favoring some while despising others. Our faith should be free from our unwholesome prejudices.
James does not speak in a vacuum. He illustrates his point by examining what he observed in Christian relationships and interactions. He exposes the ungodly manner in which we treat one another, including the guests who come to our assemblies. He says we are in the wrong and our faith is polluted.
He supposes two men coming to church or some gathering of Christians. One is highly decorated and exquisitely apparelled. He is adorned with gold rings and fine attire. The other is destitute and shabbily wrapped in tattered rags and threadbare covering. James asks, why do we treat them with different attitude?
In his typical style as a practical exhorter, James candidly reminds us how we normally react to both guests based on our initial impressions of what we observe. He notes that we would receive the rich man with enthusiasm and favor. We would lead him to the most prominent place at the gathering. We would openly express our admirations by ascribing the highest honor to him both in our actions and portrayals.
On the contrary, the same assembly that exalted the rich man would shamelessly ridicule and despise the less fortunate guest—the poor, the untidy, the lowly. The poor has nothing to offer or show. He or she has nothing ostentatious to flaunt. He or she is neither impressive nor attractive. The assembly avoids the poor and relegates him or her to sit on the floor, away and beneath everyone in attendance.
James expresses shock and displeasure that such ungodly behavior is reflected by Christians who confess to have faith in Jesus Christ. He wonders how Christians fail to realize that such behavior is prejudicial and wicked. It flows out of evil motives and corrupt mindset. He charges his audience guilty of favoritism and evil judgment—guilty of expressing our faith in Jesus Christ through the perverse dispositions of the natural man.
5Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
6But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?
7Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
Perhaps with a tone of gentle indignation, James now turns his attention to the real issue and confronts us with penetrating questions. To be sure, his questions are not inquiries looking for answers. They are more of a wakeup call showing us the errors of our ways.
What James does with his questions reaches beyond exposing the disparaging or the favorably biased behavior of Christians toward people of different backgrounds. He tells us that this ungodly behavior is actually contrary to God's work of redemption and the expression of His sovereign Grace. The crux of the matter is not just looking down upon the poor and celebrating the rich. The behavior stands in opposition to God's Grace.
James asks, did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and become joint-heirs of the Kingdom of God with Christ? Did not God exalt the lowly and humble the opulent? But you dishonor the poor holding God's Grace in contempt.
You honor those who oppress you and deal with you unkindly. You disregard God's Grace and exalt what impresses your corrupt sentiments. You show deference to those who dishonor the Name by which you are saved.
Listen, exclaims James, what corrupted your faith? Why do you disgrace the Name of Jesus Christ? Why do you despise the exalted and venerate the humbled? Why do you practice your faith without wisdom? Why do you make distinctions in a body that God made one in Jesus Christ?
At the outset, James' admonition may sound a bit critical and perhaps accusatorial at times. However, if we listen carefully without retreating to a defensive position, there are significant life-changing lessons to be learned. He is deeply concerned about our faith and the manner in which we express it.
James is a caring pastor and a practical exhorter. He teaches us the truth precept by precept and line by line. His candor and tough language are God's refining chisels used to cut through the obstructive barricade put up by the old nature around the new person in Christ.
Faith is ours to express. It is given to us. It does not originate with us. It is the fruit of the Spirit. It belongs to Jesus Christ. He is the Source and the Completer. He gives it to us and completes it in us. That is why James rebukes us for mishandling our faith in Christ, the Lord of Glory.
Faith binds us with Jesus Christ. It is the manifestation of His presence in our hearts. By faith we respond to His Word which we receive from Him, also by faith. Christian living is possible only by faith in Jesus Christ because He is the only One Who lived on earth in righteousness.
When we express our faith favoring some and despising others, we are actually testifying by our behavior that Christ in us is disparaging to some or favorably biased toward others. James says that is ungodly and wrong. Such behavior disgraces the Name of our Savior. It dishonors God in the minds of those who observe us. Such is not the testimony of Christ's living temples and His commissioned witnesses.
Having been redeemed by Grace through faith, we must stand faithful to our calling. We do not dishonor those whom God exalted. We are one in Christ. We are one body, members of the same body. We have one Head, even our Lord Jesus Christ. The Scriptures tell us: "He who oppresses the poor reproaches, mocks, and insults his Maker, but he who is kind and merciful to the needy honors Him." Therefore, we disavow our carnal disposition. We accept one another as sinners saved by Grace for whom Christ also died. This way, we glorify Christ, for in Him we have been made the children of God. Let the lowly rejoice in that he is exalted, and the rich in that he is humbled.