We began to look at this passage last week when we concentrated on verse 1 and on what James tells us in this verse about the Lord Jesus and about his readers. Remember? He referred to the Lord Jesus as ‘the glorious Lord Jesus Christ’. And we thought about how the name ‘Jesus’ means ‘Saviour’. And so, whenever we hear the name ‘Jesus’ we’re reminded that we should look to him and to him alone to save us from the God’s wrath because of our sins.
And then the title ‘Christ’ tells us that he’s our great teacher who teaches us; and our great priest who died for us; and our great king who calls us into his kingdom.
And then James called him ‘Lord’; and that means we all ought to surrender our lives to him and to obey him every day.
And then James also reminded us that he’s glorious. Once he came to earth in humility; but now, following his resurrection from the dead, he lives in glory and he’s supremely glorious and there is nothing and no-one here on earth who can compare with his glory.
Those are some of the things we learnt last week about the glorious Lord Jesus Christ. But then we also learned something important, something vital, about James’s readers: we learnt that they were believers. James refers to them as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. And we thought about what that means and how we all need to believe in him. We all need to believe in him in order to be saved from God’s wrath because of our sins. ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’, the Apostle Paul said to the Philippian jailer, ‘and you will be saved’. And so, we all ought to believe in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ and trust in him to take away our sins.
But, of course, once a person believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, what should they do? How should they live their lives? How will their faith in him affect the rest of their lives? And really, that’s what so much of the book of James is about; it’s about how believers are to live their lives and how we’re to treat one another. Remember the end of chapter 2? True religion, James tells us, is about controlling what we say to one another; and it’s about loving and serving our needy neighbours; and it’s about live differently from the unbelieving world. Our faith in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ will affect how we live our lives and how we treat one another.
And James continues to teach us that lesson in chapter 2. And so, in the verses we read a few minutes ago, James warns his readers — and therefore he’s warning us — about showing favouritism towards the rich, while despising the poor. And instead of doing that, he tells us that we’re to keep the royal law of love. So again, he’s thinking about how we treat one another. And that’s what we’re going to be studying today.
The Rich Man
James depicts a scene for us in verses 2 to 4 to illustrate the kind of attitude he’s warning us about. He says:
Suppose a man comes into your meeting….
We’ll pause right there, because we need to notice where this little scene he’s describing is happening. It’s happening in church, when the congregation has gathered together for worship just as we’ve gathered together for worship today. And you see, the reason they had gathered for worship, and the reason we gather for worship is because we believe in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ; and we want to give thanks to God the Father for the glorious Lord Jesus Christ; and we want to hear his word which teaches us about his glory and his greatness and why he’s worthy of all our worship.
And whenever we gather here, as believers in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ, to give thanks to God for him and to hear about him, we long to be with him in glory, don’t we? So, we’ve gathered together in church because we believe in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ who now lives and reigns in glory; and we long to be with him in glory.
Bearing that in mind, what happens next in the little scene James is describing? A rich man comes into the meeting. In other words, here’s a man with a certain amount of earthly glory. We thought about this briefly last week: ‘glory’ in the Bible can refer to a man’s wealth and his status. So, this man, with a certain amount of earthly glory, comes into the church. He’s wearing a gold ring and fine clothes. So, his wealth, his glory, is obvious to all. And he’s a visitor. That’s clear because he needs someone to direct him where to sit.
And how is this man treated? Look at verse 3. James talks about how he’s given special attention. And he’s invited to sit in a good seat. You know, if it were here in Immanuel, then perhaps the welcome team in the vestibule would all gather around to shake his hand. And someone would then lead him up the the front of the church. And we’d ask him:
Does this seat suit you? Are you comfortable here? Would you like anything? It’s really wonderful to have you here.
And all the time, we’re bowing, and fawning over this man, simply because he’s rich and possesses this earthly glory.
Just think about what I said earlier. We’re in church because we believe in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ who now lives and reigns in glory and we long to be with him in glory. We’re in church because we believe in him. And yet when a person with earthly glory comes in, we’re drawn to him. And we’re excited to see him. And we’re enthralled by him.
If that’s the case, if we’re captivated by a man with earthly glory when we’ve come to church to hear about the glorious Lord Jesus Christ, who possesses divine and heavenly glory, then something’s gone wrong; and our sense of what’s truly glorious has got all mixed up.
The Poor Man
But, of course, that’s only part of the little scene which James is describing for us, because the rich man is not the only visitor to church that day. Another man comes in. And look, he’s a poor man who wears shabby clothes. So, we’re to think about a homeless person, who is down and out and whose clothes are dirty and worn out and torn.
And when this person comes in to church, what happens? Well, in the scene which James is describing for us, the welcome team are abrupt with the poor man when he comes into the church building. And they tell him:
Go and stand over there.
Sit down, not in a chair, but at my feet.
The rich man is invited to sit in a good seat. The poor man is told to sit on the floor or else stand over there.
Now, we don’t know anything about this person, apart from what he looks like. But let’s suppose, let’s suppose — because we don’t know otherwise — let’s suppose that this poor man has come to church because he wants to hear the good news of the Saviour who died for sinners. He’s looking for rest for his weary soul. He knows he’s a sinner who deserves to be condemned, but now he’s looking for the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of glory. Let’s suppose that’s what this poor man is looking for. And when he comes to the church which James is describing here, what does he find? Well, he finds that the people in this church don’t want him there.
And, of course, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Whenever a person comes to church, we can’t see into their hearts. We can’t see into their hearts, and so, we don’t know what they want or what they’re looking for. All we can see is what they look like. And I suppose that sometimes, when we look at someone who looks poor, we’re tempted to assume that they’re only looking for a handout. But who knows? Who knows? Perhaps our judgment of this person and their motive for coming to church is wrong.
And perhaps we’ve become judges with evil thoughts, as James puts it in verse 4. And perhaps, if we were able to see into this person’s heart, and make a correct judgment, we’d see that here’s a person who is seeking after God. They’re looking for the Saviour; and we didn’t welcome them. And that would be awful, wouldn’t it? So, we mustn’t discriminate among the people who come to church; and we mustn’t pass judgment on a person’s motive for coming to church. None of us can see into a person’s heart to know what they’re looking for. And so, we should be ready to welcome anyone to church.
Verses 5 to 7
‘Listen, my dears brothers and sisters’, James says in verse 5. Listen:
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?
In this one verse, James makes three points about the poor, just to press home to us that we shouldn’t ever despise the poor person who comes to church.
First of all, God doesn’t despise the poor; on the contrary, God has chosen them. Now, we need to be careful here and to notice what James didn’t say. He didn’t say:
Has not God chosen those who are poor and only them?
He didn’t say that. He didn’t say that God only chooses the poor and that he never chooses the rich. You see, when we read the New Testament we read about poor believers and we read about rich believers. So, at the beginning of Acts, we read how some of the rich believers who owned land or houses sold them in order to share the proceeds with the poor believers. God doesn’t choose only the poor. Nor does God choose all of the poor. We mustn’t think that either, because not every poor person will be saved, but only those who repent of their sins and trust in the Saviour for salvation.
So, we mustn’t misread James here. Nevertheless, notice this one startling fact: Though the world might despise and reject the poor because they’re poor, God does not. Instead, he’s willing to choose even poor people to belong to him; and heaven is going to be filled with people who, while they were on the earth, had nothing. Has not God chosen the poor, said James. If God has chosen them, then we shouldn’t despise the poor person who comes to church.
Secondly, when God chooses a poor person, though they may be poor in the world, he makes them rich in faith. In other words, in terms of the faith, they’re rich, spiritually rich. And believers are spiritually rich because God has blessed us in Christ Jesus with one spiritual blessing after another. Whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ receives from God one blessing after another. And so, we receive justification, so that our sins are forgiven and we’re accepted by God for Christ’s sake. And we receive adoption, so that we’re adopted into God’s family and are given the right to call him ‘Father’.
And we receive sanctification, so that God’s Spirit works in us to renew us in his image and to make us his obedient children. And we receive assurance of God’s love; and we receive peace of conscience; and we receive joy in the Holy Spirit; and we receive growth in the grace; and we receive perseverance, so that the Lord enables us to keep going along the narrow path that leads to everlasting life in his presence.
God gives us all of these things, and more besides, so that though a believer may be poor in the world, nevertheless that believer is spiritually rich. So, we shouldn’t despise the poor person who comes to church, because this poor person may in fact be spiritually rich through faith in Jesus Christ.
And thirdly, not only does God choose poor people to be rich in faith, but he also chooses poor people to inherit his kingdom.
There are two things to notice here. Firstly, the word ‘inherit’ reminds us that the right to become a member of Christ’s kingdom is a gift which we receive without having to pay for it. And the Lord Jesus gives the right to belong to his kingdom to all kinds of people, even to the poor.
Secondly, the kingdom James is referring to here is Christ’s kingdom of glory which every believer will be brought into when Jesus Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Just think of what the Lord said in Matthew 25 of how he will come one day as a King and will separate the people of the world into two groups: one group will be cast away into the eternal fire; the other group will be invited, he said, to take their inheritance, which is the kingdom God has prepared for them. That’s what James is referring to in this verse: he’s referring to eternal life in Christ’s kingdom of glory. And since the Lord has chosen poor people to be with him for ever and ever in glory, then why, why, why would we ever make a poor person feel unwelcome in Christ’s church here on earth? If Christ is willing to welcome them into glory, why won’t we welcome them into church?
Verses 6 and 7
The Lord has chosen poor people. And he’s made them rich in faith. And he’s promised them a place in his kingdom. That’s what the Lord has done. What have the rich people done, the ones the members of the church are fawning over and giving so much attention to? Do they deserve this special attention? Are they people who love the Lord and his people?
From what we read in verses 6 and 7, it’s clear that they hate the Lord and his people. Look what James says about them: Instead of loving the Lord’s people, they’re exploiting them and dragging them into court. We don’t know what they were doing exactly, but perhaps they were using their wealth and their influence in the courts to oppress the members of the church and to take away their possessions. So, they had no love for the Lord’s people; and they had no love for the Lord, because James tells us that they blasphemed his name. And James point seems to be that it makes no sense, no sense, to fawn over these rich men, and to give them all this special attention, because don’t you know that this rich men despise you and they despise your Lord? So, why, why, why would you give them so much attention and ignore those whom God has chosen to be rich in faith and to inherit his kingdom? Come on now. Think about it. Who should you welcome? The rich man who despises you or the poor man whom God has chosen?
Verses 8 to 13
I mentioned at the beginning that, as well as warning his readers about showing favouritism to the rich, while despising the poor, James also wants to tell us what we’re to do. And what we’re to do is to keep the royal law of love. And that’s what verses 8 to 13 are about.
The word translated ‘royal’ here in verse 8 is related to the Greek word for king or kingdom. In other words, verse 8 can be translated this way:
If you really keep the king’s law found in Scripture….
If you really keep the kingdom’s law found in Scripture.
James has been talking about how God has chosen the poor to inherit his kingdom. And having spoken about inheriting the kingdom, he refers now to the law of the kingdom. This is how the members of Christ’s kingdom here on earth are meant to treat one another.
What’s the law of the kingdom which we’re to keep? Well, it’s summed up by this one, simple commandment which appears in verse 8:
Love your neighbour as yourself.
If that sounds familiar to you, then good! It should. In the gospels, someone asked the Lord Jesus what the greatest command is. And the Lord replied:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all our soul and with all our mind.
And then he added:
And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.
And, of course, the Lord was quoting from the the law of Moses in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 6:5 we’re commanded to love God. And in Leviticus 19:18 we’re commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves. So, according to our King, the glorious Lord Jesus Christ, we’re to love God and we’re to love our neighbour as ourselves.
What has that got to do with what James is talking about here? We’re to ask ourselves whenever a poor person comes into church:
How would I like to be treated if that was me? Would I like to be told to stand over there? Would I like to be told to sit on the floor? Would I like to be made to feel that I’m not welcome here?
If that’s not the way you would like to be treated, then it’s no way to treat this new person who has come to church. And we’re to go on and ask ourselves: How would I like to be treated? I’d like someone to welcome me and to make me feel welcome here. I’d like the people in this church to show that they’re glad to see me.
If that’s the way you would like to be treated, then that’s the way to treat this new person who has come to church. We’re to love our neighbour — and our neighbour is really anyone we meet — we’re to love our neighbour as ourselves. So, how would I like to be treated? That’s the way I’ll treat my neighbour.
It’s really very simple, isn’t it? And if we keep that law, says James, then we’re doing what’s right. But if we show favouritism in the way James has been describing by despising the poor man who has come to church, then we’re sinning against the Lord who has given us this law to keep; and we’ve become a lawbreaker. And just in case any of us think to ourselves, ‘Well, this is only a little sin; and sure, I keep all the others’, James makes the point that even if someone only ever broke one commandment, that person would still be counted a sinner in the sight of God, and a lawbreaker. Well, God has given us his law to show us how we’re to live as his people. And so, we can’t pick and choose and decide which laws we’ll keep and which laws we won’t keep. We’re to strive to keep it all.
Verses 12 and 13
When I was in school years ago, we knew that at the end of the year, we would be tested. And so, most of us worked hard at all our subjects. But there were some subjects which were ‘extras’ and we knew there wouldn’t be a test at the end on those subjects. And so, we didn’t really bother too much with them. Well, says James, we’re going to be tested on this. And it’s interesting that James is writing to believers, isn’t it? And he’s saying to believers who have been given this law to show us how we ought to treat one another: ‘You’re going to be tested on this.’
So, since we’re going to be tested on this, since we’re all going to have to appear before the Lord to give an account of our thoughts and words and deeds, then let’s make sure that we think and speak and act in the right way, showing mercy and kindness to all, just as we’re hoping that God will show mercy to us for all the ways we have fallen short of keeping his law.
And that’s the good news at the end, isn’t it? Mercy triumphs over judgment. None of us have kept God’s law perfectly. None of us have loved our neighbour as ourselves all of the time and our efforts to love others have often been poor and unsuccessful. But the good news of the gospel is that God will be merciful to all who trust in the Saviour. And when we appear before the Lord to give an account of our thoughts and words and deeds, our loving Heavenly Father will look upon our weak and poor efforts to love our neighbour are ourselves, and though we have often failed, and though our best efforts often fall short, nevertheless, for the sake of Christ who died for us, he’ll pardon our shortcomings and show mercy to all who have trusted in Christ.