Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Show no Partiality?

James 2:1-7 (ESV)
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. [2] For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, [3] and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," [4] have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? [5] 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? [6] But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? [7] Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

This is a passage in James, that quite frankly troubles me. Far from the more or less egalitarianism you find in Paul and elsewhere in Scripture, this little snippet seems to have formed the ground work for Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Hate the rich may not have been the message James wants to send, but this certainly lends itself to that reading. A reading I dare say is often read into the text by many Christians on days not going so well.
Of course dealing with middle class and upper class congregations, you often find them scared stiff and feeling guilty for their wealth because of this passage. Sometimes they even wonder if they are lying to God when they confess to be a poor, miserable sinner… in the confession of sins. “But I’m not poor” I have heard more than once. No you are not. Chances are living in the United States, you probably haven’t seen poverty except for late night commercials on televisions much of the world doesn’t have enough wealth to be cursed with. But hopefully you are poor of spirit. You should be and the fact that you feel guilty for your wealth tells me you probably are.
Truth is though this almost clashes with Paul. Who doesn’t necessarily praise people for being rich, but definitely knows not to bite the hand that feeds him. Just look at how skillfully he writes the letter to Philemon, and is so careful to thank the rich people that support various congregations in their homes. Does he disparage Lydia for her wealth? Does he accuse these rich people for oppressing the Christians? In fact many rich people do oppress poor. Yet still many rich people are endowed with great faith, and throughout history, they have supported congregations and missions all but providing pastors and houses of worship for their community. Such people might ought to be thanked rather than disparaged.
Though, this may also be a helpful corrective to the health and wealth Christianity that so often surrounds us. I don’t know, just make sure you don’t reach for this text on your more covetous days.


Larry said...

You know I never thought about that passage that way. It DOES have the ring of anabaptist, albeit anachronistically considering, to it.


Larry said...

Paul does say be a good slave and a good master does he not.


Larry said...

You are right in this country we are not "poor" relative to the world. We have lesser classes of wealthy I suppose. I have in this country run into what I call the "pride of poverty", as if hard times gains one favor with God.

Bror Erickson said...

"Pride of poverty" I like it. Sometimes I think people read the story of the richman and the eye of a needle, and they come away thinking they have to be poor to be saved. or that God will save them because they are poor. It doesn't work that way he saves who he will.