Jas 2:5-7 “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?”
It is important to note that throughout this letter, James is continually reminding himself and his audience that they are “brethren.” Keep in mind that the historical setting of James’ writing is likely during the time described in the eighth chapter of the book of The Acts of the Apostles. The Jews that believed on Jesus were scattered and being persecuted by that staunch Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus. Saul was acting at the behest of those who were determined to keep Judaism alive and thriving.
James’ admonition is born of a sincere desire for the welfare of brethren that have been forced to leave behind everything they once treasured for this new-found faith in Jesus. Whenever we have the opportunity to encourage, instruct, or reprove, it should always be done to “beloved brethren” out of a godly concern for their well-being. Hard things are easier to hear when we are assured that they come from someone who truly has our best interest at heart.
The scriptures in the first verses of this chapter have instructed us to not have the faith of Jesus Christ with respect of persons. Now we are called on to pay attention or consider (hearken) what is being said in verse five. How many times do we hear something without really paying attention? We know that something is being said but our thoughts are somewhere else. We fail to grasp the full import of the counsel we are being given. James wanted to be sure he had his audience’s undivided attention.
James’ question here is to make a point (rhetorical) with the beloved brethren rather than with the expectation of getting a reply back from them. The point being made is that God has indeed chosen the poor of this world rich in faith. I believe that James is alluding here to Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mat 5:3).” He is giving them assurance that it is better to be rich in faith than to be rich in worldly goods.
When we feel ourselves to be self-sufficient in this world, we are not poor (cringing, distressed) regardless of the degree of our material wealth. Until we feel our need of Him so strongly that we would gladly beg for His presence, we are not poor. Whether we are rich or poor in material things, it is a blessing from God if we are poor in spirit. It is a blessing to be poor in spirit because then the Holy Spirit reveals to us that we are heirs to the kingdom of God.
It is a sad fact that, left to our human nature, when we are persecuted we often look for someone we can persecute in return. James is rebuking his beloved brethren for just such an attitude. He is instructing us that we should not lose sight of the fact that we need to be poor in spirit, and we need to encourage those around us who are poor in spirit. We should never hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18). In those days, those who had faith in Jesus and yet tried to bring others under the bondage of law service were doing just that. We see the same thing today when men claim to know Jesus and yet try to impose their own desires upon those whom God has called into His service.
When we oppress others because we feel to be “better off” than they, whether in a material sense or spiritual sense, we are blaspheming the name of Jesus. If we have the truth with righteousness, then we understand that we are who we are only by the grace of God. Outside of His grace, we are no better than the worst of mankind. We are not giving glory to God when we would drag the poor before any sort of tribunal (even if it is just in our own heart) to deem them somehow more unworthy than we ourselves.
May we rejoice that He has called us to be rich in faith and heirs to His kingdom of love!