“Listen, my dear brothers: 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?” (James 2:5/NIV).
In recent posts I have been dealing with poverty, giving and love. Today I want to look at things from a different angle. The above scripture verse is concerned with those poor people who believe and love God.
St. James, who wrote these words, was a brother of the Lord and a leader of the early Christian church in Jerusalem. In his days many Jews had experienced the blessing of salvation by faith in the Messiah Jesus Christ. It is said that James was highly respected for his piety in the Jewish religious community.
Here James is referring to poor and rich people in a church meeting. He exhorts believers not to judge by eyesight and not to discriminate the poor.
“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4/NIV).
Just think of John the Baptist for example. He was living in the desert. He used to eat what he could find in those inhospitable places: locusts and wild honey. He did not wear fine clothes. His “clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist.” (Matthew 3:3/NIV).
John the Baptist had no prominent position within the Jewish hierarchy. He was an outsider. He neither cared for riches nor for recognition. Yet many Jews could find him to be a man especially close to God, who had a message from God for them.
In Jewish history there would have been other men who lived lives of simplicity and austerity in order not to be entangled with the cares of this world. They sought not to be distracted from contemplation in God’s word.
On the other end of the spectrum there were men of political correctness and compromise with the heathen rulers over the Jewish nation. They kept to religious traditions in as much as seemed permissible under Roman rule. They did all to remain the religious leaders of the nation recognised by the Romans. This was a way to them to maintain a measure of Jewish independence. These men often were affluent people.
Now St. James speaks of individuals of both types per chance visiting a meeting of the community of messianic believers. How should they react?
The Christian believers were not to receive rich visitors to their meetings more kindly than poor ones. He reminds them that poor people at times were rather saintly.
Now here is a biblical advice: Do not be dismayed by your comparative poverty. Do not be overly concerned by your lack of one thing or the other. Rather set your heart on the things of God. Your living conditions may not change easily. You may remain a poor person. Yet you don’t have to be poor in faith. Turn to God with all your heart and enjoy all the blessings he has for you.