"1 My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "Have a seat here, please," while you say to the poor man, "Stand there," or "Sit at my feet," 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren. 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. Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the honorable name which was invoked over you?"
When we are in the midst of trials we often feel tempted to believe we are powerless
and without hope. We do not want to stay where we are, in the midst of the
difficulty. We want to find a way out if we can, and we want to associate ourselves
with those that we think can help. We look for people whom we think have some
glory, some prestige that will rub off when we are with them. Or maybe we are
hoping that they will share some of their prestige with us and that we will
be lifted out of our difficulties because of our association with them. Our
lives, in the middle of these trials seem without glory, without anything good
It is tempting to deal with difficult circumstances by comparing ourselves
with others and by using the world's standards to decide who is worth giving
honor to and who is not. I might even feel some shame associated with my struggles
in life. I may look at someone who seems to have it all together and to be
blessed and wonder what is wrong with me. What did I do to deserve this? Am
I not as good as these people who are so well off in their lives? Why does
my life have to be so hard?
Or I may look at those who don't have much in the world and are obviously
struggling and think, well at least I am not as bad as them? What is their
problem? Why did they allow themselves to get into such a mess?
It is interesting how easy it is to judge others and size up their worth compared
to us. We are tempted to do it all the time and when life is hard, the temptation
is even stronger. James is warning his readers against doing just this. You
could almost title this section, "Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places." The
people in this congregation are honoring the rich who come to their worship
services. The rich have power and authority in our world. In Biblical times
people often thought that riches was a special sign of God's blessings. James'
readers hope in their preferential treatment of these rich people that they
will receive some blessing as well. It seems that they believe these people
have to some important degree the ability to tell them who they are and to
provide them with real life.
But James reminds them of the sad truth about these very people they are so
eager to please. They are the ones who, in general, oppress them, drag them
into court, and even "blaspheme the honorable name which was invoked over
(them)." These are not people primarily interested in what is best for
those James is writing to. They are not attempting to reflect to others the
good truth about our heavenly Father and our real identities as His beloved
children. In fact they view others in terms only of what benefits themselves.
They are unable to see the truth about others because they do not know the
truth about God and themselves. Why, James is asking his readers, are you seeking
to honor these rich and so receive some glory or blessing from them for yourselves?
There are some among you, James tells them, that can bless you, can remind
you of the wonderful reality that we know only by faith. These are the poor
among you! Unfortunately, they have not yet seen the richness of these people.
They are missing the blessings these people have to offer because they see
them only as the world sees them. They are assuming because the poor have no
earthy prestige, power, or authority, that they have nothing helpful to offer.
Notice the irony: James' congregation is treating the poor in a similar way
to how the rich treat them, with contempt.
How did it happen that in this congregation people were seeking for blessing
from those least interested in blessing them and missing the blessing that
others could give them because they didn't see any good in them? Because they
forgot in their troubles that Jesus is "the Lord of glory." We struggle
and so we wonder, where is the glory in this? What blessing can be had here?
And then we look around us at those who seem to be blessed compared to us,
who seem to "have it all together" or just have it better than we
do and we are tempted to look to them to tell us who we are, to give us a share
in the more glorious life they seem to have.
But Jesus is the one and only "Lord of glory." Why does James give
Jesus this title here, in this passage? Because his readers need to be brought
back to the right place to look for help in their times of trouble. Jesus is
the one who is truly glorious, honorable, all-powerful and prestigious. And
He is intimately interested in sharing His glory with us. He is making us His
very own sisters and brothers. He is the God who "gives to all generously
and without reproach,"(1:5) and He is the One who gives "every good
endowment and every perfect gift."(1:17)
Before Jesus, we are all the same. We at best share in and reflect His glory.
There is no need for distinctions when we see He is our one true source of
glorious life. We can stop running after others for affirmation, stop honoring
only those we think might be able to benefit us, and be open to receive blessings
from God from the surprising places He desires to give them. What a freedom
and a joy when we truly allow God to tell us who we are, when we allow Him
to show us His presence and work in our lives right now. We often miss out
on receiving fully and enjoying what He is doing in our lives, how He is sharing
His glory with us, because we are looking for it--in all the wrong places,
that is, any place outside of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
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