Rich Man Poor Man

August 6, 2017 Speaker: Stuart Strachan Jr Series: James: Wise Advice for Everyday Living

Topic: James: Wise Advice for Everyday Living Scripture: James 2:1–2:13

 

Rich Man Poor Man

 James 2:1-13

 8/6/17

 

We are returning this week to our series on the book of James. James as you may recall is a letter filled with advice. And as you may have noticed by now, he moves from one topic to another in almost breakneck speed. He begins, as you may remember, by talking about how to endure trials.

 

And then he moves on to giving advice on the tongue, being quick to listen and slow to speak, and ultimately to live a life in congruence with what we believe about God’s redemption of our lives, and how are lives ought to produce fruit that matches our calling.

 

In a lot of ways that is the subject of this passage as well, and specifically, how that manifests itself in the community as it relates to preferential treatment of the rich over the poor.

 

And so now with that little introduction, I’d like to turn our attention to our text this morning in James chapter two, verses 1 through 13.

 

 

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old 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?

 

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: 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? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

 

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,”[b] also said, “You shall not murder.”[c] If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

 

We tend to treat the rich and powerful differently than others.

 

In our lives, its everywhere, we do the same thing…we want to know what the rich and the famous know.

 

Why is it, that the second an NBA player is drafted, they have a shoe deal lined up? It’s because those shoe companies know, that if they pay for the privilege of selling the Air Jordan or the Kobe or whoever, that people will buy those shoes simply because a rich and powerful and athletically gifted player says to.

 

And the problem is why? Why would you buy a shoe simply because an athlete says “this is my shoe”?

 

Why would we vote for a political candidate just because this celebrity says vote for them?

 

When we really think about it, it’s kind of silly, isn’t it? It’s because we tend to be people that are influenced by others who are successful, and we assume, that we because they have been successful in one area, that they have an authority over us in another.

 

Why? Because perhaps they hope to become rich themselves, or even just to bask in the glow of other rich people.

 

And this was no different in the case of the churches James was writing to.

At the beginning of chapter two he says:

 

“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”

 

Now why is it that these early Christians were giving preferential treatment to the rich?

 

One of the reasons may have been simply this:

 

The church may have been one of the only places in the ancient world where rich and poor intermingled as equals, in the church

 

So perhaps, folks are not used to being treated as equals by the rich and so they naturally defer to them.

 

But there are some real significant reasons why doing this is a bad idea.

 

Two Reasons not to give preferential Treatment to the Rich

 

The first is this: when we give preferential treatment to the rich, we are essentially promoting something known as a prosperity gospel. That is to say, the reason why the rich are rich is because God cares about them more than the rest of us.

 

Now what’s wrong with this. Well, a lot actually. For one, the rich are not rich simply because God has blessed them. In fact, most of the rich in the time that Jesus and James lived, were rich because they had done a number of immoral acts to become rich.

 

The tax collector Zaccheus became rich not by giving his money to the poor, but by taking more than his fair share when he collected his taxes.

 

James even point this out in our text. Listen to what he says in verse 5:

 

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: 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? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

 

Now, please hear me correctly, I am not condemning all people with wealth, and I’m going to speak to this in greater detail in a little bit, but the point to remember here is that in the kingdom of God, no one is given preferential treatment because of something they have has value in the eyes of the world.

 

The problem is, when we give preferential treatment to the rich or to the powerful, what we are doing is actually undermining one of the core messages of the gospel that in Christ we are all equal.

 

(aside: words of Declaration of Independence)

 

But to kind of illustrate what I am trying to say here, I would like to take a step back and describe something a phenomenon know as “functional atheism”

 

Functional atheism is the idea that while many people claim to be believers and followers of God, that this belief has not functional use in their lives.

 

It doesn’t affect their beliefs, their behaviors, etc, and so the question ultimately becomes, how much do you actually believe if it doesn’t manifest itself in your life.

 

In our text, it’s not so much that these early Christians were functional atheists, but that there behavior betrayed a sense of this truth: they were not living according to the new kingdom that Jesus had come to proclaim.

 

That is to say, while they claimed to follow Jesus and to live according to His teachings, the fact that they were showing favoritism to the rich, actually demonstrated that in this area of their life, Jesus was not Lord, but their own greed or worldliness was in charge.

 

Do you see what I’m saying? If they were really following Jesus’ kingdom, they would treat a person who showed up for worship in rags the same way they would someone that showed up in riches.

 

And they were not.

 

They were focused on the outward (outward appearances, outward riches, and not what is inside, the heart)

 

And this brings me to the second reason not to give preferential treatment to the rich: and that’s because it undermines one of our core Christian convictions, that when we give preferential treatment to the rich, we are undermining the very core message of the gospel, that in Christ “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, and while Paul didn’t write this in the text, I think we can safely say, nor rich nor poor, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

When we give others an elevated status above others, we reject this sacred truth that we believe in.

 

 

James Reminds his followers of the New Kingdom

 

And Jesus, was all about the heart. He didn’t care about wealth.

 

But here is where James is so helpful, he reminds them that through Christ, there is a new kingdom at work, a kingdom where the rich aren’t given preferential treatment, but where everyone is treated with dignity, love, and respect.

 

Now, its important I think to remind us that Jesus wasn’t necessarily against anyone with wealth, but what he would not do is treat people differently because of their wealth.

 

Remember, Jesus was more than happy to eat a meal with the rich, remember the story of Zacchaeus .

 

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, he was rich, and Jesus ate at his table…but he didn’t do so because of his money did he? No, he did it because Zacchaeus was open to the gospel.

 

So the problem here is not money per se

 

It is not wrong to be wealthy. It is however, wrong to allow someone’s wealth to determine the way in which they are treated.

 

 

Lastly:

 

Who are you treating differently because of their wealth or their status? And who are you missing because they do not have a lot of money or power or status?

 

It’s so easy for us to turn relationships into a utilitarian tool: I will become friends with you because of what you can offer me whether it’s a more important status or a new network that can raise my wealth or whatever…

 

 

For all of us there are areas of our hearts that still need to be redeemed by Jesus. There are areas in our hearts that have not acknowledged the radical nature of the new kingdom instituted by Jesus Christ. And so my hope for you today, as you leave this place, is to ask this question: where do you need to renovate your heart so that the kingdom of God might reign in richer and more powerful ways.

 

 

And so James, at the very beginning of our passage says it this way:

More in James: Wise Advice for Everyday Living

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