James 2:1-7 “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 ? 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 ? But you have insulted 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 slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong ?”
The first people you meet when you enter a church building are the stewards. Their job is to welcome you, and the impression they create is important. Our stewards are kind and godfearing men; they are interested in you, and are pleased that you’re here. It isn’t their job to interrogate you, to check up on where you are from, or why you have turned up, nor to persuade you to join the church. Some of them are hand-shakers and some are not. One of them may have the opportunity to ask you if it’s your first visit here, and then he may give you some literature. If they notice you have a weakness in sight they may give you a large-type hymnal. Please ask for one if they haven’t spotted this. They will suggest where you may sit, and may even escort you to a pew, especially if the place is getting full. If you have young children they will tell you about a room where you may take them if they become noisy.
They wont get involved in long conversations with you. If you want to talk then they will find someone else to answer your questions as they have to welcome other people. They don’t even have time to get into conversation with their own friends in the church. They can do that afterwards. If there are troublemakers in the service they will wait for me to tell them what to do from the pulpit. I will direct any person in the congregation not to light a cigarette, or to be quiet if they are talking or persistently whispering loudly, distracting other people. If someone has to be escorted out the steward will stand at the end of the pew to encourage the man to leave, but they are not bouncers. If there are a group of teenagers who have come to church for the first time a steward can sit behind them. If someone is taken ill a steward will help them and will contact a doctor in the congregation. Church stewards are necessary men, and have been from the beginning of Christianity.
What the stewards may not do is to show favouritism, taking special interest in a man who has driven up in a Rolls Royce, while totally ignoring a poor person, telling her tersely to find a seat for herself even if she looks lost. But that was happening in the early church, though they had the work of the Holy Spirit to a degree we do not have. They were battling with that same remaining sin that is our enemy too, and so they would occasionally walk by sight and not by faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. James has three things to say about walking by sight to these early Christians and to ourselves.
1] You Have Been Compromised by the Superficial
These were days of poverty for the church, in which wealth was indicated by the sight of a mere gold ring, and some fine clothes. The church did not have enough chairs for all the congregation, and some had to stand through the services or they sat on the ground. Poverty is not a safe place for a Christian to be. It brings its own troubles just like wealth brings other trials. Poverty brought two temptations into the life of the early church:- A] The stewards were bought by the sight of wealth. They quivered in excitement as they saw a wealthy man strolling up to the meeting. James never describes followers of the Lord Jesus as being ‘rich.’ For him this term ‘rich’ has a moral category. It does not mean for James being comfortably off, but rather, opulent, plush, ostentatious, or ritzy. This is Mr Moneybags or Dr. Plutocrat coming to their “little church”, and we are told the man is given “special attention.” He was given an effusive welcome, how “very happy” they were to see him, as they fawned over him. He was shown to a good seat under the shade, in the breeze. We know that wealthy people as well as the poor were drawn to the truth. There was, for example, a Roman centurion mentioned in Luke 7 who actually paid for the building of a new synagogue. How other Old Testament Christians must have dreamed of such a benefactor bailing them out of the cost of maintaining their old buildings.
Now if a New Testament congregation could become wretchedly deferential by dreams of sudden wealth then we must not think that this is a very remote possibility for ourselves. The 10,000th member to be welcomed into a prominent Baptist Church in Dallas was announced as taking place the following week. Who was it ? Not the old lady who was number 10,001 but the kicker of the Dallas Cowboys. Gordon Keddie says, “A church in Pittsburgh advertised the personal appearance one Lord’s Day of a famous star of the Cleveland Browns. A former Miss America travels the circuit of certain charismatic churches and her very glamorous portrait is featured that Sunday in the newspaper advertisements inviting people to attend these churches. Come to church, in other words, to hobnob with the great and bask in their reflected glory ! The use of such attractions, not excluding the periodic ministrations of the current crop of celebrity preachers (without whom, some people seem to believe, effective ministry would vanish from the face of the earth), cannot shake off the taint of undue respect for persons” (The Practical Christian, Evangelical Press, 1989, p.94). I was taken on a tour of a university founded by a man who claims to be a healer. We were given a film presentation of life in that college, but not one picture of a person in a wheelchair or a blind student was shown. You cannot have them in a university whose chancellor states he can perform miracles. People in churches are still being bought by wealth and by power today.
B] These same stewards were repulsed by poverty. It is the other side of the coin. James tells us that when these stewards met “a poor man in shabby clothes” that they considered him to be of little value. How did Peter Mandelson describe that class in the Labour Party Conference last week ? “Horny-handed, dirty-overalled.” “You stand there,” a church steward said to one such man, or “sit on the floor by my feet.” There were clearly many people attending the church, and lots of them were poor, so another poor person would get no welcome at all. How different it is for us in Wales, where we are delighted to see anyone and everyone coming to our small congregations.
What is James saying ? Certainly he is not teaching us to show no respect to civic authorities, and world leaders, should they come to a Christian church. We stand to greet a bride on her wedding day. We stand when leaders of the local government enter at a special service. We given them a good seat as a matter of respect for their office as the ‘servants of God’ in a special sense (Romans 13:1ff). “Fear the Lord and the king, my son, and do not join with the rebellious” (Provs. 24:21). Peter says, “Show proper respect to everyone” (I Pet. 2:17). Neither is Peter telling us we may not refuse admission to someone improperly dressed for worship. Beach wear, bikinis and shorts, are not acceptable in many other places besides the church. They are distracting in the hour of worship. If a man should turn up dressed as a woman that would create a similar problem of distraction. I would favour a quiet corner for him, and initial silent prayers from the congregation, and some patience. If a man came who lives on the streets and never washes, and gave off an appalling odour, I would favour the same initial response until we had a chance of talking with him. We cannot forbid the attendance of a hardened unrepentant church member who is under discipline and whose presence is grievous, but if he wants to chat then there is one great theme you all must talk to him about, before you can talk about anything else, and that is his need to put his life straight, and confess this awful sin and come back to God. So James begins by describing a church steward whose behaviour is unacceptable because he has been allured by what is utterly superficial, the amount of power that someone has, and I am saying that we too can be unbalanced by people’s fame, influence, wealth and beauty. In this world money is status: it was, and still is today. The next thing James says is this:
2] You Have Fallen Into Sin
This incident is a barometer of the values of this church. It is too much attached to the values of the world from which it professes to have been saved. What have they done ?
i] You have shown favouritism (v.1). Literally this word means, ‘you received the face’ of someone. That is, you were captivated by someone’s appearance, or social status. Their countenance alone was enough to buy you. Their behaviour and unbelief were dismissed by you as irrelevant compared to their power. You, the doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, favoured them. You’ve been bought. You’re in danger of becoming their poodle.
How such attitudes are deplored in the Bible. God is not like this. Hear Moses: “the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing” (Deut. 10:17&18). When Jehovah Jesus walked this earth was he ever like these stewards ? Did he butter up to the leaders ? Was he intimidated by wealth and power ? Did he have a group of favourites and they could do nothing wrong in his eyes ? Even the spies sent to catch him out, who ask him if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar, had to say to him, “we know that you do not show partiality” (Luke 20:21); or in Matthew’s account, “You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are” (Matt. 22:16). There was no hint of snobbishness in Jesus. The common people heard him gladly. He entered their homes: he cradled their children in his arms: he ate and drank with them: he touched lepers. His apostles were taught to behave just like him. When the Gentile centurion Cornelius, moved by a message from the Lord, sent for the Jew Peter then that apostle said, “I now know that God does not show favouritism” (Acts 10:34). Remember how Paul talks to bosses about their servants and says to them, “Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him” (Ephs. 6:9). Dr Lloyd-Jones says, “when the world sees the servant and the master speaking to one another as brothers, and worshipping together, and praying together, it says, ‘What is this ? I have never seen this happen before; this is unique.’ So they begin to enquire. The master and the slave can tell them together, ‘This is because we are new men in Christ Jesus. “Old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.” We are still economically and socially in the same relative positions as before, but we are “one in Christ,” in the thing that matters; and we know that we are going to spend our eternity together'” (Life in the Spirit, Banner of Truth, 1974, p.369). These stewards had not learned from God himself this lesson: they were showing favouritism to Mr Moneybags. They were making it easy for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. But Jesus said it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than that.
ii] You have discriminated among yourselves (v.4). The word could mean that they were halting between two opinions – like Israel at the time of Elijah trying to follow the Lord and Baal. They were wavering, and hesitating in their judgements, believing in their heart of hearts that there should be no discrimination in the church, but quivering with excitement when Mammon turned up at the chapel door. Or the word also meant introducing distinctions between worshippers. Some were deemed second class. Surely this is James’ main concern here. “Have you not discriminated ?” he asks. You, of all people. Think of this sin in two ways. It cut across all they taught about their God being without favouritism. They preached that salvation was all of grace, free for the slave and for his master. There was one door alone to God, and that door was Jesus Christ the Son of God. So within the church social and racial distinctions did not exist. That was Paul’s declaration to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gals. 3:28). And to the Colossians he adds, “circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian or Scythian” (Cols. 3:11). This is the church’s boast. All have the same privileges in Christ, to come boldly into the presence of God look into his face and cry “Abba ! Father !” A slave could be an elder. Jewish Christians would sit at the feet of a Scythian pastor and be edified week by week. The wealthiest man in town – if he was in Christ – would at the Lord’s Supper break off a piece of bread from the same loaf as one of his servants. Godly women would have that same mighty influence in a congregation in their multifarious work outside the pulpit, and in their encouragements, judgements, approving and observing, as they have today. No doubt there were initial awkwardnesses and tensions, but this goal was never to be lost sight of. If a person of a different language, race and class from the majority of people in a church requests to worship with them he is welcome to all the church’s privileges, just as long as he is in Christ. There cannot be one congregation for the rich and one for the barbarian, and another for the poor and another for the Jew. It is unthinkable. So this sin of discrimination was cutting across all that Christians claim about us being one in Christ Jesus.
But there is another way of looking at his sin. It was committed by believers, in the church meeting, where two or three were gathered together in Jesus’ name, where our glorious Lord Jesus Christ was always present. That is the striking phrase in the opening verse, “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” It is difficult to translate into English. It says literally, “of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the glory.” James is asserting that the Lord Christ is the glory – the glory of God is Jesus. “In him I beheld God’s glory,” James is saying. Alec Motyer writes, “In Exodus 33:18 we find Moses downcast over the history of Israel to date and desperately anxious about the future, if the Lord indeed insists that he continues to lead the people. In his need for encouragement and uplifting he begs: ‘I pray thee, show me thy glory.’ In reply, the Lord, ever prompt to meet the need of those he loves, promises; ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name.’ And this is exactly what he does in Exodus 34:5-8. The Lord’s ‘name’ is a statement not just of who he is, but much more of what he is: it summarises the Lord’s character and attributes. In this way, when Moses asked to see the Lord’s glory, the Lord in effect answered by saying; ‘You will certainly see my glory, for I will come to you myself, reveal my essential goodness and spell out my very nature to you.’ Glory, then, is a ‘shorthand’ for the personal presence of the Lord in all his goodness and in the fullness of his revealed character. The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s Glory: God himself come among us in all his goodness and in the full revelation of his person” (The Message of James, IVP, 1985, p.84).
We know the glory of God when we look by faith into the face of Jesus Christ. In any Christian congregation there is only one glory and that belongs to Jehovah Jesus, and we have to make sure that that is so. We have nothing else to offer men and women except Jesus Christ. Isaiah saw him in the temple and we see this same one by faith. All the wealth and fame and power of sinners is less than nothing compared to him. The name of Jesus does not borrow a thing from us – all the glory of men is like the flower of the field, withering and perishing. You cannot within the worshipping congregation have excitement about musical talent and about the glory of Christ at the same time. An organ praises its own maker. You cannot have delight in a marvellous choir and in the glory of the Lord Jesus in the same service. If a congregation were full of millionaires, and beauty queens, and the Manchester United team, and had the leadership of Mensa men with their IQ’s going through the roof – all that would give no additional glory to Jesus Christ. It would, of course, detract from it. In the presence of his glory all earthly achievements are less than dust. If you reject my Jesus Christ I cannot say to you, “Well, what do you think of these moral guidelines, family counsels, our choir, ideas about government and social action ?” My one task is to persuade you of the Lord’s glory, and if you see that than everything is new. If you don’t see that then our church being full of beautiful people will not help you at all. I cannot discriminate and highlight the wealthy, and tell you where the talent is in the congregation. If you become a Christian all this congregation will be your family. For your brothers and sisters there will be very different kinds of men and women. I have to point you to Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” So these stewards were discriminating against poor people
iii] You have become judges with evil thoughts (v.4). The Bible does not tell us to suspend our ability to evaluate truth from error, evil from good. We are to watch out for false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing. We are not to cast our pearls before swine. We are not to behave like Pharisees, so we have to judge carefully who these people are. We are to assess who are the spiritually minded men who would be leaders in our congregation. We must evaluate with just and kind thoughts. We are not to be censorious, judging people harshly. We are not to be faultfinders drawing attention to people’s failures. We are not to be unrighteous judges who have one standard for the influential and another for the nobodies. These stewards were exactly that – “judges with evil thoughts.” They were thinking, “Wouldn’t it be marvellous for this church if that wealthy man joined us ? It wouldn’t help us at all if this poor man got baptized.” They were setting themselves up in Christ’s church as judges of what would bring most glory. Of course, it was what would make it easier for these deacons to live their lives. Having a few rich people in the congregation would take away the church’s money worries. So standing at the door of the church were some judges who determined who was specially welcome in the church, and who was barely tolerated.
iv] You have insulted the poor (v.6). You think of that poor person walking home from the meeting with another person. “What did you get from that service ?” “I got an insult. That steward told me to stand through the service, or I could sit on the floor by his feet.” “He didn’t say that to you did he ?” “He did.” Come to church for the word of insult. You remember how it was in the great Corinthian congregation with all the consciousness of their gifts and the Holy Spirit was working there ? They had a so-called ‘love feast,’ a kind of special fellowship lunch, and they all brought and ate their own food, and the differences between the haves and the have-nots was embarrassing. Someone has written to the apostle about it and Paul says, “as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in ? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing ? Shall I praise you for this ? Certainly not !” (I Cor. 11:21 & 22) What a picture of total insensitivity and selfishness. The rich had their hampers carried in by their servants, their fine plates, silver cutlery, jars of old wine, cooked quail, piglet, octopus and young goat. They tucked in straight away, a noisy group of people eating and drinking, some of them taking too much and their servants having to support them on their way home. Born-again gluttons ! Other people in that church were actually starving: hollow-cheeked men and pale women with crying children. They literally had nothing. Paul says that those Christians were ‘humiliated’ – at the church love feast ! Paul says they were despising the church of God. James says the poor were getting insulted in the church and by some of the church leaders. Some very strange things can happen inside Christ’s church. What unpleasant people some religious folk are. So James says, you have been compromised by the superficial, you have fallen into sin, and thirdly:
3] You Have Lost Sight of Reality.
What James is going to do now is showing these Christians what the rich and poor really are. All the world has its icons – sportsmen, actors, models, singers. We don’t know them. All we know about them is the image that their publicity team creates. If we knew them would we admire them ? Would we want to be like them ? James spills the beans about the rich and the poor in turn.
i] Take another look at the wealthy man. Let me tell you three things about him, James says. Firstly, the rich man is exploiting you (v.6). “I’ll tell you about him,” he says, “the wages he failed to pay the workmen who mowed his field are crying out against him. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of Almighty God” (5:4). This is the man you are so excited seeing coming into church because he’s got money. He’s a man who doesn’t pay his workmen. This is the man you want to see joining the church without conviction of sin, without repentance and without restitution to those men he’s exploited. There are too many stories about the power which mill-owners, landlords and coal-mine owners used to have, who ran entire communities and had churches and preachers in their pockets. We can’t say that those tales were all the creation of novelists like Charles Dickens. One true story of a vicar being the servant of the local squire is too much. There is no place for unrepentant exploiting men within the church.
Earl Kelly was the pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. A friend of his became pastor of a church in a small delta town, and that church was in the pocket of a local landowner. During his first year in that town he uncovered a terrible record of economic oppression which had made that farmer rich. The pastor got increasingly indignant at all he heard, and so one Sunday morning he preached a fearless sermon on Christian honesty. On Monday the landowner called to see him. He told him how much his ministry was helping him and his family. “In fact, you mean so much to me personally that I want to show my gratitude” and he gave the pastor a cheque for a sizeable amount of money. The pastor was very touched. That was the exact sum of money he owed the bank – which was controlled by this man. He thanked the man warmly: his eyes were filled with tears. Just as the cotton-planter was leaving he turned at the door and he said to the preacher, ‘By the way, I assume you have preached your last sermon like the one you preached yesterday. We don’t need that kind of preaching in our church.’ “Without a moment’s hesitation, the preacher tore the check (sic) into shreds and dropped it into his wastebasket. Then he looked the planter straight in the eye as he said, ‘All the money in the world could not make me alter the contents of the gospel as I understand it.’ It was, alas, the last sermon he preached on honesty in that church as he got fired on the basis of some trumped-up charge a little later.” (James: A Primer for Christian Living, Earl Kelly, Craig Press, 1969, p.114).
The world is full of unscrupulous business men and landlords who are grinding the poor down and down. Africa, Asia and South America are full of such men, and should they profess to be Christians and not change their lives they will also destroy the credibility of the gospel. Think of the link between the Mafia and the American Roman Catholic church – the spectacular funeral services the church put on for these criminals. In Kenya I am amazed to see what poor Christian people endure. Edward Markham wrote a little poem about that which he called ‘Breathless Awe.’
“Two things,” said Kant, “fill me with breathless awe:
The starry heavens and the moral law.”
But I know a thing more awful and obscure –
The long, long patience of the plundered poor.
Then James says, He is dragging you into court (v.6). This man, to whom you are so obsequious at the church door, if you fail to pay back his loan on time he will have you in court before you know it. Jesus told the parable in Matthew 18 of a servant who owed his king a great sum of money. He pleaded on his knees for a longer period to pay, but the king had pity on him, cancelled the entire debt and let him go. Within an hour that man had come across a man who owed him a paltry sum. Jesus says, “He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me !’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt” (Matthew 18:28-30). You remember how angered the king was at that man, and how he was thrown into prison until he himself had paid the king the vast sum of money. All the people knew what men Jesus was talking about. This was the behaviour of some of these rich men James has in mind, who yet could intimidate church leaders so that they actually welcomed such men into the church – men who would take Christians to court – for libel, or for complaining, or for stirring up the slaves, or disturbing the peace.
Then James says, He is slandering the Lord’s name (v.7). You love the Lord’s name. It’s a noble name. You carry it – like a wife who proudly carries the name of her husband, or like a child who bears his father’s surname. You Christians were baptized into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. You sing, “Name of Jesus ! highest Name ! Name that earth and heaven adore.” You sing, “Jesus the name high over all In heaven or earth or sky.” You sing, “There is a name I love to hear, I love to sing its worth.” That is what the slave confessed when he became a Christian. He no longer cringed at his master’s threats. Jesus had made him brave. He would no longer sin for his master. He wouldn’t be a pimp, a liar or a thief. He negotiated with his master to have hours on Sunday free when he could worship with others in the church. But some of these wealthy men were exasperated at the new life of their slaves, and they knew it was all because of Jesus Christ’s influence over them, so they would say the most horrible things about the noble name of Jesus.
These were the rich men who were getting this ecstatic welcome into the church. They were exploiting Christians, dragging them to court, and slandering the name of Jesus Christ. But they had money and power, so if they turned up at church they were being given the best seats in the place while poor Christians were ignored. This is the battered wife syndrome isn’t it ? This is the abused teenager syndrome, isn’t it ? This bully of a husband beats up his wife, but she keeps going back to him. He abuses his children, but they won’t report it. They have become so dependent and intimidated by this monster that they seem prepared even for him to kill them. These Christians are being thrown into prison by these men, but they’ve got money, so “it’s such an honour for us that you are coming to our humble services.” These stewards are people out of touch with reality. They are walking by sight. Take a look at that rich man in his sin. Of course you are glad he is there to hear the gospel, like any other sinner, but your whole fawning attitude has made it ten times tougher for the preacher really to lay it on him in the sermon and tell him that he has an awful lot of repentance to show in his life. Remember Zacchaeus’ response to the gospel ? “‘Look, Lord ! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor; and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house'” (Luke 19:8&9). It is to a repentant rich man’s house salvation comes.
ii] Take another look at this poor believer. Let me tell you a few things about this man.
The poor man has been chosen by God (v.5): “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world ?” Our own fumblings, struggles and decisions to trust in Jesus Christ are now in the past, but behind them there lies a secret history that goes back to the very beginning of God. “He chose us in Christ before the creation of the world” (Ephs. 1:4): the apostle Paul moved by God the Holy Spirit said it. “You did not choose me, but I chose you;” the Lord Jesus Christ said it (John 15:16). Election is a very simple concept. David goes down to the brook and he chooses five smooth stones. There is a choice out of a certain constituency which implies the non-choice of those left. God chooses a great company more than any man can number. God chooses a people as numerous as the sands on the seashore. Choosing is a saving act of God. Sinners are dead in sin, and rebels against him, and left to themselves they would never choose life. Not one single sinner deserves to be chosen, but God is merciful to multitudes. So what kind of people does he choose ? Not many rich or mighty or powerful people, but poor ordinary folk. When the gang in our street or in school would choose two teams to play a game I would always be amongst the last to be chosen, unless girls were playing too. It is humbling to be the last to be chosen as a partner in the school dance. The least attractive, it seems, and weakest are left. God chooses poor folk. He does, again and again, not exclusively, but overwhelmingly. Moses was the son of a slave. Amos was a herdsman. Zwingli was an Alpine shepherd; Melanchton, a workman in an armourer’s shop. Luther’s father was a miner. Carey was a cobbler. How many amongst the upper classes are Christians ? How many in the royal family have a close walk with Jesus Christ and Bible faith ? God never wearies of raising up poor people who make the world rich. The poor man you stewards are telling to stand through the service, or sit at the floor at your feet, Almighty God loved that man from before the creation of the world, and gave him to his Son to seek and save.
The poor man belongs to God (v.7) – “him to whom you belong.” People can tell you about relatives, “Oh, he ‘belongs’ to us.” They are in their family, however distant. Now if you prize Christ you also prize his relatives. These poor people are heirs of God; joint heirs with Christ. Who is the true father of that rich man ? Jesus spoke to some people who wanted to see him dead, and he told them that they were of their father the devil. The poor man could walk home from a church service and say to himself, “I belong to God. I am his son. What a status I have, even though the world does not know me the Lord knows me. Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the sons of God.”
The poor man loves God (v.5). The kingdom is promised to “those who love him.” It is the greatest thing you can say about anyone, he loves God. The steward at that church door loves money too much. That is his problem. Up those steps every Sunday comes the Lord Jesus. You can guarantee that he will be there if only two or three turn up. He questions the stewards who are looking in excitement at the rich man coming up the same steps, “Lovest thou me ?” “Lovest thou me more than these ?” The poor man loves the eternal God. The rich man loves his money.
The poor man is rich in faith (v.5) You see how the importance of this holds together our text ? The passage begins by addressing these people as “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” Now in this fifth verse it describes them as “poor in the eyes of the world” but “rich in faith” (v.5). Do you see the possibility of that marvellous combination, poor in the world’s estimation, but rich in faith ? Think of the Lord Jesus Christ, nowhere to lay his head, but he’s got the whole world in his hands. That was our Saviour, and it is true for all who are in him. There is a woman I visit regularly and she has been a great encouragement to me all my life as a minister, and these words describes her: “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith ?” Here is trust in God in the midst of much suffering – a rich trust. Here is belief in all the promises of the Bible: to her they are yea and Amen in Christ Jesus – a rich belief. Here is faith that her Heavenly Father is working all things together for her good and nothing will separate her from his love – a rich faith. There is nothing poor about that life. I go there to be enriched. The pauper’s life is one that has nothing of God, nothing of heaven, nothing of eternity, that might gain the whole world but loses his own soul. What poverty in some wealthy men !
The poor man has a glorious inheritance (v.5). God supplies all his needs while he lives. he has no need to worry about what he will eat or drink or wear, or even about what will happen in the future. His heavenly Father has promised he will take care of all that. “You just trust in me,” he says. There are between four and five million swallows in Britain just now, and this month God is sending them all south to north Africa for the winter months. He is going to look after them there. You never see a bird begging because God provides for each one. How much more will he provide for his people in this world, and in the world to come – what an inheritance. A spoiled rich kid my boast of the possessions he will one day inherit from his father, but the poorest Christian has been promised a kingdom, that is, he will reign with Christ. He will reign in Christ. He will be seated in Christ in the midst of God’s throne and enjoy the reign that the Son of God enjoys. Our father lost his reign over the world by his sin, but the last Adam has gained a greater kingdom for us in a new heavens and earth.
What a scrabbling poor existence our life here will seem from that perspective. All the things we thought were out prize possessions that gave us such influence and status will seem to us painted trinkets. Think of how much our attitude needs to change to one another, especially to the Christian dispossessed. They are heirs of God; joint heirs with Christ. They have an inheritance, incorruptible, undefiled, one that does not fade away. “Sir I am pleased to see you. Welcome to our church ! Madam, what an honour it is to have so rich a person coming to our congregation. You will find many other fellow heirs of the kingdom inside. This church is full of sons and daughters of the King of kings. But there is always room for one more.”
GEOFF THOMAS 4th October 1998