5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? 8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well.
I believe James here is exposing hypocrisy within “the church”. He reminds us of God’s view of the world in contrast to how we view it. He is referencing what we see in Mathew 5, “3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is the first thing Jesus said when He began his infamous “Sermon on the Mount.” I don’t think it’s just coincidence, I think it is the point. The precedent that the way we view things and the way God views things are flipped.
James explains in verse 6 how ironic it is that we shun the poor, but are persecuted by the rich (in this world). You would think, logically speaking, we would shun those who persecute us and help those who are helpless. This is what the scriptures say (key verse 8). However, we revere and humble ourselves to the “rich and powerful” and ignore the homeless wanderer.
I do not believe that James’ point is to “fight the man” and cause a commotion, rather he is calling us to look at ourselves and the difference between what we say and what we do. We go to church, we pray to God, yet we don’t act it out. We slide along life “under the radar” playing it safe…or so we think. But God sees us for who we really are. How many things throughout our day would we do differently if we stopped to realize someone was watching? Truthfully, it shouldn’t matter. If we hold true to ourselves, true to others, and true to God, our actions would be the same regardless of the situation.
My footnotes explain that in different sections of the bible, “love your neighbor as yourself” is explained for different situations. This one is obviously for the poor. Why don’t we love our neighbors? Because it is inconvenient? Because nobody else would do it? Because it doesn’t benefit us (or so we think)? Our schedules are “too busy” to stop on the side of the road for a minute and chat with the guy on the corner who is asking for work. We simply scoff and call them lazy instead of taking the time to understand why they are lazy. Maybe it’s because they can’t get a job otherwise since the rest of the world thinks the same thing…sounds like a societal self fulfilling prophecy, doesn’t it?
We constantly reference loving our neighbors as we love ourselves but I’d like to challenge anyone reading this (myself included) to make an effort to love our neighbors MORE than ourselves. What kind of world would we live in then? Be careful, selflessness is contagious 😉