Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man.
Living in a foreign country means that life is pretty much a never-ending series of adventures. Some can be stressful, others can be comical. In the latter category are those times when the locals make a decidedly wrong assumption about me.
It goes like this: I do not look particularly Brazilian – especially in the part of Brazil where I live. So when I happen to be in places frequented by tourists, or when I am accompanied by a group of my fellow “gringos”, people often assume that I am just another tourist, ignorant of the Portuguese language.
Of course the reality is quite different. There have been numerous occasions where I have had the privilege of listening what people are saying about me while believing I don’t understand. I usually let them continue on in their delusion for as long as possible, before finally opening my mouth and speaking to them in my best possible Portuguese. I live for the shocked expression on their faces when my “true identity” is revealed.
Assumptions can be funny things. But in the context of the local church, they can be downright sinful. In today’s verse, James deals with a popular assumption – one common in our world today; namely, that the economically disadvantaged are somehow less worthy than those with great wealth.
To combat this mentality, James points out two realities: our poor brethren are rich in faith, and they are heirs of the Kingdom.
Rich in Faith
Remember that James is constantly directing our minds to think in terms of the spiritual over and above the physical. Here he tells us that though a person’s physical bank account may be empty, he can be rich in that which really matters – his faith. This of course echoes Christ’s own words in Matthew 6:19-21.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Heirs of the Kingdom
Not only does James strive to turn our heart to the spiritual over against the physical, he also urges us to dwell on the eternal in stead of the temporal. He reminds us that while a brother or sister in Christ may be going through a time of necessity here, we must bear in mind that they are heirs to a kingdom. To treat them as anything less is an offense against their Father, the King.
I’m reminded of the end of the Mark Twain classic, The Prince and the Pauper, when people find out that the poor beggar boy they have been mistreating all this time is actually the King of England. Many people, I’m afraid, will register the same sort of shock on their faces when they find out that the humble people they’ve been underestimating – or worse, mistreating – all these years are really VIPs in the Kingdom of God.
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