Sunday, February 24, 2008

Looking for Help in All the Wrong Places

James 2:5-7 (NKJV)5 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? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

Christians are notorious for looking for help in all the wrong places. This was true in James’ day and it is true in ours. The congregations to which James wrote were facing the great temptation of cow-towing to the rich and famous. The truly influential people are these rich people, they reasoned, and so we need to make sure that we treat them exceptionally well. I know, when they come in let’s give them the best seats. This will show them honor and respect.

Aye – that’s true enough. It will show them honor and respect. But James reminds his audience that no amount of honor and respect from men can make up for the honor and respect we should be seeking from God. To highlight for his readers the folly of their actions, James makes two observations by asking two rhetorical questions. First, he asks, “Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?” These folks are not really your friends. Why are you showing preference for them when they aren’t even decent to you? When they treat you abominably ill? This is plain old common sense. Why show preference to someone who is simply out for their own advantage – trying to squeeze out of you every bit of worth there is rather than pour into you more worth than you can hold? Don’t be so enamored with their status or wealth that you miss the obvious point – these people are your enemies.

Second, James remarks, these folks are not friends of Christ either. “Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?” For all their influence and importance in your city, they have no influence with the One whose will is truly influential. They blaspheme the name of God. Why show them favoritism? Why not rather call them on their sin? “Call them on their sin?” we reason. “But then they might treat us like Herod treated John. We might end up with our heads on a platter.” Yes, we might, but then we would be influencing others rather than simply being influenced ourselves.

James’ observations remind us that our true loyalty needs to be with those who confess the name of our Lord and Savior regardless of their social status or shortcomings. We must identify with those whom our Lord Himself identifies. How often do we separate ourselves from other believers who have shortcomings that make us embarrassed when in fact they are our friends? And then, simultaneously, we go out and seek favors from our enemies? We experience this same thing in our families. You older siblings, when your little brother or little sister does something that you find terribly embarrassing, do you distance yourself from your real ally – your sibling – in order to save face in front of others? And when you do so, are you not doing the same thing James warns about? We need to remember who our real friends are and be loyal to them – while there are not many wise, not many noble, not many glorious in the world’s eyes among the people of God, they are our brothers and sisters.

This problem of misplaced loyalty exists not only on an individual level, but also on a corporate level. How often do we see Christians panting after the so-called trend setters in society? How often is the “quote unquote” evangelical vote prostituted for men and women who could care less about the things of God? How often do we refrain from stating the truth simply because we are awed by someone’s social status or income level? We are a people who fear men more than we fear God.

Reminded that we often betray those to whom we should be loyal and simultaneously seek kudos from those who oppose us, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.