How Should Christians Treat the Poor?

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How Should Christians Treat the Poor?

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How Should Christians Treat the Poor?

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Faith in Jesus Christ owes nothing to finance, education, social standing, or racial profile. During Jesus' life, He moved among the masses. He did not move among the intelligentsia or the rich and famous of His day.

Therefore, when a church gets it wrong and affords peculiar benefits, blessings, affections and opportunities to someone on the basis of the designer of their shoes, or on the particular emblem on their car, then that church needs a healthy serving of chapter 2 from the book of James.

We may display mercy and kindness, but is it within an exclusive framework? God works to wean us away from bias and prejudice, toward His standard of the treatment of others.

James, brother of Jesus, writes, “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality” (James 2:1, emphasis added). James holds an individual’s assertion of faith up to their treatment of the poor. In verses 1-9 of his letter we are warned about the danger of treating people in different ways according to their outward appearance. In short, he warns of the danger of favoritism based on their financial standing.

A helpful illustration is then provided for the believers to whom he writes.

Two strangers enter into the gathering of God’s people: one rich, one poor. Imagine, he says, that someone comes into your assembly and he has the outward appearances of wealth. He is clad in fine raiment and adorned in gold. Simultaneously, another man shows up and he is obviously at the other end of the spectrum. He is dirty and his clothes are in disrepair.

The strangers come in and the good seat is given to the one of perceived substance. He is shown special attention. He is someone who perhaps will be able to make a financial contribution to the assembly. The other stranger, of course, is a poor man. He is in shabby clothes and for him, there is no special treatment or seat offered.

James next says something very important: if you give partiality to the rich visitor and disregard the poor man, then you have sinned. “You are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9).

We may think we are a long way from the time in which James wrote these words. Surely we won’t run into anything like that here in our Christian gatherings today. But we don’t have to go too far back to find Christian congregations that imposed fees for preferential seating. There have been actual parishes of the past that allowed their members to pay an annual rent so as to secure a well-placed seat in the church. These pews even came with their own door and with their own key so as to prevent anyone from sitting in the paying member's pew!

After all, the rich who had secured earthly wealth were entitled, so it was thought, to that kind of preferential treatment. Those whose finances were not sufficient were consigned to finding a spot in the open seating, floor or just simply to stand.

And over the centuries, this favoritism has even spilled into the appointment of leadership in churches. An individual may be assigned a position of leadership not on account of the size of their heart or commitment to God, but rather on account of the size of their wallet.  

Unfortunately, just as in centuries past, money still does the talking far too loudly in some Christian circles. But where it does and when it does the presence of God will eventually depart. 

What the Bible makes absolutely clear is that wealth does not in and of itself deserve honor. We should never associate wealth with faith in Jesus Christ.

All Christians need to take seriously this challenge of not showing favoritism.

If we want to know how to assess a fellow Christian’s value, then we must consider the basis upon which God chose His people the Israelites from the hand of the Egyptians. Deuteronomy 7:7-8 states: “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you.” The fact is that He came and redeemed His people from Egypt when they were just a bunch of slaves! He didn’t come and redeem the ruling class, rather He came and redeemed those who had nothing. In fact, their very beings belonged to their Egyptian masters.

Consider further how Jesus came from a position of unparalleled wealth and glory in heaven, and moved graciously and kindly among the poor and lowly. His approach to the poor? “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?” (James 2:5).

The King set aside glory in order to come down into our humble existence. It is only when we grasp this that we’ll begin to face up to the ugliness of our treating others on the basis of what is external and superficial.

If God had operated on that basis with us, what kind of seat do you think we would have? Rather, God sent His Son while we were still in the debt and filth of our sin.

Let us all pray to God to help us not get this wrong. We cannot make misguided applications based upon our own preferences. Let’s ask God for forgiveness for any times we have knowingly or unknowingly refused to offer the good seat to the poor. May God help us to go forward so we might do right and reflect His love more—so that we might increasingly become the kind of assemblies where all who enter would be welcomed irrespective of social status or resources.