Poor Princes James 2:1-13

thePsalmist on January 20th, 2010

It’s quite possible that James didn’t have many friends, or at least not many of the sort of friends that everyone needs. If we’re honest there’s people who we like to have as friends, and then there’s people who we’re friendly towards because we feel we ought to be … but wouldn’t choose to hang out with. It quite possibly comes down to us wanting to be friends with people we aspire to be like and we are friendly towards those who we think should aspire to more like us.

Pathetic isn’t it.

And that’s what James is talking about in this passage, that horrible distinction we make between people because of what they look like on the outside, how they dress, the car they drive, the 2.4kids, the perfect marriage, the nice car, …the nice cars! The house, with the holiday home in the Maldives, the exciting portfolio of holiday destinations and important positions of resposibility … they’re the friends we want to have around us, or indeed they’re the people we would love to get more dinner invites from. But the divorcee who sees his kids at weekends and can’t make it to church, the single mum who we really think should have known better than to get herself pregnant (and what was she doing sleeping with someone before she was married anyway), the 14 year kids hanging around outside church causing a nuisance (their parents should do something surely!), and the lady who is just always moaning and moaning about everything and has yet another ailment to tell you about in glorious detail.

Oh yeah, James didn’t have many of the right sort of friends … because he wrote stuff like James 2:1-13.

James tells us to get over ourselves and our desire to be friends with the right people and to keep all others at arm’s length. He tells us to get a grip of the gospel and live our lives as though the gospel is the reality … because … well actually the gospel IS the reality.

Here’s where we need to take a check of what we believe – like, completely the whole of our faith – what’s it about? Is the Christian faith not the very same faith which says we are ALL made in the image of God? Is it not the faith which says that we have ALL sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? Isn’t our faith the one in which God sacrifices everything for His children, the creatures He has made in His image, who have been cut off from Him because of their sin and who He buys back through the blood of Jesus His Son? Isn’t that what we believe?

The next step in this realisation of faith is that we aren’t just ‘saved’ and that’s it – we carry on as though nothing has happened. That’s not it. The issue is that we have been saved from ‘something’, plucked out of disaster, and placed down in a new world, a new life, a second chance and a different identity. we are not just transformed when we receive Jesus, but transferred from being outside of God’s kingdom to a place firmly and securely inside God’s kingdom.

Look at these words in Galatians 4:4-7 for example:

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born gunder the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent jthe Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then kan heir through God.

It is a truth of the gospel that we are inheritors of God’s kingdom. But this isn’t the same as thinking we might get some old antique cast off as a welcome to Heaven sort of present, perhaps like inheriting your grandfathers pocket watch or great-grandmothers old sewing machine which no one else in the family wanted.  Being an heir of God’s kingdom means so much more than that.

In Romans 8:16-17 it says:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

“Fellow heirs WITH Christ!” … that’s slightly more impressive than just getting a “welcome to Heaven” goody bag. If Jesus is the King of Kings, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, then while we can’t claim to be kings too we are at least princes.

This is the gospel! …and yet we live our lives as though it means nothing! Our values have not caught up with the new reality we have been transferred into through the act of God’s gracious salvation.

So when that annoying person walks in through the door, when that single mum, divorced dad, old moaner, teenage oik, walks past and we’re too busy talking to the people we want to be seen with, the people we think we relate to or aspire to have as our friends … we miss out on being with an heir of God’s kingdom, a fellow heir of Christ – we drag into God’s perfect kingdom the imperfections of this world – it’s like we’re outside in the park, we tread in dog mess, and then come into someone’s plush cream carpeted home and walk the mess in. It’s a disaster! … and yet it is also so often how we behave.

And James doesn’t like it much! He says this differentiation between the rich and well to do, and the poor and more awkward members of the church is a terrible thing: James 2:4

have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

And he points out our folly too, in the next couple of verses he says this: James 2:5-6

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich faith and heirs of God’s kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honourable name by which you were called?”

Powerful stuff huh.

He then sticks the boot in even further by reminding us of Jesus calling us to love our neighbours as ourselves and saying that when we choose between the rich and the poor, rather than treating all equally in the light of the reality of the gospel, us ALL being heirs of God’s kingdom, then we become sinners ourselves…and by our own standards who’s going to want to be a friend of us if we’re sinners? James takes our skewed values and makes a mockery of them.  The adulterer we didn’t want to love, the murderer we’ve got no time for, … he likens us to them both in James 2:11.

James probably had few friends, or at least few of the sorts of friends we like to have as friends because he challenged the values of the church in his day. His letter to us now must be just as unsettling and challenging if we are to live up to the high calling of being princes in God’s kingdom … and seeing in our humble brothers and sisters the greatest of their inheritence and their standing before God too.

Amen.

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