In the finance industry where I work, most dream to be rich. Most would therefore prioritize serving the rich over serving the poor because richer clients have more investable assets and can generate more revenue for the firm. It makes perfect business sense to serve the high-net worth. Conversely, that also means it’s a waste of time looking out for the poor client who may be in need but cannot benefit us much.
In the secular world, money talks.
This issue is magnified when we, as believers, live by this principle not just in the business setting, but also in our everyday lives. How many of us are guilty of showing preferential treatment towards the rich because of their socio-economic status? Why do we do so? Could it be that we’ve put our dependency on earthly riches instead of God?
As Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Noting this phenomenon among the early church, James presents two reasons why preferring the rich is actually irrational. One, God is especially concerned for the poor and has chosen them to be rich in faith and to enjoy full rights and privileges in His kingdom (v. 5). So, favoritism to the rich is wrong because it contrasts with the attitude of God.
Second, James pointed out to his readers that the rich were the very ones oppressing them (v. 6)—they exploited the church, filed lawsuits against believers, and blasphemed Jesus.
Times have not changed much today.
As we look at the extent of poverty, we can see that this is sometimes due, at least in part, to the exploitation and hoarding of resources by the wealthy. Many of the people suing others in court are also likely to be the powerful and the rich, as they are the ones who are able to hire the services of highly paid lawyers. And as we observe in some parts of the developed world, it’s the rich and powerful who openly show their disdain for the church and Christ.
Why then do we honor those who pit themselves against God?
This is not to say that all rich people are evil and that we should treat them unfavorably. Rather, I think James is making the point that it is inconsistent and absurd to despise our fellow poor believers and honor rich unbelievers instead.
Perhaps the next time we see ourselves showing favoritism to the rich, let us ask ourselves honestly: Why am I treating the rich better? Are not the poor people who have suffered under the rich also deserving of equal treatment as the rich?
—Melvin Ho, Singapore
Questions for reflection
1. How have I shown preferential treatment to rich individuals at the expense of my own brothers and sisters in Christ?
2. How does today’s passage change the way I should view the poor and the rich?
Hand-lettering by Rachel Tu
While not an avid reader and writer, Melvin likes to explore questions people have about the Christian faith and Scripture, and discover the best answer to them. He realizes however, that sometimes he may be thinking too much for his own good, and needs to spend more time putting God’s Word into practice. Among his goals now are to learn godliness with contentment, love people equally without favoritism, and put their needs above his own. In his free time, he likes to run, watch Manchester United football games, and catch inspirational movies. Secretly, he hopes God can use his life as a missionary one day, fingers crossed.