What does James 2:5 mean?
ESV: Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?
NIV: Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?
NASB: Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters: did God not choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
CSB: Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Didn't God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?
NLT: Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him?
KJV: Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
James still calls his Christian readers "beloved," though he is rebuking them for giving favor to rich people over those who are poor. He began this section by urging Christians not to show partiality, painting a picture of what illicit favoritism looks like in practice.
In the culture of these early Christians, it would be perfectly normal to give a wealthy man a place of honor at a gathering. It would be equally typical to expect a poor, dirty man to stand in the corner, or to sit on the floor. James insists, though, that our belief in Christ should change the way we treat everyone. We must not let the prejudice of culture, or the allure of money, to determine our standards.
In fact, demonstrating favoritism for the rich over the poor reveals that we don't really trust what we claim to believe. In this verse, James makes his point with a very specific question: Hasn't God chosen some who are poor in this life to be rich now in faith and rich forever in His kingdom? Isn't that the promise He makes to those who love Him?
Every Christian reading James's words should answer "yes." That's what we believe. But if that's what we believe, James asks, why don't we treat each other that way when we get together? Why don't we treat poor Christians with the same respect, honor, and attention we give to the wealthy ones?
James 2:1–13 continues the prior passage's focus on Christians living out what the Word of God says. Those who hold the faith of Christ should obey the command to love our neighbors as ourselves. This includes not showing favoritism to the rich over the poor. Christians should trust God to provide for and protect them, instead of seeking the favor of the very group of people who were oppressing them in the first place. According to the gospel, all of us are lawbreakers. Christians, as people who believe they will be judged by the law that gives freedom, should treat all others as equals.
Genuine saving faith in God leads to good and loving actions: ''works.'' In chapter 1, James discussed the importance of acting on the words of God, not merely hearing them. Favoritism to the rich over the poor demonstrates a lack of faith. In fact, this is a sin. Following up on these ideas, James insists that ''faith'' which doesn't result in good works is dead. Such belief is merely intellectual agreement. It is not trust, or true, biblical saving faith. James doesn't deny that belief in God is essential to salvation, nor does he claim that works are necessary to obtain salvation. Rather, he makes the case that works are to faith what the breath is to the body: a sign of life. A ''faith'' without works is like a body without breath: dead.
In chapter 1, James taught that a saving belief in God changes how a Christian looks at trials in their lives. It affects where they turn for help, and who they credit for good. Believers hear the Word and do it. In this chapter, James insists that our faith in God should keep us from showing favoritism to the rich and powerful on earth and should provoke us to love our poor neighbors as ourselves. He also makes the case that so-called-''faith'' which does not result in works, is not saving faith, at all. Despite controversy, this does not clash with Paul's view of salvation by grace alone. James refers to good works as an expected outcome of salvation, not the source of it. In the following chapters, he will continue to show what a life of genuine faith looks like.
The book of James is about specifically understanding what saving faith looks like. How does faith in Christ reveal itself in a believer's life? What choices does real trust in God lead us to make? Those are the questions James answers. Most scholars believe the writer was Jesus' half-brother, a son born to Joseph and Mary after Jesus' birth. James may not have come to believe Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrection. Eventually, though, he became one of the leaders of the Christian church in Jerusalem. This is possibly the earliest-written of all the New Testament books, around AD 40–50. James addresses his letter to Jewish Christians scattered around the known world.
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