“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by y feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts (James 2:1-4)?”
An estimated 100 million people worldwide are homeless. Due to the economic stresses in society and reductions in the availability of affordable housing, it’s difficult for people to take care of themselves. In the 1970s, America saw an increase in homelessness as a result of the deinstitutionalization of patients from psychiatric hospitals. Because these patients were no longer taken care of, they were forced out on the streets, resulting in the inability to thrive in the community. By the mid-1980s, homelessness became more commonplace in families, runaway children, teenagers, and young adults. Today, homelessness is a rising epidemic that needs serious attention.
Currently, programs like the Rescue Mission, Habitat for Humanity, and Goodwill are providing food, shelter, and clothing. They are run by community organizations and government departments whose primary purpose is equipping the homeless with the necessary skills to function in society. Although these programs have the desire to assist the homeless, there are still many obstacles they face. Some include: reduced access to health care, limited access to education, an increased risk of suffering from violence and abuse, discrimination from others, loss of relationships with the mainstream, not being seen as suitable for employment. This is heartbreaking.
In the passage mentioned, James is informing the Jewish Christians outside of Palestine to stick up for the homeless and the needy. In the previous chapter, he emphasizes that a true and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and widows in distress; those who have been marginalized and discriminated against by society. These are the very people for whom Jesus is concerned about. He died for them. Jesus goes as far as saying, “ If you are showing favoritism and neglecting the poor, you are breaking the law and are just as guilty as murderers and adulterers (James 2:9-11).”
Why is showing favoritism such a grievous sin to God? Because it’s antithetical to the apex of kingdom rules: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In addition, it breaks the Old Testament law to treat the poor equally (Deut. 16:19; Lev. 19:15; Job 34:19). Lastly, mercy, which is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm, was an essential Old Testament law (Micah 6:8; Zech. 7:9-10; Matt 5:7). According to Jesus, when we break this command, we are guilty of all.
Why then did Jesus enact all these principles for the poor? So that God’s law would set the poor free from prejudice, oppression, and exploitation. It’s also a good reminder for believers. We should never forget what Christ has done for us. You and I were once spiritually poor and needy (Rom. 3) Without God, there are no true possessions. Since Christ showed mercy by dying on the cross for our sins, we ought to extend this same mercy towards others. This week I challenge you to keep the homeless in your prayers. While praying, meditate on memories when God has extended compassion and mercy towards you, and I think you will have a greater appreciation for the poor. Below is a video of our small group from Bible Baptist Church feeding the homeless in Indianapolis. I hope this video encourages you to serve the poor in your area.