|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
2:1-13 Those who profess faith in Christ as the Lord of glory, must not respect persons on account of mere outward circumstances and appearances, in a manner not agreeing with their profession of being disciples of the lowly Jesus. St. James does not here encourage rudeness or disorder: civil respect must be paid; but never such as to influence the proceedings of Christians in disposing of the offices of the church of Christ, or in passing the censures of the church, or in any matter of religion. Questioning ourselves is of great use in every part of the holy life. Let us be more frequent in this, and in every thing take occasion to discourse with our souls. As places of worship cannot be built or maintained without expense, it may be proper that those who contribute thereto should be accommodated accordingly; but were all persons more spiritually-minded, the poor would be treated with more attention that usually is the case in worshipping congregations. A lowly state is most favourable for inward peace and for growth in holiness. God would give to all believers riches and honours of this world, if these would do them good, seeing that he has chosen them to be rich in faith, and made them heirs of his kingdom, which he promised to bestow on all who love him. Consider how often riches lead to vice and mischief, and what great reproaches are thrown upon God and religion, by men of wealth, power, and worldly greatness; and it will make this sin appear very sinful and foolish. The Scripture gives as a law, to love our neighbour as ourselves. This law is a royal law, it comes from the King of kings; and if Christians act unjustly, they are convicted by the law as transgressors. To think that our good deeds will atone for our bad deeds, plainly puts us upon looking for another atonement. According to the covenant of works, one breach of any one command brings a man under condemnation, from which no obedience, past, present, or future, can deliver him. This shows us the happiness of those that are in Christ. We may serve him without slavish fear. God's restraints are not a bondage, but our own corruptions are so. The doom passed upon impenitent sinners at last, will be judgment without mercy. But God deems it his glory and joy, to pardon and bless those who might justly be condemned at his tribunal; and his grace teaches those who partake of his mercy, to copy it in their conduct.
Verse 6. - You have dishonored by your treatment the poor man, whom God chose; while those rich men to whom ye pay such honor are just the very persons who
(1) oppress you and
(2) blaspheme God and Christ. Poor... rich. In the Old Testament we occasionally find the term "poor" parallel to "righteous" (Amos 2:6; Amos 5:12); and "rich" to "wicked" (Isaiah 53:9). St. James's use here is somewhat similar (see on James 1:9, etc.). "Christiani multi ex pauperibus erant: pauci ex divitibus" (Bengel). The "rich men" here alluded to are evidently such as was the Apostle Paul before his conversion.
(1) They dragged the poor Christians before the judgment-seat (ἕλκουσιν ὑμᾶς εἰς κριτήρια). So Saul, "haling (σύρων) men and women, committed them to prison" (Acts 8:3).
(2) They blasphemed the honorable Name by which Christians were called. So Saul thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth, and strove to make them blaspheme (Acts 26:9-11).
(3) All this they did in person (αὐτοί); "themselves," just as Saul did. No difficulty need be felt about the presence of these rich men in the synagogues of the Christians (see Introduction, p. 8.). It will be noticed that St. James never calls them "brethren." Further, it must be remembered that, at this early date, the Church had not yet learnt by bitter experience the need for that secrecy with which in later days she shrouded her worship. At this time the Christian assemblies were open to any who chose to find their way in. All were welcome, as we see from 1 Corinthians 14:23, etc., where the chance entry of "men unlearned or unbelieving" is contemplated as likely to happen. Hence there is no sort of difficulty in the presence of the "rich man" here, who might be eagerly welcomed, and repay his welcome by dragging them to the judgment-seat. Draw you before the judgment-seats. The account given by Josephus of the death of St, James himself affords a good illustration of the manner in which Christians were liable to this (see Introduction, p. 6.). But the tribunals need not be confined to Jewish ones. Other instances of similar treatment, illustrating the thoughts and language of the passage before us, may be found in Acts 16:19; Acts 17:6; Acts 18:12. Litigation of an entirely different character between Christians themselves is alluded to and condemned by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
But ye have despised the poor,.... Or dishonoured, and reproached them, by showing respect of persons, in preferring the rich to them, and in distinguishing them in such a manner as was to their contempt and injury; which is a reproaching not only of them, but their Maker; and is in effect saying, that God has done either a weak or a wrong thing, in choosing them to be rich in faith, and heirs of a kingdom, it being directly contrary to his conduct:
do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? which may be understood either of rich men that were unbelievers; and these either the Heathen magistrates, who ruled over them in a tyrannical way, and with rigour, and often summoned them before them, and persecuted them with violence; or their own countrymen, the Jews, who stirred up the chief men of the Gentiles against them, and drew them to their judgment seats, as they drew Paul to the judgment seat of Gallio, Acts 13:50 or else of rich professors of religion, who assumed a despotic power over the poor brethren of the church, and loved to have the pre-eminence over them, as Diotrephes did, and set up tribunals in the churches, and tried and condemned them in an arbitrary way; or else upon civil accounts had them before heathen magistrates, and went to law with them in their courts, before unbelievers, which is a practice condemned in 1 Corinthians 6:1, and seeing now rich men used them so ill, the apostle mentions this as an argument to dissuade them from respect of persons; seeing they had but little reason to show so much regard unto them, who had treated them in so evil a manner: this is not to be understood of all rich men; nor is the apostle's design to destroy that natural and civil order there is among men, by reason of their different stations, offices, and circumstances; it being highly proper that honour should he given to whom honour is due, but not to the dishonour of another.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
6. The world's judgment of the poor contrasted with God's.
ye—Christians, from whom better things might have been expected; there is no marvel that men of the world do so.
despised—literally, "dishonored." To dishonor the poor is to dishonor those whom God honors, and so to invert the order of God [Calvin].
rich—as a class.
oppress—literally, "abuse their power against" you.
draw you—Translate, "is it not they (those very persons whom ye partially prefer, Jas 2:1-4) that drag you (namely, with violence)" [Alford].
before … judgment seats—instituting persecutions for religion, as well as oppressive lawsuits, against you.
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