This Week’s Question: James 2:5 teaches that God has chosen the poor of this world? Why has He done so?
The story of the rich young ruler is instrumental as a backdrop to this question. The ruler began by asking in Mark 10:17, “…what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Jesus, in response, listed several commandments and the ruler acknowledged compliance. Scripture teaches that Jesus’ love for this young man prompted Him to address a deeper issue; one that promises to keep many who claim to be Christ’s followers, out of Heaven – a weak faith! In Mark 10:22 Jesus said, “…One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” Jesus’ instructions proved too costly for this young man, despite the fact that his Heavenly reward would far eclipse his earthly possessions (see Mark 10:23)!
James does not claim, absolutely, that the poor will inherit the kingdom. Instead, he adds the qualifier, those who are “rich in faith.” To be rich in faith one has to be totally dependent upon Jesus, which disqualifies many “privileged” believers. Putting one's total faith in Jesus means a person cannot rely upon one’s personal traits, assets, or external factors to survive or gain social advantages over another person, race, or group. Common factors used to one’s advantage are gender, race, possessions, class, social standing, ethnicity, family name, position, unfair laws and practices, the criminal justice system, educational systems, and notoriety. If a person systemically capitalizes on such factors to gain an advantage, then his/her dependency is not wholeheartedly on The Lord, and their faith, if any is claimed, is weak.
That was the sin of the rich young ruler; and we see this scenario being played out in today’s college admissions scandal. We also see it ever present in America’s political, criminal justice, civic, social, and financial institutions. For poor people, who have few social advantages, many have no recourse but to place their welfare squarely in God’s hands out of love for Him and His justice. For that group, Matthew 6:31-33 is their hope, “Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” This deep and unfeigned faith in a loving and caring God was manifested in the rich theology of the Negro Spirituals which survived the slave experience, the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras, and some have been woven into traditional Christian circles. It was also the impetus behind the Civil Rights movement in which protesters (of all races and nationalities), countered bitter hatred and vitriol with faith, hope, and love – the three pillars that undergird Christianity. Oppression, discrimination, and social injustice have historically forced many African-Americans to maintain a strong faith in God’s justice; whether it is realized in this world or the next.
This unfeigned faith of many African-Americans is also a major factor in why my father, the late Rev. Clarence L. Hilliard, and founder of the church I currently pastor, prophesied that the Black Church, as a group, will lead Christ’s Church Movement in these latter days. Two passages The Lord placed on his heart while unveiling this prophecy are Zephaniah 3:10, “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, The daughter of My dispersed ones, Shall bring My offering;” and Psalm 68:31 “Envoys will come out of Egypt; Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God.” My father effectively used social action and mentorship to help bridge the racial divide within the Christian Community while simultaneously serving two evangelical associations in leadership capacities: National Black Evangelical Association (NBEA); and National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) – the effects of which are still being realized throughout Chicago and its suburban communities.
Unfortunately, Many Black churches (but especially the mega- and more prosperous churches), have forfeited its leadership responsibility because they have adopted the ways of the dominant culture, or have figuratively sold their birthright for a mess of pottage (see Genesis 25:29-34). But for those lesser churches that continue to put their faith, hope, and trust completely in The Lord; it is quite possible that this prophecy will become reality in a manner that continues to spillover into the evangelical community, and reach those who are burdened by the plight of the poor, powerless, and oppressed here in America and beyond. Nevertheless, the only bond that can keep them unified, as a group, is, they are rich in faith; and therefore, are the rightful heirs to the kingdom of Heaven!
Next Week’s Question: What is the fundamental missing element implied in this James passage? And why is it so important?