Favoritism and the Prosperity Gospel!

05 Jul
Saving Faith

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James warns believers that God will show no mercy toward those who do not practice mercy when judging others (James 2:13). But, what does James mean when he speaks of believers judging other believers? Well, he explains in verse-1 that we are not to express our faith by judging with partiality. In my opinion the translators have erred in the phrase “Lord of glory” or “glorious Lord” (depending upon the translation). First of all, the word Lord is added by the translators; it is not in the Greek, so to whom does the Greek word doxa (G1391) refer, to Jesus or to those to whom James wrote his epistle? Secondly, when James refers to having respect of persons, he seems to be referring to the Scriptures in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; 16:19; 2Chronicles 19:7; Proverbs 24:23; 28:21), and in each case it refers to “having respect of persons” concerning judgment. The Greek word translated glory, which the translators used to describe “the Lord,” can also be translated opinion or judgment[1] and used with “respect of persons.”

Christians were using their faith in Christ in a manner that judged between brethren, favoring one over the other for ulterior motives (Jude 1:16), because the one was judged or placed well in the church, while the other was judged inferior (Isaiah 65:5a), meaning he was excluded in much the same way that circumcision excluded gentiles from fellowship with the Jews. Yet, God had judged this kind of “religion” as a smoke in his nostrils that irritated him all day (Isaiah 65:5b).

The whole affair was wrong. Hadn’t God chosen the humble in this world to be rich in faith and heirs to the Kingdom (James 2:5)? We need to remember it is those who are rich in themselves that oppress us, and even blaspheme the worthy name of Christ, by which name we are called (James 2:6-7).

Consider the Law; keeping it does not make us righteous if we keep the entire Law except for one point, because by offending in that one point we make ourselves a transgressor of the Law. Similarly, we cannot keep the royal law and practice favoritism in our treatment of our brethren. So, how was favoritism practiced? Some brethren were using the faith of our Lord Jesus with respect of persons (James 2:1)! That is, they considered the brother of low degree weak in the faith (James 2:3b; cf. Isaiah 65:5a). Some were teaching a “prosperity” gospel, which is no real Gospel at all. Notice:

James 2:14-16 KJV  What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?  (15)  If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,  (16)  And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

While the “prosperity” gospel is “good news” for the one whose life is tied up in this world, it certainly is not “good news” to those in want. Some Christians had fallen for this “prosperity” gospel, believing, if one had enough faith, all things would come to him, including riches in this world. They considered the poorer brethren to be lacking in faith, so their “encouragement” or advice was “be warm” and “be filled,” or in other words, have the faith to “be warm” or “filled,” and all will be well with you. They despised the brother of low degree, because it meant more responsibility for the one who was prosperous. The royal law, which says love one another as oneself, demands that one who is prosperous to share his worldly goods with his poorer brethren.

James used the biblical examples of Abraham, the father of the Jews (James 2:23), and Rahab (James 2:25), a gentile who was received into the Jewish faith, to express how faith without the works that flesh out that faith is a useless and empty faith. In fact, that kind of faith is dead (James 2:26).

James had written his letter to the churches scattered throughout the Empire (James 1:1), because an empire-wide trial (the great tribulation) had come upon the church (James 1:2). This trial had to do with false doctrine (James 1:26), which separated brethren, exalting one over the other (James 2:1). The false teaching seemed to have this world’s goods in view with the idea of hording one’s goods for oneself (James 2:15-16). This was falsely called faith (James 2:18), because if one truly had faith, he would share his worldly wealth with his poorer brethren and depend upon God to continue to provide for all, including the brother who is sharing what he has. This is the true and undefiled religion, which is acceptable to God (James 1:27).

[1] According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon the word doxa (G1391) means:

  1.  opinion, judgment, view;
  2. opinion, estimate, whether good or bad concerning someone;
    2a) in the NT always a good opinion concerning one, resulting in praise, honor and glory;
  3. splendor, brightness;
    3a) of the moon, sun, stars;
    3b) magnificence, excellence, dignity, grace;
    3c) majesty
    …..3c1) a thing belonging to God;
    …..3c2) a thing belonging to Christ;
    ……….3c2a) the kingly majesty of the Messiah;
    ……….3c2b) the absolutely perfect inward or personal excellency of Christ; the majesty;
    …..3c3) of the angels;
    ……….3c3a) as apparent in their exterior brightness;
  4. a most glorious condition, most exalted state;
    4a of that condition with God the Father in heaven to which Christ was raised after he had achieved his work on earth;
    4b) the glorious condition of blessedness into which is appointed and promised that true Christians shall enter after their Savior’s return from heaven.
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