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23 June 2009

The Rich and the Poor

I'm interested in knowing if you feel that this passage directly relates to how people dress in present-day meetings of the Church. Bear in mind that it was written in a time when the wealthy class was separated from the poor by a wide margin. There were no textile mills that churned out expensive-looking clothing at reasonable prices. If you were poor, you typically dressed in a "poor" way.

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

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? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.

James 2:1-9 (NLT)

There are plenty of passages that speak more directly to the issue of how we dress when we meet. I've heard this one referred to moderately often, and I'd like to know what you -- as opposed to John MacArthur or Matthew Henry or other commentary authors -- believe this passage is getting at.


Tony M said...

No, I don't think this passage is referring to any "dress code" or, specifically, anything related to how someone's dressed. The whole "dressing" part of this passage is a simple example (it starts with "for example") - the point of this passage is how we treat others. The point is to not give preference to the upper class over the lower class.

For a modern example, Jesus might have said, "Suppose someone pulls into your parking lot in a Mercedes or Hummer, and your parking directors direct him to a prominent, close-up parking spot; meanwhile, someone else pulls up in a Yugo that has unmatched tires, is running on only 3 of its four cylinders, and has plastic in place of several windows, and your parking director suggests that he park around back or across the street in the empty lot, doesn't this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?"

The "how they're dressed" is just the example used to relate how people are viewed and treated... that we should treat those people - rich and poor - the same, the way that God asked us to treat them, with love and respect (wait, did I add that "respect" part? or is that implied by "love your neighbor"?).

Jacob said...

i echo what tony said.

And then i'll add (as i have before) that when a pastor says he has to "dress like a pastor" or "dress like he's going to church," something is terribly terribly wrong. And when people are chastised for "not giving due respect to God" when they show up on sunday in shorts and a t-shirt, something is also terribly terribly wrong.

before the year 1900, people spent every day but sunday, sun up to sun down, out in the hot fields sweating their keisters off. They wore the same set of clothes several days in a row, bathed only 3 times a week, and stunk. So when Sunday (a GENUINE day of rest for them, i might add) rolled around, they were eager to see their friends and have a good time being with other believers. They got to bathe and put on nice clothes. It was a real treat for them and also a genuine sign of respect. But as time went on, people left the fields, but nice clothes didn't leave the church. It became an expected thing, even though it has no real significance and meaning to people who sit in a suit and tie in an office all day.

That's the way it is now. Dressing up every sunday means absolutely nothing to me. It's not a way I show respect. Dressing up might mean something different to a construction worker who is in the hot sun all day.

Leroy said...

Great analogy Tony.

You raise a good point too Jacob and we'll continue the theme of adding to the previous comments. :)

I've heard more than once throughout the years people say that on Sunday we dress nice because "we want to give God our best". Oh. So the OTHER six days I get to be a slacker for God. Hm, that could be part of the I'm-a-one-day-a-week Christian mentality.

Back to a Sunday school teacher (and anyone else that has been in front of a crowd can attest), there are some articles of clothing that can be distracting. To paraphrase Paul, all things may be permissible, but not all things are helpful.

Christy said...

Everyone here has made very good points and I have nothing to add (well except for this).

Dean Lusk said...

I appreciate the observations, and I happen to agree with them.

Here's an interesting quote from what I think most would consider an unlikely source, Charles Wesley. This comes from a 28-point sermon in 1872:

"I conjure you all who have any regard for me, show me before I go hence, that I have not laboured, even in this respect, in vain, for near half a century. Let me see, before I die, a Methodist congregation, full as plain dressed as a Quaker congregation. Only be more consistent with yourselves. Let your dress be cheap as well as plain; otherwise you do but trifle with God, and me, and your own souls. I pray, let there be no costly silks among you, how grave soever they may be. Let there be no Quaker-linen, -- proverbially so called, for their exquisite fineness; no Brussels lace, no elephantine hats or bonnets, -- those scandals of female modesty. Be all of a piece, dressed from head to foot as persons professing godliness; professing to do every thing, small and great, with the single view of pleasing God."

I'm not at all equating Wesley's words with those of Scripture (and his sermon easily pushes the bounds of legalism), but I believe the idea of "dressing up" has been thought to be a centuries (at least)-old tradition. His final sentence above is dead-on.

Anonymous said...

I would like add one more thought - even churches get caught up with the 'dress' code game; Gold offratory plates, plush carpets, awesome sound systems, state of the art (you fill in the blank).

Last Sunday our air-conditioning didn't work - most of us complained about the heat (so did I) but the pastor made a good point about being thankful in the little details - and not take for granted the blessing we have a living in the USA.


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