Sunday, March 17, 2019

Less Different Than We Think

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”

“Rich” and “poor” are relative terms. Welfare recipients in Western society are not poor by the standards of East Africa. Likewise, many Africans would consider our Western middle classes incredibly rich, and yet hundreds of thousands around us are much better off than we are.

When James speaks of rich and poor, he specifies the sort of thing he means. The contrast between these two types of men is not merely a matter of degree; their lives are so different they might as well be different species. The very least of it is in how they present to the world. The poor man wears shabby clothing, and not because he didn’t bother to pick up a decent used Arrow shirt from the local Goodwill. He simply has nothing better. There are no welfare cheques in his future. The rich man across the way is decked out in fine garments and sports an ostentatious gold ring. He probably dressed down for the occasion.

That paints the picture for us just fine.

The Glorious Lord of our Company

James says the Lord of glory welcomes this shabby man notwithstanding his disreputable appearance, and with it, very likely, a corresponding dearth of the expected social graces. Moreover, the Lord of glory ensures that his followers know they are to emulate their Lord in celebrating his arrival among us.

But James says a little more than this. He describes Jesus Christ this way: ἡμῶν [our] κύριος [Lord] Ἰησοῦς [Jesus] Χριστός [Christ] δόξα [of glory]. Our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the glorious Lord of our company.

We call him Lord as individuals. That statement is right at the gateway to our salvation: “confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord.” No man can be Christ’s who does not acknowledge he is his master. But here he is not just my Lord but our Lord. That plural possessive is not merely inferred. He is our Lord. He is the Lord of the whole group. It is he who gives the orders, he who sets the tone, he who invites his guests, great and small, and he who tells his servants where they are to sit and how they are to treat one another.

He can do that. He is our Lord. He is our glorious Lord.

Splendor and Dignity

That Greek word doxa [glory] has a wide range of usage. We associate it with splendor and brightness, but that is actually a tertiary meaning. Peter, James and John saw glory when the Lord Jesus was transfigured: his clothing became dazzling white. Glorious. That’s how we often think of it.

But doxa, as used by Homer and others, and as used in scripture from time to time, simply means esteem. It refers to someone of whom one would hold a good opinion, a person who is dignified, praiseworthy and estimable. It is used this way in Hebrews:
“For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses — as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.”
Here the difference between Jesus and Moses has nothing to do with illumination or brightness. It is not about impressive presentation; rather, it is about character and service. It has to do with essential dignity and worth. It is the difference in stature and gravity between servant and son, between building and builder; the difference between faithfulness in [en] a house and faithfulness over [epi] a house. It is not a difference in degree; it is a difference in kind.

That is glory, and that, I think, is the sense in which James is using it here.

No Reason to be Partial

But why “glory” in this context? James could have used almost any of the titles or descriptors of Christ instead and it would not have appeared out of place.

Perhaps because in comparison to the dignity and stature of the Lord Jesus, a rich man’s gold ring and fine clothing are as insignificant as the poor man’s shabby attire. The differences we so readily observe between the way any two men are educated, the level of sophistication of their thoughts, the way they express themselves, their bearing and perceived authority, the brand names on their clothes, the attention they command when they walk down the street, and the circles in which they move — all these differences shrivel into pallid insignificance when contrasted with the gravity and worth of the Lord they come to worship. All are mere servants in the household of the Son.

For all our differences as believers, we are less different than we think.

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