The early church didn’t meet in buildings with pews with plenty of room in the auditorium. They met in homes with very limited seating capacity.
The main room of a wealthy family was called the triclinium, because of three couches that were arranged around a table. The host and guests would recline on pillows with the fourth side available for serving.
Servers and other guests with lesser status would stand along the walls. The lowest-status persons would eat leftover food in the courtyard of the home.
We assume that the early church met in the largest home of the congregation, which was owned by a wealthy member.
This picture of the early house church helps us understand what James said about status in the early church.
My brothers and sisters, do not claim the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory while showing partiality.
For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in,
And if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here in a good place, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit by my footstool,”
Have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2.1-4).
The most natural custom in the first century was to have high-status persons seated in the triclinium, the place of honor in the home. It would have been inconceivable to ask them to join the lesser-status persons in the courtyard.
James addresses this behavior and claims that making distinctions among believers is rooted in evil thoughts.
What can we do?
I have to plead guilty to the charge of making distinctions between people.
I know what it is like to feel like an outsider and work to include marginal people. However, I also realize that I prefer the company of some people over others.
What can I do and what can we do to love people as God loves them? How can we avoid making lower-status people feel like outsiders among the people of God?
One thing that has helped me is to look at the margins.
— Who is sitting alone in a group?
— What sort of questions can we ask that will draw out quiet members in a meeting?
— Who can we invite for lunch or coffee?
As we prayerfully ask questions like these, God will direct our attention to people he wants to be included in our circle of friends.
God is with the outsider.
The church needs to hear James’ message that God is with the outsider – the person who has been denied a table with high-status persons.
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?
But you have dishonored the poor person. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into the courts?
Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? (James 2.5-7).
I have a vivid memory of a lunch with a well-known young evangelist and his praise band. They had no interest in anyone at the lunch, except each other.
Around the same time, I had breakfast with Findley Edge. Dr. Edge had written numerous books and had just completed a speaking tour of Europe.
I was eating with one of the low-status persons in our small town, but Dr. Edge made every effort to make him feel like the most important person in the area.
I will never forget both of those meals because I always want my behavior to resemble Dr. Edge, who showed the love of God to my friend and me.
How can we develop this kind of love?
I don’t think we can live a Jesus-kind-of-life without being immersed in the story of his life and teaching in the Gospels.
If we prayerfully and regularly read the Gospels, they will shape how we see humans.
Jesus spent many hours with low-status persons. They were his friends and closest followers.
Mary Magdalene is believed to have been a prostitute. When she was delivered from demons, she became one of his most devoted followers.
She witnessed the crucifixion and was the first to see the resurrected Lord.
We can’t truly appreciate Mary Magdalene and at the same time shun marginal people around us. The Holy Spirit will lead us to appreciate them, too.
Rudy Ross and I talk about the Book of James on YouTube. You can see the video on the Bob Spradling channel.
Please email your prayer request to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.