“For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes…”
The word “for” links us to the previous verse and illustrates the prohibition against partiality.
The “if” makes a hypothetical case. James supposes that a very wealthy person walks into an assembly of Christians.
there should come into your assembly
James depicts the gathering of Christians as an “assembly.” The Greek word is the word for “synagogue.” A synagogue is a bringing together, an assembling, a gathering of people for worship. Sometimes translators translate this word “church” (5:14).
The Jews worshiped in a synagogue for formal worship every Sabbath day (Saturday). They built synagogues not only throughout Palestine but also throughout the cities of the Roman world. Christians worshiped in Jewish synagogues. It was their place of assembly or meeting for worship in some situations. It may be that the “assembly” here may be the gathering of Christians (a congregation) rather than a building.
a man with gold rings, in fine apparel,
The person who wears “fine apparel” (gorgeous clothes) and “gold rings” advertises their riches with flash. “I have expensive threads! I am successful.” If a person with status quo comes into a church congregation with pomp and flash, he should experience no greater deference than a poor person. The early church had some wealthy people (Ac 4:36,37; 8:27; 10:1,2; 16:14; 17:4; 1 Ti. 6:17-19).
and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes
The word “poor” means poverty-stricken. This person does not have a dime. He probably does not have a way to wash his clothes because he is out on the streets. He is a persona non grata. This person does not stand in the good graces of society.
“Filthy clothes” probably means shabby clothing. We should not avoid a poor person that comes into the assembly of Christians with shabby clothing. Most Christians were poor in the first century (Ac 2:45; 4:35–37; 6:1–6; 1 Co. 1:26; 2 Co. 8:2,14; Ga. 2:10). This was due in part to Jewish Christians dispersed throughout the Roman Empire because of persecution. They lost their source of income because of this. Some experienced famine (Acts 11:29–30). The poor Christians of Macedonia gave liberally to Christians who faced economic hardship (2 Co 8:1-2).
In God’s eyes and the eyes of fellow Christians, all Christians should carry a common denominator.
Christians do not value a person anymore because he possesses wealth, nor do we value him any less. Wealth is not an issue. Clothes do not make the man, but character makes the man in the Christian worldview.
People who associate with wealthy people because of their status and wealth violate poor Christians. They diminish them because of their economic status. Giving attention to an affluent person is an implied judgment on the poor. The poor get the shaft. The Christian church cannot hold ranks of status because of this. Christians who associate with wealthy people to elevate themselves automatically diminish those of lesser wealth.
Are you the type of person who carries a revolting attitude toward people who walk into your church unkempt and unclean? There are some Christians who would love to make their church a Religious Country Club. The Christian church should have no rank or social distinction.