But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
James gets into some serious irony in this section. Remember, he had just discussed the wrongness of their preferential treatment of rich men who would enter their assembly. Now he points out that not only is that treatment wrong, but it’s really quite absurd. If we can take some literary liberties with the passage, what James was really saying might go something like this: “Hey, the very people you are falling all over in church are the same people making your lives miserable outside in the real world..what gives?“
There was nothing new in the mistreatment of poor Jews by rich Jews in Israel; it was common even back in the days of the Prophets. Good examples can be read in Micah 2:2 and Zechariah 7:10. Paul teaches us that this oppression of the poor by the rich continues right into the New Testament in Hebrews 10:32-34.
So, the scattered believers were still being oppressed by the wealthy, just as had been true for centuries already. Not only were they being oppressed, but the rich were taking advantage of the legal system to harass and oppress them further! These men were using legal means to steal even more or their resources. Finally, these men were blaspeming the Holy name of Jesus Himself. They may have been literally committing blaspemy, or they may have been simply committing it by the things they were saying and doing against His followers; it’s the same thing after all, isn’t it?
Here is a parting thought for this section of this Chapter. There is the possibility that James in this particular passage may have been speaking to middle class type believers rather than the poor ones. Later in his epistle he gives some warnings to rich men themselves. He may have been speaking to people who not only had suffered oppression at the hands of those with more resources than them, but who also had sufficient resources to do the same to those below them in the stations of life. They may have been guilty of oppressing the poor while they were simultaneously being oppressed by the rich.
In our world today, most of us would fit this category. Few of us are rich, but few of us are also truly poverty stricken; most of us are in that middle area where some have more than us, and we have more than some. How do we act?