Questions From Readers
Appearing in the singular, the expression “righteous one” evidently refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is confirmed by the apostle Peter’s words directed to Jews: “You disowned that holy and righteous one, and you asked for a man, a murderer, to be freely granted to you, whereas you killed the Chief Agent of life.” (Acts 3:14, 15) Similarly, the disciple Stephen told those listening to his defense before the Sanhedrin: “Which one of the prophets did your forefathers not persecute? Yes, they killed those who made announcement in advance concerning the coming of the righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.”—Acts 7:52.
It is noteworthy that the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court which sentenced Jesus to death, was composed of wealthy and prominent men. (Compare Matthew 26:59, 66; 27:57; Mark 15:43; John 3:1; 7:45-51.) Hence “rich men” were definitely involved in the murder of Jesus Christ.
But the act of murdering the “righteous one” need not be limited to this murder of God’s Son. According to Jesus’ words found at Matthew 25:40, the Son of God views the treatment given to his “brothers,” his spirit-begotten followers, as being meted out to him himself.
When James wrote his letter (before 62 C.E.), the Christians were being persecuted primarily by the Jews. The first Christian martyr, Stephen, was killed by a Jewish mob after he made his defense before the Sanhedrin. (Acts 6:15; 7:57-60) Persecution of Christians by the Roman governmental authority did not begin until 64 C.E. after the great fire ravaged Rome, destroying about a fourth of the city. So it logically follows that the “rich men” whom James had in mind were the rich men among the Jews, who were directly or indirectly (by their persecution of Christians) implicated in the murder of Jesus Christ.—Matt. 27:24, 25.
James’ addressing himself to the rich as a class somewhat parallels what Jesus Christ did when speaking to his disciples on one occasion. After describing several happinesses, Jesus said: “Woe to you rich persons, because you are having your consolation in full.” (Luke 6:20-24) Though the rich as a class obviously would not read his letter, James, by employing the literary device of direct address, was helping Christians to get the right viewpoint. The fact that the rich class were to ‘howl over the miseries to come upon them’ would serve to warn Christians against becoming materialistic. (Jas. 5:1; compare James 4:13-15.) It would also be encouraging for them to know that oppression by the rich class would cease in God’s due time.
We as Christians must exercise care so as not to become guilty of murdering the “righteous one.” In another part of his letter it was, in fact, to Christians that James said: “You go on murdering.” (Jas. 4:2) How was this? Obviously these Christians had not actually killed anyone. But they evidently had failed to do good to their brothers. Perhaps though being in a position to help needy brothers, they had refused to do so. They may have looked down on some lowly ones, despised them, or they may have allowed covetousness, envy or pride to lead them into hating certain ones of their brothers. In any of these ways they could become guilty of murder. (Jas. 1:27; 2:15, 16) Another Bible writer, the apostle John, made the same point: “Everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer, . . . we are under obligation to surrender our souls for our brothers. But whoever has this world’s means for supporting life and beholds his brother having need and yet shuts the door of his tender compassions upon him, in what way does the love of God remain in him?”—1 John 3:15-17.
Yes, this murderous attitude was even reflected by some Christians in the favoritism that they showed toward the rich. Though God had chosen generally poor persons to become Kingdom heirs, certain Christians would see to it that a rich person who attended their meetings got a fine seat, but they would direct a poor person to sit in a very lowly position. Thus they judged the worth of a person on the basis of his possessions. They failed to recognize the poor person as a neighbor who was fully deserving of their love. Pointing out the wrongness of such action, James wrote: “You . . . have dishonored the poor man. The rich oppress you, and they drag you before law courts, do they not? They blaspheme the fine name by which you were called, do they not? If, now, you practice carrying out the kingly law according to the scripture: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing quite well. But if you continue showing favoritism, you are working a sin.”—Jas. 2:1-9.
Do any of us as Christians show favoritism to persons on the basis of their position in the world, their superior educational background or financial standing? Do we favor them over others at our ‘gatherings’? Surely this would be out of harmony with the counsel of James. While there are exceptions, a hard, unloving attitude is all too common among the rich and influential members of human society today. Surely, then, none of us should feel that persons merit being shown favoritism merely because of their possessions; nor should we expect it if we have possessions. That is why James called attention to the oppression of which the rich as a class were guilty. Not the poor, but the rich were those most frequently dragging Christians before law courts and mistreating them.
Hence, lest the Christian become guilty of murdering the “righteous one” in a representative sense, he must cultivate intense love for fellow believers. He should not look down upon any of his brothers regardless of how lowly they may appear to be. If Jehovah God considers these worthy of his love, surely none of his servants should imply that they are greater than He is by refusing to love those whom He loves. Rather, they desire to use their time, talents and assets unselfishly in behalf of their brothers, all of them. As the apostle Paul said: “For my part I will most gladly spend and be completely spent for your souls.”—2 Cor. 12:15.