Moving Toward God's Unity (Part Two)

For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? (James 2:2-4, NASV)

... Likewise, I want the women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; but rather by means of good works, as benefits women making a claim to godliness.
(1 Timothy 2:9, 10, NASV)

The first-century Roman Empire was quite different from our society. The church began as completely Jewish. Later it was a mix of Jews and converted idol worshippers. By the end of the first century it was mostly converted idol worshippers.

Poor people, by far, were the largest group in society. The middle class barely existed, and the rich were a small part of society.

There was enormous concern that Christianity (the church) not discriminate against the poor. The obstacles faced by the poor were enormous without enduring spiritual discrimination! James 2:1-9 declared Christian assemblies should make the poor feel welcomed and appreciated. Prosperous visitors were not to be favored. 1 Timothy 2:8-10 suggested prosperous Christians should not declare by dress or jewelry that godliness depended on what the person wore.

Remember there were no weekends then as today. Sunday likely began the work week in Jewish society, and probably was just another day for all non-Jewish people (the majority). That would mean Christians assembled early before work or late after work. The poor and the slave probably came to Christian assemblies in work clothes.

James 2:1-9 and 1 Timothy 2:8-10 often are used to suggest that today’s Christian assemblies never be used to make the disadvantaged feel out of place or be used to display prosperity. Wearing work clothing shows no disrespect to God, but champions God’s values of not showing favoritism to prosperity at the expense of the disadvantaged.

Again, unity is not a matter of Christian agreement, but of Christian-to-Christian respect.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 20 September, 2009


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