The Epistle of James - Godly Values
Part 4 - Poverty and riches
6th April 2018
James first taught us about the vital importance of responding in the right way to the trials that come our way. He then taught us to pray for wisdom, so we can allow our trials to do us good. Now James gives us a specific piece of wisdom that will help us with this:
Some of my Christian friends have serious financial problems. Some of us need to pray for enough money to pay our household bills. It's not fun. And there's a danger that we might think, "If God really loved me, I'd have as much money as the Christians around me".
On the other hand, some Christians have so much money that they don't have to worry about bills at all, and they can spend their time contemplating how many holidays to take, or whether to buy a new car, or a boat, or a bigger house. And for them there's a temptation to assume that they must be the best Christians around, as if their money must be a reward for how good they've been.
So both riches and poverty come with temptations: the temptation to think you're not loved, or the temptation to think you're particularly loved. If you're rich there's a temptation to become arrogant, and a temptation to despise the poor. If you're poor, there's a temptation to steal, and a temptation to become envious of those who aren't. There's also a temptation to imagine that you're not important. But our material well-being is not in any way a measure of our importance; Jesus said of Himself, "The Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." (Matthew 8v20). Jesus was homeless, but He certainly wasn't unimportant.
James lived in Judea in the first century. Many of his fellow Judean Christians struggled to make a living. Many were thrown out of their synagogues, and ostracised by society, and found it very difficult to find work at all. James tells poor Christians to take pride in [their] high position. Don't focus so much on the gas bill which falls due next Thursday, as on the fact that you're a child of God, you're beloved of the Father, you're a co-heir with Christ, you have the Holy Spirit living within you, you're God's servant, you're Christ's friend, you are so dear to Him that He was willing to die to save you.
Focus on these things, not out your difficult circumstances. Understand who you truly are. The Christian whose self-image is "I suppose I am a Christian, but what I really am is a poor man who can't provide for his family properly" has missed the point. What you really are is a jewel in Jesus's eternal crown. What you really are is the delight of the heavenly Father's heart. You're glorious. You're God's special possession. You're a child of God. Jesus paid for you with His own blood.
Take pride in the fact that you are a prince or a princess in the kingdom of God, and that you will dwell for ever in the very presence of Jesus. Jesus looks on who you are, but He also looks on who you will be when you're in glory with Him. He sees what role you will have in heaven, what ministry you will carry out for Him, what glory you will share with Him for all eternity.
And He will find you a way to pay the gas bill.
If you're wealthy, if you're successful in business or even in ministry, if everything in your life is going well, then take pride in [your] low position. I've met Christians who are really proud of how big their house is, or how new their car is. I've met Christian leaders who are really proud of how big their church is, or how many people listen to their sermons online, or read their weekly blog. They're forgetting to take pride in their low position.
Each of us will pass away like a wild flower. We're all going to die, and we will all occupy a 2ft x 6ft hole in the ground. We can't take wealth or success with us. We'll leave all the boats, and cars, and second homes, and private jets, and nice clothes, behind. We'll go naked in to glory. Your bank account will stand at nil, until you get there, when you will receive treasure in heaven, God's reward for your conduct on earth, and the wedding clothes - the pure white robe - that Jesus the Bridegroom has appointed for you.
If you happen to be the head of ICI, or British Gas or something, so what? If you have the biggest house or the fastest car in town, so what? How do you stand before God? Take pride that you are saved (if you are) exactly the same way that all God's people are saved. God didn't save you because you had money, or power, or possessions. God saved you because He's merciful, and chose you despite your sin.
This is partly because rich people tend to be proud. So take pride in your humble circumstances. You were saved with the same blood as the poor person who works for you, joined to the same church (there is only one) filled with the same Spirit, heading for the same heaven. And maybe you'll inherit less treasure. Jesus said:
The rich man will lie in his grave, just like the poor man. Riches are not a demonstration of God's favour. Poverty is not a demonstration of God's disfavour. Good health does not prove that God loves you more than a sick person. A life of peace and quiet doesn't prove that God loves you more than a person who is undergoing persecution.
The treasure that really matters is our treasure in heaven, not our golf club membership or our world cruise on earth.