TEXT: James 1:9-11, NLT
9Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. 10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. 11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.
I have always had some difficulty with this passage because I have some wealthy friends who are very good to me and I think it is wrong to be unjustly harsh toward them simply because they are rich. My father was a member of a local union and for some reason, the unions teach, or brainwash their members into seeing the rich as the enemy and the cause of all ills. Abraham was rich, Job was rich, Zacchaeus was rich and Joseph of Arimathea was rich just to name a few. Money or wealth is amoral: it is neither good or bad. It all depends on our attitude toward wealth.
Christ brings to every man what every man needs. The despised poor need self-respect and the rich need humility. Christ is the great leveler of men: He raises the despised and He lowers the elites.
I. CHRIST CAN RESTORE SELF-RESPECT TO THE POOR
Like it or not, our world judges people by their income and net worth. All wealthy people are considered successful. It does not matter how wicked a person is: if they have lots of money, the world admires them. There is something superficial and shallow about the world’s analysis but that is the way it is. This tendency of judging people by the social economic status has always been a problem in the church. James will have a lot to say about how we relate to the poor and he has a stern warning if we show partiality by giving preferential treatment to the rich.
People tend to kiss up to money, just the way it is and people who don’t have money tend to think less of themselves for being poor. The major attitudinal problem with the despised poor is their self-respect or sense of self-worth. Christ came to restore our sense of self-worth. No one is useless, no one is invaluable in the kingdom of Christ.
William Barclay says that in the early church, some of the pastors were slaves. They were serving communion to their masters. The church is to obliterate social distinctions which divide us. In other words, we they walked into the sanctuary to worship, there was no slave and master. Every man became a slave and Jesus was the Master.
Creating a culture that disregards social distinction is not an easy thing. Countless number of churches have had wars over things like bus ministries and Weekday Education [some call it Day Care but it is really Child Care]. I have heard opponents say, “It does not make sense to bring in all these poor kids. They do not give, they only take.” Some people want to run the church like a business but the church is a ministry and there is a big difference. All ministry is costly and never profitable if it really done in the name of Jesus and for his glory. If you are making a profit in ministry, you best find a prayer closet and get your motives purified. All Christ exalting ministries lose money which is why we give our tithes and offerings.
I have a pastor friend in L.A. who has a bus ministry. They have been running buses as long as the Falwells and they will keep running them because they have a climate and culture conducive to bringing in poor [sometimes] children. They embrace these kids. I doubt if you can find a bad attitude in the entire church concerning these children. We have one van and we use it on Sunday and Wednesday night. Practically all the children that ride the van [two loads on Wednesday] are from welfare families where the parents don’t work. These children do not practice good hygiene and they do not dress as well as others but I have been super blessed, along with drivers and the teachers. Our Wednesday night supper crew knows every child by name and they treat them like royalty. I am telling you, it is a sight for sore eyes. One of the little girls named Sissy has become an icon.
In the body of Christ, the church–social distinctions are to be obliterated. I can promise you, there will not be any in heaven.
II. CHRIST CAN GIVE THE RICH A SPIRIT OF HUMILITY
You have to admit, most rich folks are not humble. Wealth has a tendency to make us arrogant and self-reliant. Because we have more than others, we feel superior to others. We may even feel intellectually superior. We may even think that all poor people are stupid or dumb. We may feel more deserving. I have heard rich people say, “I worked for what I have. No one gave me anything.” What an arrogant pile of rot. Their mama gave them birth and God gave them breath and health to work. It is God, according to Moses, who gives us the ability to make wealth.
In America, at least in the past, we have three classes whereas in Jesus day there was only two. We have the rich, the middle class, and the poor. Most of us are middle class. We do tend to congregate with our kind. Very few rich people belong to a small rural church: they go to a First Baptist or some prestigious church in town. I’ve had it happen. A middle class man became wealthy during the Reagan years and he moved his membership to a First Baptist Church. It was not a great loss, he only tithes his advice. He sent his tithe to whomever he decided. He never trusted the church with HIS money.
Here is the dilemma. I am not rich but I am not poor either, not in our culture. I don’t mind telling you that I get intimidated by the rich. I have always felt inferior to the rich but at the same time, I have often felt superior to the poor. Christ wants to level our thinking. So I am in the middle, I am neither rich or poor so I have trouble relating to both.
I’m going to be honest. We have beggars stop here on a regular basis and I do profile. As a matter of fact, I can give you a profile of a modern day, North Alabama beggar. They smoke, they have a cell phone, they like beer, cable and pets. They all have a sob story and they shun work and responsibility like it was the black plague. Yet I know what the old testament teaches about our relation to the poor and we do help. Our church gave thousands of dollars this past Christmas, making sure these kids from the welfare families had a Christmas. At our BLOCK PARTY in August, we will give away thousands in food, clothes, school supplies and prizes. In the 15 years that we have been doing Block Parties, I would guess that we have given close to a quarter of a million dollars to the poor in our area.
In either direction: extreme wealth or poverty, or in the middle– the problem we battle is ATTITUDE.
III. RICHES ARE MORE DANGEROUS THAN POVERTY
William Barclay said, “Riches tend to make us feel proud and self-sufficient. Wealth gives us a false sense of security. Money makes us feel safe…we become convinced that we can buy whatever we need and that includes buying our way out of a bad situation.”
We have seen this right here in Morgan County: the poor kid goes to prison and the rich kid gets off scott free.
The problem of trusting your riches is that wealth is transient and not really dependable. It can be here today and gone tomorrow. For an illustration, James uses the Sirocco or as some call it the Simoon. This is the scorching Southeast wind that blows up from the dessert. It is a picture that we are totally unfamiliar with in the West. In Palestine, a field can be green one day and brown the next. When the Sirocco comes in, it is like the opening of an oven door, the scorching heat fries the vegetation is hours, less than a day.
The point is: we cannot put our trust in riches. It is not wise because they are here today and gone tomorrow. Jim Elliott said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”
Jesus urges us to admit our human helplessness. We need humility. We need to put our faith and trust in HIM, not earthy treasures. We need to totally depend on HIM and it takes humility to do this. God give us humility.