Poverty and Riches: The Believer’s Posture

The Bible has a lot to say about the dangers of being rich and the pursuit of wealth. It also teaches followers of God to manage their resources well. One writer, James, reminded his audience that the poor person should rejoice in his wealth and that the rich person should delight in his poverty. The text reads “humiliation” but the concept is that the rich will become poor and the poor will become rich.  At first glance, a statement like that seems misplaced. In Christ’s Kingdom, things are different. The Christian is called to maintain a different attitude than the surrounding culture about the accumulation and spending of wealth. Believers must acknowledge that everything they have comes from God and maintain both a grateful and humble attitude.

James emphasized these themes as early as the first chapter of his letter.

“Let the brother of humble circumstances boast in his exaltation, but let the rich boast in his humiliation because he will pass away like a flower of the field. For the sun rises and, together with the scorching wind, dries up the grass; its flower falls off, and its beautiful appearance perishes. In the same way, the rich person will wither away while pursuing his activities.” ‭‭James‬ ‭1:9-11‬ ‭CSB‬‬

James was a brilliant writer though his thoughts often appeared random. The original audience would have listened to the entire letter at once, making it easier for them to understand the content. Christian living was an important subject for James who wrote to believers who lived as refugees. His point was that Christian resident aliens who accumulate wealth must not allow material gain to contribute to pride. Followers of Jesus are called to be humble and content whether they have much or little. Possessions are enjoyable while we have them but they will not last. I’m getting ahead of myself though. We cannot look at every verse that mentions riches or poverty but the following passages support James’ argument.

In Leviticus 19:15 God instructed the people to judge fairly whether the case involved a rich or poor person. God judges in fairness and so must his people. This passage connects to James 2 where the writer spoke against showing favoritism toward the rich. 

Psalm 49 warns against trusting in riches. Verses 16-20 remind the reader that the rich person will not take anything with him to the grave. Death waits for everyone, whether rich or poor. From this Psalm, we learn that trusting God is more valuable than accumulating riches.

Two passages in Proverbs further establish our understanding of riches. Proverbs 22:2 expresses that one commonality of the rich and poor is that God created them both. Ones’ value is rooted in the truth that he is created by God, not in his riches or lack of them. In Proverbs 23:4, the writer emphatically stated, ” Don’t wear yourself out to get rich, because you know better”. (CSB) The all-consuming pursuit of wealth distracts a person from focusing on more important things.

Those Old Testament passages establish the foundation for understanding the New Testament teaching on the correct mindset of possessions. One noteworthy passage proceeds from Mary’s prayer following the announcement that she would give birth to Jesus. Luke 1:53 states, “He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” (CSB) Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:3) A Christian should not pursue poverty but should acknowledge that his relationship with God is his highest treasure.

Three remaining passages deepen our understanding of the believer’s posture toward material resources. They are Matthew 19:23-30, Philippians 4:11-13, and 1 Timothy 6:6-8.  The Matthew passage refers to the rich ruler who struggled to sell his possessions because they were worth more to him than anything. Jesus taught that in the kingdom the first will be last and the last will be first. He also taught that a reward awaits those who give up things in this life. Paul wrote to the Philippian church and thanked them for their generosity in the collection for ministry in Jerusalem. He expressed the kingdom principle of contentment in this often misquoted passage. Later on, he wrote to his pastoral mentee and encouraged him to pay attention to his life and doctrine and not get entangled in earthly pursuits. In 1 Timothy 6, he warns against the dangers of pursuing riches, for the believer is to set his hope on God rather than the uncertainty of wealth. (v.17)

All of the passages mentioned above support the teaching of James. In Christ’s kingdom, true wealth proceeds from a relationship with God that is characterized by contentment. Whether you have many material resources or few, Jesus is what you truly need. From the verses we can glean the following principles:

  • Christians must be humble and realize everything comes from God. He is the provider who gives every good and perfect gift. (1:17) When we acknowledge that God is our provider we begin to experience financial peace. 
  • Believers who are poor should not be consumed with focussing on their poverty. If they know God they are actually rich.
  • Believers who are rich should not spend all of their energy attempting to accumulate more material gain. They must take a step back and acknowledge that their resources will pass away and they should, therefore, use their material or financial gain to bless others. They must not allow one’s financial status to exclude him from the activities of the church. (James 2:1-13)
  • Money is not inherently good or evil. The pursuit of more results in idolatry and even leads some away from the faith. Christian workers must be careful not to get entangled in the worldly teaching that bigger is better. This impacts how one accepts a promotion or a raise in his job. The motive must be considered when one has an opportunity to increase his financial status.
  • With Paul, we should be able to say, “I know how to have much or little and maintain contentment in God’s provision.

Jesus exchanged the treasures of heaven and became poor so we might become rich through a relationship with God. That reality changes the way we posture ourselves toward money and other resources. Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 8:9. The context is that he was preparing to discuss the proper motivations for giving.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭8:9‬ ‭CSB‬‬

My prayer for you is that you will develop a deeper humility and contentment with the resources God has provided you. Look to Jesus’ example and praise him that you are rich through His poverty.

 

 

 

 

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Categories Devotional Reflections, James

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