There are some teachings in the Bible that surprise us. You know the kind of thing. It happens when you are reading along in one of those familiar places in Scripture and suddenly notice something that just hadn’t hit home with you before that. Earlier today, because of ice on the ground and impossibility to getting to church for normal worship gathering, my wife and daughter and I had a worship time together. We took turns reading in the book of James. As my daughter was reading from the second chapter in James this segment hit me. “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?” (Verses 5-7)
I don’t know what all was going on with these Christians during the middle part of the first century. The church most likely wasn’t more than twenty to twenty-five years old at the time. These Christians may well have been among those mentioned in Acts 8 who were scattered as persecution began after the execution of Stephen. These disciples when scattered went everywhere preaching the word of the Lord. If this was the group being referred to or some later group of Jewish Christians that were scattered because of their faith, it is obvious they were going through struggles that led to poverty and mistreatment from others. It may have been the case that some of them had been able to rise out of such difficult times and were now doing quite well financially. James was deeply concerned that their attitudes would not go in the wrong direction. They would begin to admire and elevate the rich so that they would be given special place in their gatherings.
It is easy in life to begin pulling away from those you were once close to, if your life situation changes and theirs doesn’t. It is easy to begin thinking that you are just a little above those folks. If they had just tried harder they could have escaped their poverty as well. In such times we are in grave danger of failing to obey the royal law of not loving our neighbor as our selves (Verse 8-9), It’s due to such danger that James offered one of those, “Listen up” moments. He sure wanted them to know that his correction was out of love for them so he refers to them as his “Dear brothers”. But he was even more concerned that they remember the nature and heart of the Lord.
“Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” You may have noticed a discussion on Facebook recently about some article or comments made by Dave Ramsey about things the rich did that the poor didn’t do. I’ve not read any of the articles. I’ve just noticed the back and forth of it all. Let’s face it as a nation we admire those who are rich. Think of how many times Warren Buffet is quoted or Steve Forbes or Steve Jobs. When was the last time you read an article quoting what some person working at McDonalds said or what one working as a day laborer had to say? Even on spiritual themes we tend to listen closer to the person who has made it financially and who is regarded successful in life. Yet God wants us to know for certain that He isn’t tuned into the whole admiration of those who have more, attitude. He is concerned about the spiritual depth one has whether they have any financial depth at all. Those who are poor in this world or in the eyes of the world, may well be the ones who are rich in faith. Truthfully, it is hard to be rich in faith and rich in this world at the same time. That is why Jesus said it was hard for a rich person to be saved or to enter the kingdom. When we have a lot of this world’s good we tend to put our trust in the things we have rather than in God.
Please understand that as much as I may admire those who live simply in this life there is a vast difference between living simply when one is capable of having great wealth than in being poor because they have never been able to be anything else. I suspect that the very life we regard as simple in our time would still be regarded as one of wealth in the eyes of the truly poor in the world.
God’s kingdom is for those who love him. It is for those who love him more than anything they may have or ever hope to have. It is for those who love him so much that nothing they have is so valuable they wouldn’t willingly give it all away to have him. His kingdom is for those who love him to the degree they love and identify with all those who are rich in faith whether they are in the same social class, the same neighborhood or the same economic ability as them. Their blood brothers are those who are rich in faith.
You can’t honor God while dishonoring those who follow Him. I want to be one regarded by the Lord as rich in faith and who reaches out in love and friendship, with brotherhood to all others who are rich in faith. That, I believe is what really matters.