The Perils of Wealth (James 2:5-7)

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? (James 2:5–7, ESV)

Does the Bible ever say anything nice about rich people? I mean, really. Think about it. When you search from beginning to end, the Bible almost always refers to wealth with ominous warning language. Having means provides us with many opportunities to bless others, but the road to riches is beset with danger (1 Tim 6:10). A couple examples:

The Israelites were warned in the Old Testament about the likelihood of wealth leading them into self-sufficiency:

“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, (Deuteronomy 8:11–14, ESV)

Proverbs frequently warns against the same thing:

Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. (Proverbs 11:28, ESV) 

In the New Testament Jesus tells us that it is very difficult for rich people to go to heaven (Matt. 19:23-24) and that it is impossible to be in love with your money and call yourself a Christian (Matt. 6:24). Of course the problem is not money in and of itself. Money is very necessary at all times and in all cultures. The sin arises when we idolize our money, when money causes us to be self-sufficient and proud. Most wealthy people don’t need a Savior because they believe their portfolio to be their Savior. The line of thinking frequently leads to arrogance and, as in today’s passage, a mistreatment of those in a lower economic bracket.

God does not want this attitude to be part of his church. He wants he children to be generous whether they are wealthy or not. He wants them to look out for the poor and the oppressed and seek ways to meet their needs, just like Jesus did. And if he so chooses to bless us with wealth (it could be argued that most Americans are wealthy — an annual income higher than $20,000 puts you in the top 11% of the world’s wealthiest people!) then we should use those means to bring glory to His name by showering blessings upon others out of our abundance. Support missionaries, help fund new ministries at your church, send an underprivileged child to summer camp, donate to a food pantry — do something with your money to further God’s kingdom rather than be proud, self-reliant and condescending to the poor.

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