THE RIGHTEOUS POOR: SPIRITUAL DEPENDENCE ON GOD
James challenges us to understand the ‘the poor’ as more than just those experiencing material poverty. The poor are all those who are afflicted, marginalised from society, powerless, oppressed and dependent on God. Such poverty is not a qualifying factor for grace; rather the desperation such disempowerment provides encourages a humility that makes the poor more likely to entrust themselves to God in faith. The poor are presented as righteous and dependent on God; those who look to God for their ultimate justice. It is to these ‘righteous poor’ that James addresses the eternal promises of hope.
God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom. That’s not to say that we should sell our things and live a life of poverty but rather, James pleads with us to adopt a biblical perspective on wealth. He invites us to reject the mindless, self-indulgent accumulation of wealth and instead, be aware of its snare and even use it to generously meet the needs of the poor.
In James we will see that God’s people should tangibly, practically and materially care for the poor as an expression of true religion; as an expression of our love for God, through our love of our neighbour. As we seek to be more like Jesus, we should love and care for the things that He cares for. And He loves the poor!
We are to show no discrimination in our love and service of one another. Any discrimination or partiality based on issues of material possession, social standing and external holiness, dishonours those to whom God has offered grace. Furthermore, it violates the fundamental unity and equality of image-bearers who are one in Christ.
THE UNRIGHTEOUS RICH: THE DISTORTING POWER OF WEALTH
The ‘unrighteous rich’, those who are proud, who oppress, defraud and persecute others while living lives of excess and self-indulgence will not inherit the Kingdom. As we study James, we’ll encounter the distorting power of wealth and the vulnerabilities those blessed with an excess of power, material wealth and status face. James challenges the wealthy in the early church for actively engaging in the folly of building treasure of temporal, decaying and corruptible earthly materials instead of laying up treasures in heaven. While James makes clear that judgment will not be based on any quantifiable amount of wealth, he certainly indicates that wealth can foster a self-reliance that allows little room for humble dependence on God and can instead breed waste, corruption, exploitation and oppression of others. As we study James’ letter, we will be challenged to search our hearts to see if we are possessed by power, riches and wealth or a humble obedience and gratitude to Jesus.
We will be reminded that we can use our wealth to serve righteous purposes. These acts are a mark of grace, not securing our justification, but expressing the love and generosity we have received from our Father as an overflow of our hearts. Beyond that, fundamental to Jesus’ teaching, as advanced by James, is a gross redistribution of money to the poor and a collective responsibility to address structural inequality.
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