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Perspective of Rich and Poor

James 1:9-11

Ullas Nair

As I prepare this lesson, I recall the story in our April ’03 Straits Times Newspaper where a lady who began the $1.99 shop, who made millions for a couple of years, but now she is in debt and closing down her business. Such is the fleeting power of riches.

Indeed it is great that God gave us such clear instructions on riches and poverty, the book of Proverbs 30:7-9,  “….Give me neither poverty nor riches feed me with food that you prescribe for me lest I be full and deny you and say who is my Lord or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of the Lord.” NKJV

It is possible that James was highlighting the issues that will arise when there is a sudden change in the fortunes of man. Just prior to these verses, the writer emphasizes the need to endure trials, producing patience and wisdom. Now the focus is on rich and poor.

Christianity enables us to find the answers to cope with all the circumstances and situations we find ourselves under, even rich and poor, if only we would venture to find them.

With the outbreak of war in Iraq, which thankfully is over and the SARS epidemic, now worldwide, many businesses and people have experienced failures in their businesses, sudden unemployment, mounting debts, job losses etc. From being rich and comfortable to being poor, lifestyle changes, worries in the families and the Christian is not immune to all this, his life station is also affected. But then again, the faithful Christian will not allow his relationship with God to be affected by his financial fluctuations, as if one’s financial standing is the barometer for faith. But sadly in reality, this is the case for some Christians.

The Bible contrasts between the lowly brother and the rich brother. There are no caste systems in Christianity; both will stand equal before God.  Acts 10:34 - “God shows no partiality”  CF  Romans  2:10

The brother of low degree or lowly is ‘tapeinos’ in Greek, meaning one of humble position, who may be because of external circumstances has been brought low. Being poor, he is low compared to the rich who occupies high positions in the world and generally in the social order.

Some of the most effective workers for the Lord are the lowly brothers; humble, self-sacrificing individuals who never preach a single sermon yet do more than many. I can think of my own brother in Jurong COC, who is partially deaf, who has a low paying job, yet he is faithful as any, guess what this individual is actually helping to support a mission worker in Cambodia. He gives from what he has.

In his world that we inhabit, the rich men are honored and the poor are largely ignored. Singapore is an affluent country. We live comfortable lives for so long till the Asian economic crisis hit us in the period 1997-98. The people were concerned with their economic and financial situation as opposed to their spiritual condition. In a survey done in 2001, Singaporeans were asked about materialism. The results were:

1.Singaporeans are materialistic

YES (88%)

NO (12%)

2. Compared to 5 years ago, Singaporeans are now

More Materialistic (72%)

Less Materialistic  (5%)


3. I am materialistic

YES (46%)

NO (54%)

 4. The things I own reflect how well I am doing in life

YES (58%)

NO (42%)

(Contributing to the society got the lowest score 4%; 7 in 10 preferred to use their time to strengthen family bonds) – Source ST 2001

If a similar survey was done in Australia, I am quite sure that the results will not be significantly different. Men is driven not be his needs alone but by accumulation of his needs/ wealth and if this is not checked, it will inevitably affect his relationship with God.

Matthew 6:19 comes to mind; “ Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”

Which ‘C’ are we after ?  The great ‘C’ word that man should be seeking is not Cash, Car, Credit card, Country Club, 0r Condominium, but Christ and Contentment. I Tim 6:6 “ But Godliness with contentment is great gain”, In the verses following this, the Apostle Paul continues “ And having food and clothing with theses we shall be content”, the question is what is contentment for you personally ?.

The Bible is not ambiguous on its writings about riches and wealth gaining and the desire thereof, 1Timothy 6 :9 “ But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare” resulting in destruction and perdition. Have we not come across such cases in the local congregations, where men have fallen away in their desire to be rich?. Money is not the problem but “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil”, 1 Timothy 6:10. Brethren the relentless pursuit of wealth is vanity says the Richest man who ever lived, the wise King Solomon, Ecclesiastes 5:10.  Cross-reference to:  Matthew 6:24 - You cannot serve God and riches, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will  hate the one and love the other or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Stations in life do change from rich to poor or from poor to rich; it can even be from poor to poorer or rich to richer. A man /brother who is faithful may indeed exalt/glory that he is still faithful when his situation makes him poor his faith is still intact. The lowly brother may indeed exalt that he has endured the test of both poverty and riches. Only the faithful can see a disaster as a blessing and trust God even more.

Faith is never more tested when one becomes rich and affluent. From no job to a good job with a good income, from failure to success, sudden windfall from investments, making the right deal, promotions etc. The Bible cautions us “…If riches increase do not set your heart on them”. Psalm 62: 10.

Have we not seen in the local congregation how our rich brethren have changed? Their priorities changed from faithfulness to luke-warmness and eventually they become choked by the riches of this world, lose their faith or backslide away. They love the world more, trust the world more than their Holy Father, 1 John 2:15 comes to mind, “Do not love the world or the things in this world.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh,  the lust of the eyes and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

How many of us here have heard of friends, relatives and loved ones, even strangers who were alive one moment and the next (as a twinkle of the eye) are gone. Death from a sudden illness, cancer whilst in the pink of health, road accident… now even the dreaded SARS virus. Just like a flower that blooms to its fullest glory, yet the next moment withers away. The frailty of human existence like the flower in James 4:14, “Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow.  For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”

Life is but a vapour - here today and gone tomorrow. The book of Job Ch 8:9 compares life as a shadow, Job 8:9 - “For we are but of yesterday and know nothing.”  Cross-reference to: 1 Chronicles 29:15 “ …our days on earth are like a shadow and without hope.”

You only see the shadow, it is not the real thing and it lasts for a short time only. Whilst we are here for the short time span, it should not be focused on the accumulation of wealth that takes our priority from God and God’s work in the Church.

The rising of the sun scorches the grass and the flower falls away, temporal things end as compared to seeking the glory of God and His Word in the Holy Scriptures.

Isaiah 40:6-8, “All flesh is grass And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the Lord blows upon it; Surely the people are grass The grass withers and the flower fades, But the Word of our God stands forever.”

Job 21:13, “They spend their days in wealth, And in a moment go down to grave.” (How long is a moment for man?)

The bible also gives us example of rich men who despite their wealth were dedicated and faithful to God, Moses esteemed “the reproaches of Christ greater than treasures in Egypt” Hebrews 11: 26. Include Joseph, Job, Abraham, men who were rich yet humble and faith to God.

In conclusion.  Let us not forget the concept of Stewardship for the Christian, what we do with what we posses; Let me suggest the 4 main components of stewardship:

Divine ownership of all – Psalm 24:1 (“The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness..” Human endowment – Matthew 25 :14 ( The parable of the talents) Faithful Management – 1 Corinthians 4:2 (Stewards be faithful) Lastly, and eventual and inevitable accounting – Luke 16:2 ( Give an account of stewardship)

The loss of riches is not to be regarded as a catastrophe, a disaster, on the contrary whoever is experiencing this is to rejoice, rejoice that his faith is strong enough to endure trials and experience such things for the perfecting of his faith. The one who gains wealth must acknowledge that all things come from God, acknowledge the giver, be grateful, use the wealth for the furtherance of the Gospel. His faith should be stronger; the Lord had blessed him abundantly.

The faithful poor will never be forsaken by his Maker.  If the Lord even cares for the birds of the field, will He not provide His providential love for His faithful ones? Matthew 6:25-34 - seek the kingdom and all these things will be provided for.

The most priceless thing that we have is the soul / spirit of men, we should endeavor to continually enrich our souls, by diligent service and study of God’s word, Proverbs 13:4 comes to mind

The great equalizer is death, both the rich, the poor, the famous, the infamous, the politicians; all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

Romans 14:10-12, “ …for we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ,  for it is written: As I live says the Lord, Every knee shall bow before me And every tongue shall confess to God So then each of us shall  give account of himself to God.”


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