RICHES AND POVERTY - TRIALS OF FAITH!
Use the perishable wealth of this world to earn imperishable wealth in heaven.
I used to wonder at the disparity among believers in terms of the privileges they enjoy in life. Some are vulgarly rich, while others are the poorest of the poor. Yet, they all call God "Abba, Father"! It became more obvious to me a few years back when I was teaching in a Bible College in Chennai. In those days, I used to have the privilege to minister the Word in different congregations in the city. One Sunday, I would be with a group of believers where some of them would come in the best cars. The very next Sunday I would be with another group where they worship sitting on the floor and where some of them just survive on the meager old age pension. Yet the worship services in both the groups were heartfelt and real. While being bewildered about the disparity among the children of God, I was asked once by a youth group to give a talk on overcoming temptations. Obviously, I had to turn to the passage of the Scripture which talked about temptations and it took me directly to James 1.
As I studied the passage, I got the answer to my long awaited question. Yes, indeed, the question of disparity among believers regarding their status in life and possession of material goods!
From James 1:2 & 3, we get the understanding that temptations are really occasions when our faith is under trial. When we are under severe trials, naturally there come the temptations to give up or fall short of our faith life. Thus every temptation is a trial of our faith and with every trial there is a temptation to fall short as well.
James talks about trials and temptations and then he goes on in v.12 to talk about the same issue once again. In between these, two topics are discussed which look rather unrelated to the subject of trials and temptations, in the first reading. For example, in vv.5-8 James talks about asking God in faith for wisdom. This is a passage which is usually quoted out of its context. People usually use this passage to tell someone, who lacks general wisdom, that they need to ask God in faith for the same. Of course, this is absolutely true! But that is NOT what is intended by this passage. In its context, the passage admonishes us to ask God for wisdom to understand that temptations are indeed trials of our faith! Many well meaning believers do not understand that, when we are tempted to do some thing wrong, our faith is under trial and by falling into temptations, we are indeed falling short of our faith. In v.2 James is talking about manifold temptations. It simply means that every situation in life is a trial of our faith. In every situation, we are asked to remain blameless and harmless children of God in this crooked and perverse generation, holding fast the word of truth (Phil.2:14-6). When we get this truth straight, we will be very careful not to yield to temptations. Let us remember that every situation in life is a trial of our faith.
Trial Of Faith
Then the next topic, which looks rather unrelated to our subject of trials and temptations, is found in vv.9-11 where James talks about the rich and the poor, and how they are to behave. The poor are asked to glory in their high estate and the rich are asked to be humble, acknowledging the transient nature of their earthly riches. James is NOT talking about a totally unrelated topic. On the other hand, what James tells us here is that status in life is a trial of our faith. By knowing this fact, both the poor and the rich believers must make sure that their status in life should not become a platform for sinning against the Lord. We know from observation that many people give themselves to sinful ways of living due to their poverty. They indulge in things which will bring them some easy money. Very often they turn out to be sinful ways. We know others who indulge in various sins because of their affluence and wealth. What James tries to tell us is that status in life is indeed a trial of our faith. Some are tried by being made poor, while others are tried by being made rich! It is God Almighty in His wisdom who decides what is to be given to each. We are clearly told in the Scripture that no one receives anything except it is given from above (Jn.3:27). In His sovereign will, He decides whom to give what (Acts 17:26; Deut.37:8). Every believer must know that status in life is given as a trial of his faith!
Rich In Faith
Since God is an impartial giver (Jas.1:17), James tells us that the poor brother must glory in his high estate which he now enjoys in Christ. Later in 2:5, James tells us that God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith. 1 Cor.12:25 gives us a wonderful insight into God's way of doing things. He arranges the body in such a way giving more honour to that part which lacks. So, every believer who is poor in this world must look into his life clearly to see what God has given to him to compensate his lack of material wealth. He must then use it (may be a talent or a spiritual gift) for God's glory-thus enjoying a cheerful life before God, instead of contemplating about the lack that he has in his life, or murmuring about it, and thus living a life below the standard of God.
When I visited a relative of mine, who owns a huge mansion is a hill station, I saw a wall text in their sitting room. It read, "the poorest man on earth is the one who has money as his only wealth." What a true statement!
On the other hand, the rich are asked to remember the transitory nature of this world's wealth. They are asked to recognise the fact that, that which God has given into their hands is really one of a lower status, that is the perishing wealth, and that they should think of using it for God's glory, instead of indulging themselves in unwanted worldly luxuries. It is the Lord who gives strength to earn wealth that He may establish His covenant (Deut. 8:18). In Luke16, where we read of the wicked steward, we are asked to make use of the unrighteous mammon in our hands to earn friends for ourselves who will welcome us into eternal habitations when this wealth would fail us one day (v.9). Simply put, the Lord is asking us to spend as much of 'our' money as we can for the extension of His kingdom.
The Bible teaches us that all wealth belongs to God (Hag.2:8). Therefore, every one who possesses it is just a steward of it and must one day give an account of it as to how it was handled. No one who is unfaithful in this temporary material wealth, will ever be given true spiritual wealth which are of permanent value (Lk.16:11). God is testing a 'rich' believer by giving material wealth to see if he would be worthy to receive spiritual wealth which will never be taken away from him! William Macdonald has rightly said that any money spent on ourselves is finished with the using and any money which is spent on others or for the Kingdom would have its dividends both here and now, and in eternity. Our status in life is indeed a trial of our faith and let us live worthy of our vocation when it comes to looking at riches or poverty of this world in the lives of believers.
The riches of this world is the portion God has allotted to the people of this world as their portion (Psa. 17:14) and a believer should NEVER aspire for the same; instead, we are asked to have our treasure laid up in heaven which will never perish (Matt.6:19,20). Gladly, the perishable wealth of this world could be made use of to earn imperishable wealth in heaven, if handled in the fear of God and for His glory. May He give us grace.