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James 1:9-13 “Circumspect Circumstances” 6/12/16
We should be cautious about how we look at people regarding their money. We should be circumspect about their circumstances. This is what I mean. It may seem that the people with the highest education are the ones who have the least amount of debt. But in fact, a 2011 study said the most vulnerable segment of our population to file for bankruptcy are those with college education and good jobs- because of student loans. I remember a woman, now dead who came across to everyone as having a lot of money. She would talk a good money talk. But in fact, and I knew this and took her secret with me to her grave, she had absolutely nothing and what she had- her nice house and car were in deep debt because of some hidden bad investments she had made. We should not need to put on masks about money. James is saying here- that money is not the main thing. In God’s eyes, in God’s house we are all equal. We all have the same DNA, chemistry, same breath of God in us. We will also end up leaving everything we have behind us. We have been given different measures of gifts to take care of.
The world will tell us to be proud of our wealth, and that the poor are not “worth” much. This passage reminds us that it is not money that counts. Jesus had nothing. He had no house. He had no car- and had to borrow a donkey for the parade on Palm Sunday coming into Jerusalem as a king. Someone had made him a seamless robe, but even that was taken from him on the cross. Jesus said “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” In many ways he was meek- and one way was he had no worldly stuff to be proud of. He owned it all but He gave it all up. Everyone knows the name Jesus now. Every country has His followers in them. Most tribes and language groups have his words translated in their language. He, the meek One, has inherited the earth. But James, the brother of Jesus, tells us that we too should be careful.
This passage is not contrasting someone who is a Christian and is poor with someone who is not a Christian who is rich. James refers to both as brothers- part of the family of faith. But each has a different challenge. Let’s look at the challenges of believers in different situations, and then the challenge to all of us not to get angry with God.
- THE POOR MAY REJOICE THAT THEY HAVE BEEN MADE RICH. The poor may be down hearted because it is hard to make it. They may worry about not being able to make it. The temptation for the poor- or the Middle Class is to simply compare themselves to the very wealthy and begin to think that all their needs will be met if they just had more money. Money does not necessarily protect us from spiritual temptation- in fact it could easily cause us to lose our faith if we are not careful. It is the wise man that realizes that everyone has needs- no matter what physical blessings we have.
At presbytery meeting Rev. Michael Wells. PCUSA missionary to Ethiopia, talked about three children who traveled for weeks to a church in Ethiopia from South Sudan with their aunt. Their parents had both been killed in a raid on their town which is now destroyed. The aunt said they were looking for a place with a cross on it because they knew they would receive them with hospitality and rejoice with them to God that they were able to make it. That is what the cross does. At the foot of the cross the orphan and widow and those in abject poverty have value. Elizabeth was a girl rescued by International Justice Ministries in Southeast Asia. She had been sold into slavery by her aunt. It is hard to imagine what could drive a woman to sell her niece into slavery. But International Justice Ministries, a Christian organization, rescued her from her slaveholders. We need to try to have the eyes of Jesus. In the eyes of Jesus, each one of us is of value- we are more valuable than money. He died for all those who believe no matter what we look like, or where we were born, or how rich or how much education we have. He loves us all, and invites us to not put these artificial constructs on people so that we value them only for their money
- THE WEALTHY MAY REJOICE THAT THEY HAVE FOUND BETTER RICHES- The challenge to the rich is not to become arrogant or proud. The wealthy are not to put their trust in riches, but in the riches that never fade- the gold of the gospel.
Riches will fade away (1:11). You cannot take it with you. As Billy Graham used to say, “I never saw a U Haul behind a hearse.” Yesterday a two story lake home burned down off St. Thomas Church Rd. When someone has a house fire it is devastating. Your memories, the things you worked for are gone. One minute you are being careful to clean your house and mow your grass and then the next there is no house. We should work not for the worldly gifts, but the good and perfect gift that comes from God above (1:19); James is teaching us that life’s greatest and most important needs are met only by Him.
Both rich and poor are called to have the same priorities- the Lord. Do not let the lack of things or the abundance of things take away your love.
In 1926 F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The rich are different from you and me.” This is true in some ways, but this is also an illusion. The wealthy (those who make over $150k) are more likely to be married and stay married and have a higher education (Pew Research 8/27/12). Statistics say that the wealthy in America are not necessarily happier than anyone else after they have their basic needs met. The children of the wealthy are more likely to be depressed, face stress to be their best and anxiety and drug abuse, and ironically are more likely to steal or cheat. I still am amazed that a defense for a 16 year old boy in Texas who killed four in a drunk driving was that he was a victim of “affluenza” which is defined by the psychologist as “painful socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting in a dogged pursuit of more.” One study found that the rich adults outdrink the poor adults by 27%; the very wealthy are generally more depressed; and study after study shows in general that the more you have the less empathy you have for those who do not have. It boggles my mind that the wealthy give a third less percentage of their income to charity than the poor. For the last twenty years there has been a growing income gap between rich and poor, shrinking the middle class.
III. DO NOT BLAME GOD- There is a sense in which God is at fault for everything. He made all that is, and He made reality. But, today especially, when things go wrong we are quick to blame God for things for which He is not culpable. We make a choice in this. We can choose to be angry or we can choose to seek peace. This is true no matter what our income level. This passage says don’t blame God if you are tempted, but you must also realize God cannot be tempted. In other words, you can blame God all you want, but that does not faze God. God is wiser than us- and we would be wise to trust Him rather than blame Him. If anything, God is usually saving our bacon from the times we mess up. Many people blame God for their trouble and their evil. But such blame is often just superficial and shallow.
We pray, “Lead us not into temptation”- and that is a prayer that God would keep us- preserve us- lead us away from temptation. It is not an admission that God tempts us. One person who had a nationwide religious program received hundreds of thousands of letters each week. He said the number one biblical question people had was about this phrase in the Lord’s prayer. It seemed many falsely thought God leads us into temptation and we must beg him to stop it. James is tell us this is not how we should interpret this. We should pray that God would lead us away from it. We need to face temptation in three ways:
1) Do not blame God for the temptation; 2) Know that God provides a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13); 3) Pray that God will keep us from temptation. Everyone is tempted- it is part of human nature. Jesus was tempted. But we need to ask God to keep us from overwhelming temptation. Part of praying this prayer is that we also try to not lead ourselves into tempting situations. Know what tempts you- and avoid those things as if they would give you the zika virus. Do not tempt yourself with money. The Bible says the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Do not look up or down on anyone because they have money. Instead value all people as souls that God made and potentially Jesus died for.