Your first response may be, “Is there a difference?”
Yes, certainly. Rich and poor people think differently. How you perceive wealth influences your thinking about life around you. I think most of us inherently know there is a difference.
If you perceive yourself to be wealthy, you probably see money as a tool to use to leverage in order to get more money. This vantage point will help you develop your creativity, investing what you have in an effort to see it multiply.
If you perceive yourself as poor, you probably see money as something that would make your life better – if you can only figure out a way to get more of it. Occasionally, at least in America, you begin to develop an entitlement mindset where you believe you are owed something from those around you.
Generally speaking, often those with wealth are perceived as sneering at those without it. Likewise, often those without wealth are perceived as judgmental of anyone with wealth wondering where and how they got it and on whose back.
If you are a follower of Christ, there is a third option: thinking about wealth from a Christ-centered perspective.
The Third Way
Soon after the establishment of the church in Jerusalem, James, the church’s first pastor, wrote a letter to Christians everywhere who were undergoing extremely tough circumstances. Many of them had fled Jerusalem because of intense persecution, an economic downturn, and harsh climate conditions. Most of these first believers were poor and destitute; many struggled maintaining life’s necessities. There were also some, on the other hand, who were wealthy and did have sufficient funding for their life choices and wants. James writes pastoral instruction to both groups seeking them to consider the third way – a Christ-centered view.
To the poor:
“Now the believer of humble means should take pride in his high position” (James 1:9).
What?! James tells the poor person to take pride in his high position? Yes. Surprising, isn’t it? James wants the poor believer to take pride in his position. When he says to take pride in his position, he means to rejoice or glory in God for His grace and work in the believer’s life in Christ. Furthermore, the exalted position refers to the poor person’s relationship with Christ and its resultant benefits.
James understands the common temptation of the poor – to primarily focus on what they do not have. The poor could use so many things that might make life easier, more comfortable, healthier, and on and on. In the midst of poverty, it is hard to see past the immediate needs and desires. Every time the poor turn on the television, look in a magazine, peruse the paper, or walk through a store, they are bombarded with “things” that would make life better, more perfect, satisfying.
Day after day of seeing advertisements, observing people, and hearing how great life would be with one more thing creates a deeper gulch of disappointment, discontentment, despair and sometimes depression. It becomes increasingly impossible to find joy, satisfaction or pleasure in the life they have. Instead, life is full of the attitude, “if only I had…” A different car, motorcycle, truck. A different house, apartment, to just own your own home. A different job, position, vocation. A different outfit, shoes, purse. “If I could just get that then my life would be better, more complete, more successful, more worth living.”
James does not want the poor to live there. His concern is the unhelpful focus on wealth and what the world can provide as a solution to one’s problems. He strives to take the focus off the horizontal plane of things you can touch, taste, feel, see, smell and hear. Instead, he wants the poor believer-in-Christ to focus vertically and consider his or her position in Christ. Further, a lack of wealth is the circumstances in which God is doing the work of helping this believer grow in Christ-likeness. James understands that when individuals get frustrated with their personal circumstances, then those same individuals will miss God’s greater and better plan for them (James 1:2-8, 12). God is providentially using the lack of wealth in His plan to help this believer grow in Christ. Therefore, James is imploring them to quit looking horizontally primarily; instead, focus on Jesus and what is received by grace through Him.
Consider the following vertical truths upon which to focus as a believer in Christ:
You have Christ.
You are a Son/Daughter of God.
You are in union with Christ; you are in Christ.
You are seated in the heavenly places in Christ.
You are forgiven.
You are accepted by God as if you were His Son, Jesus.
You are redeemed, secured by the Holy Spirit.
You are going to live for eternity in Heaven.
For all these things we praise God and recognize God’s grace, love and eternal provision. If we have the eyes of our heart focused on Christ, the cross, the Gospel, and our future eternity with Jesus, then it gives us a true perspective on all the things we don’t have in our current circumstance. James wants us to live with this perspective.
To the rich:
“But the rich person’s pride should be in his humiliation,
because he will pass away like a wildflower in the meadow.
For the sun rises with its heat and dries up the meadow;
the petal of the flower falls off
and its beauty is lost forever.
So also the rich person in the midst of his pursuits will wither away (James 1:10-11)..
What?! James tells the rich person to take pride in his humiliation? Yes. Again, surprising, isn’t it? James wants the rich believer to take pride in his position in Christ and future humiliation. In his position, the rich are similar to the poor – in Christ, justified, forgiven. The future humiliation refers to the rich person’s ultimate end – all die.
James understands the common temptation of the rich – to primarily focus on what they have. As they do, the rich’s confidence is in personal acumen, personal skill, wise investing, and on and on. The rich live comfortable lives. They get most of what they want. They still strive for more though – it’s a common human weakness. At times, the rich knowingly make decisions and deals that potentially disadvantage or hurt the poor. Fundamentally, the rich functionally live as if there is no need for God; they work, rest and play independently from any Godward perspective.
James reminds the rich that life is still to be lived in reference to Christ. He uses the illustration of the wildflower as his evidence. Just as the wildflower withers in the scorching heat and wind, the rich too will fade. What seemed so beautiful, satisfying and pleasurable is gone. Just like that. What may have seemed difficult to grow and maintain is now worthless. His point: the rich person is just like the wildflower. The rich person dies while in normal, daily life – possibly even suddenly.
This guaranteed future is the humiliation James is referencing. Bottom line: the rich die just like the poor. All people die. The person with the most toys doesn’t win; he dies. You can’t take anything to eternity with you. The proper perspective on wealth is straightforward: if you have possessions now, be grateful and careful not to trust in the riches rather than God. God is dependable; riches are transitory. When considering the illustration James provides, the rich should anticipate losing all their riches at some point. It is just a matter of time. The rich then must learn to live with the constant threat of losing their riches. Further, as long as they have riches, live as a good steward of what God has given today, right now. Live as one who is dependent upon Christ and not wealth or social position; this is true humiliation.
As an in-Christ person who is also rich, we praise God and recognize God’s grace, love and eternal provision. If we have the eyes of our heart focused on Christ, the cross, the Gospel, and our future eternity with Jesus, then it gives us a true perspective on all the things we do have in our current circumstance – things for which to be grateful, steward, and share. James wants us to live with this perspective.
The Third Way – a Christ-centered Perspective
If you do not have wealth, remember your focus should be vertically on Christ and the benefits you receive as the true, permanent riches you enjoy. God is using your current circumstance to help you become more like Christ in daily living. Therefore, be grateful even in difficult circumstances.
If you have wealth, be grateful for God’s gracious provision. Your wealth does not make you different though essentially from the poor: you both die, enter into eternity as equals-in-Christ, and enjoy Christ forever. Your wealth is transitory; only your relationship with Christ is eternal.
One should not take pride in possessions, but in Christ alone. Your possessions were never intended to bring you ultimate satisfaction; your ultimate satisfaction is in Christ alone. The Christ, Who we serve and worship, was the One truly despised and rejected by the world. We serve Him in recognition of His love for us in the exalted yet humble position of a servant. We enjoy the true riches of His grace while being a steward of whatever wealth He may give to us temporarily today.
What’s Your Perspective?
How much influence does wealth play on your heart and in your life? With what or whom do you identify? Are you more passionate about wealth than you are Christ? Do you ever miss eternity in your view of life-lived?