My View on Wealth and Poverty
One of the most important things in understanding one’s writing, especially biblical writers, is to consider the context of their ideas. In the book of James, the context always plays an important role in understanding his point or idea. James’ primary intention in writing about wealth and poverty lies in the context of seeking God’s wisdom. James, in his epistle, pointed out the need of wisdom in several ways of life. These are through spiritual life (4:1-12), commercial life (4:13-17), the use of wealth (5:1-6), the waiting for the Lord (5:7-12), prayer life (5:13-18), and restoring an erring Christian (5:19-20). The primary intent of all the ideas is to teach us that when we are struggling, we should ask God for wisdom.
In stressing on the use of wealth, James stated that rich Christians should rejoice when they are made low through divine trials (1:10). He then warns those wealthy Jews who took advantage of the oppressed that their riches would someday perish; their selfishness and fraud would affect their judgment and their tradition would one day no longer be tolerated. Jesus teaches these words, “A person who gains the whole world but loses his soul has no profit at all.” (Matt.16:26)
James is not an anti-rich person. He only emphasized the evil ways of using their wealth. Christians can be rich as long as they use their wealth to glorify God. However, being poor is not “absolutely” special to God, because poor people may still be unrighteous. The impression of the Old Testament somehow affected our idea that poor people are righteous and special to God. However, as believers, rich or poor, should seek to live a godly life to glorify God.
The Church in its biblical tradition addresses rich people, who often in their covetousness have accumulated excessive wealth at the expense of the poor, and also poor people, who in their impoverished are homeless, starving, sick, illiterate and suffering. Therefore, James is urging God’s people to be charitable to one another as faithful expression of their communion with God. This should be shown through believer’s life, they should not put wealth at the center of their life, instead, use it as resources to promote good living.
Thus, James insisted that Christians must live out on these conviction concerning wealth and poverty. Those who love the Lord should not allow their status in life to affect the way they treat others, either exalting the rich or dishonoring the poor in their midst. Christians must live in faith, hope and love towards other people. Be doers of the Word not just talkers.
I think it is quite clear in James that being wealthy does not makes us unrighteous and not special to God while poverty cannot “absolutely” make us righteous and special to God. The bible does not say that we should not become rich or we must be poor to be closer to God. However, Jesus was quite consistent in warning us not to invest our treasures here on Earth but to lay our treasures in Heaven. Because moths and rusts can destroy treasures on earth, and thieves can break in and steal (this is saying that these are all temporary) while treasures in heaven cannot spoil because of their eternal value. (Matt. 6:20) Here, what we do with our wealth and how we cope with poverty reveals and at the same time shapes, our human identity. The way we use, own, acquire, and dispense material resources symbolizes, expresses, and influences other people’s notion of good life; without considering the fact that we cannot bring earthly treasures in heaven.
Jesus in the parable of the rich man (Luke 12:15-21) explicitly and emphatically rejects the identification of good life with an abundance of possessions. The rich man in the story is not a fool because he is rich; he is a fool because he identifies his very existence with the security he thinks comes from having grain stored in barns. The attempt to win life from possessions is folly. However, this does not suggest that earthly things are evil. According to Paul in his first letter to Timothy, “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” Nor is wealth a wicked thing in itself. In fact, Jesus told his disciples to use wealth to make friends for the age to come (Luke 16:9).
Therefore, my stand is that generally wealth is good as long as it does not result from the oppression of the needy or become a false source of security and hope, and positively, it should bring glory to God.