Rags to Riches

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, March 17, 2019 0 comments

by Logan Ames

Recently I saw the following quote on Facebook from a man whose source of income is providing several different types of services for his personal clientele: “Rich and successful folks might be the worst tippers on the planet." Obviously, that’s a matter of opinion and very much a generalization that was based on the person’s own experiences on this given day. But it made me think about how those who have a lot of material wealth and have made it their priority so easily forget about appreciating the labor of others, which made me think of 1 Timothy 6:10a: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." Many who are rich are unable to find satisfaction. They are constantly looking for more or paranoid of losing what they have. Because they are focused on themselves and their “stuff," they tend to forget about the troubles of the poor. Again, these things are not true of all “rich folks," but we can certainly agree that the attitudes do exist.

James tells us that we ought to see people the way God sees them, which would mean we hold those who are poor in this world in honor because God has chosen them for something much better beyond this world. In James 2:5-7, the writer acknowledges that some in his audience of early Jewish Christians have chosen to only see people according to their rags or their riches. He directly says to them, “But you have dishonored the poor” (v. 6). Those who wore rags for clothes because that’s all they could afford were generally treated with contempt. Those who dressed in fine linens and adornment were treated with high honor because of their wealth and status. James told his audience that they shouldn’t be favoring the wealthy in this way because in those days the rich exploited and oppressed those who were poor.

We can deduce from the way James writes, as well as the history of the early church, that the majority of believers were living in poverty. Acts 2:44-45 tells us that the believers stayed together and sold property and possessions so they could meet one another’s needs. As the early church was persecuted, there is no doubt that the believers experienced great personal loss, from homes to material possessions and eventually to physical pain and death. Siding with Jesus and His followers did not lead to worldly economic success. The rich not only exploited and oppressed the poor believers through physical persecution but also by “dragging them into court” (v. 6). Those who sought to destroy the early Christian movement were willing to use any means necessary to do so, whether legal or illegal. James never encouraged anyone to seek revenge or to show favoritism AGAINST the rich either. He just wanted the believers to know that to honor the rich just because of material things was to be siding with those who persecuted them and their Lord. It was counterproductive.

More importantly than the fact that it was counterproductive, James tells the believers the biggest reason they cannot show favoritism toward the rich is that God does not (James 2:1). In fact, there is a sense in which God has especially blessed the poor. James says He has “chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him” (James 2:5). He wants them to look at their material poverty not as a reminder of their earthly trials, but as an assurance of the eternal reward that awaits them if they continue to love Him and keep their faith. They might be wearing rags now, but it’s all temporary until they are given the riches of heaven. In contrast, the rich who they favor now have no such assurance, and everything they have will pass away if they do not have faith in Jesus.

There are two different ways in which we can say that God has “chosen the poor," and both are accurate. The first is that He has given the poor more opportunities for faith. Those who are poor in the world’s eyes can choose to look at their circumstances as opportunities to trust in God to carry them. So, just like those with the most money are richest in the world’s eyes, those who have the most opportunities to depend on God during trying times would be the richest in faith. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Christians in Corinth in a similar way in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

The other way that we can say that God has chosen the poor is that He literally entered our messed up world in poverty. He didn’t have to. God could’ve chosen to come down to our world with trumpets blaring, all the riches in the world, and undeniable power and authority. Instead, Jesus came into the world through a very poor family, to an unwed teenage girl whose family would struggle to make ends meet as long as they lived. Even when He went out and about for His three years of ministry, He didn’t stay in luxurious palaces. He stayed wherever people allowed Him to stay. This is why He told would-be disciples that they had to count the cost if they were going to follow him. In Matthew 8:20, “Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’" He also told the crowd in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." If God Himself was willing to choose the poor and to live among them on this earth in the person of Jesus, why would those who follow Jesus assume the rich should be more favored? Philippians 2:5-8 reminds us that we should be humble like Jesus, who set aside His nature as God, the wealthiest of all time, and took on the nature of an obedient servant. Servants were never rich in those days.

Friends, if you’ve been having financial troubles and looking at those who have money and seem to be financially set as sort of the “dream life," I encourage you to let your knowledge of the Lord change your perspective. If you are living paycheck-to-paycheck and can barely pay the bills each month, you have an opportunity to live in obedience to God and trust Him to replace those rags one day with riches in His kingdom. But this only happens “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:23). Refuse to chase after worldly, temporary wealth. Commit to viewing your struggles as unique opportunities that God chose to bless you with. Celebrate the assurance that you have in heaven with Him.

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