Before I became a Christian and even when I was a “baby Christian” I’d hear a lot of phrases from the Bible thrown about by believers and non-believers. Passages such as “judge not, lest you be judged” (Matt 7:1) and “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13) are frequently taken out of context and misused. And then there’s the quotes that aren’t even in the Bible such as, “God helps those who help themselves,” “God will never give you more than you can handle,” and “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” While all those sound good, we must always be careful not to put words in God’s mouth. Along with all of these I think one of the most misunderstood concepts people have is about being wealthy. Non-believers will use this against successful Christians. And believers sometimes think having wealth is a sin. When Jesus said,
This was in response to asking a wealthy ruler to give up all his power and wealth and come follow Him. The ruler was very sad because he was very wealthy and he wasn’t all that honest. It’s necessary to know that no one is saved by giving up all their wealth. What Jesus was really asking of the ruler was to be honest about what he coveted. There was much more going on in this story than a man being told to give up his wealth to follow Jesus. This is why I keep hearing over and over these days to not just read the Bible but to study it. Take, for instance, this famous poem by William Wadsworth:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze …“I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud“
If we were to just read it for what it basically says we would think he was a lonely man who thought he was a cloud. And when he saw some flowers he thought they were actually dancing. Sounds like someone on drugs. But when we study the poem, we find a beautiful short tale about a man who loves nature and finds joy whenever he sees daffodils. Therein lies the need for great Biblical teachers and pastors.
As we explore the last chapter of James, we find him being very angry with the wealthy members of the church. Not because they are wealthy, but just like the ruler Jesus admonished, they have turned their wealth into their god. They have cheated and lied all in the name of increasing their wealth. How many of us today covet our bank account in lieu of helping those in need? As an American, even our poorest are considered wealthy in relation to other countries. Just having a home, a steady job, owning one or two cars, having three meals a day, a closet full of clothes, a tv and more, far and away exceed what others have. And none of that is wrong. James condemns the wrong use of riches – using wealth as a weapon rather than a tool to build others up. I’ve heard so many people over the years actually worry that Jesus will ask them to give up all their money and become a poor missionary. I say, if that’s truly what you are worried about then be careful, that just might be what God asks you to do!
James doesn’t stop there. Our lack of patience, our lies (both little and big), our lazy prayer life, and our lack of desire to help our fellow Christians grow and be their best in the eyes of Christ, are all on display this week in James 5.
If we aren’t careful so much of James can turn into one of those misused verses or phrases. If we remember two things as we work on the final week of this study let them be this: 1) it is always about what is in our heart that Jesus cares about and 2) thankfully we are given grace each and every time we confess that we have forgotten the first.