“Has not God 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
Given James’s harshness on discrimination and favouritism a few verses earlier, the opening verse might seem oddly placed. It sounds as if James is saying the poor have an advantage when it comes to the kingdom of God. They do not, for we all stand on level ground before God. But James is saying the poor regularly lead the way in spiritual life and vitality.
While teaching in the temple courts, Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31). The Jewish leaders thought their adherence to the law made them spiritually rich, but it was tax collectors and prostitutes who recognized their spiritual poverty and were drawn to Jesus. Similarly, it is often the financially poor who respond to the Gospel because they know what it means to be in need. They are often more willing to depend on someone greater than themselves than a rich person who has always provided for themselves. In fact, a common missionary strategy is to start with the poor, because as their lives are changed by coming to know Jesus, others will notice and believe.
Riches, on the other hand, are much more likely to corrupt. There was a study done at Berkeley University that looked for a correlation between people’s behaviour and their economic standing. One of the study’s conclusions was, “As you move up the class ladder, you are more likely to violate the rules of the road, to lie, to cheat, to take candy from kids, to shoplift and to be tightfisted in giving to others.” James concurs, “Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of Him to whom you belong?” (2:6-7). Wealth often brings with it a sense of entitlement, which can lead the rich to bully those they feel are less entitled.
These are general trends, not hard rules. The rich are not all corrupt, nor are the poor all virtuous. For instance, Job, whom God Himself called “blameless and upright,” was exceptionally wealthy (Job 1:3, 8). Wealth in and of itself is neutral; the danger is in the significance we attach to it. We all need money to survive, but loving money makes it difficult to recognize our need for Christ and easily corrupts behaviour. As Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have,” for in being content, we find confidence and joy in the Lord.
Prayer: Gracious God, thank You for all the good things You have blessed me with. Place within me a generous heart, one that is content with what I have.