Summary: Message 11 in James Series. God never judges by a bank account, or a statement of worth. He looks for righteousness and where it is lacking, His judgment follows. Riches are morally neutral, neither good nor evil. Wealth is like fire — very useful, but al
In his three years of life, Bobby has seen an undue share of suffering. Born in Southern California to a drug-addicted mother, Bobby went through withdrawal at the age of two weeks. He has lived in two foster homes, barely survived a life-threatening case of spinal meningitis, and is now back with his natural mother despite allegations by her relatives that she has abused Bobby and his three siblings.
...Mary grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, in a home headed by her single mother, an alcoholic. By age 12 Mary had been moved into foster care. At 15, she was pregnant with her first child. She and the baby were then put into separate foster homes. At 16, Mary is pregnant again.
...These are children at risk. The dangers to them are formidable and tragic enough: threats of lifelong ill health—most likely not covered by any kind of health insurance; of dropping out of school; of going on the welfare roles and never getting off [Susan Champlin Taylor, "A Promise at Risk: Can America Rouse Itself to Conquer the Perils Facing its Children", Modern Maturity, August September, 1989, p. 32].
Bobby and Mary are two of the 13 million American children who live in poverty. Children now make up the largest segment of America’s poor population.
The Los Angeles Times published a series of articles on L A’s slums. Penelope McMillan told of a young refugee who lives in a fleabag hotel in Los Angeles.
Maria Figueroa has bought cans of Black Flag to fight cockroaches, and set traps to catch mice. She has nailed boards across one screenless window—so the children won’t fall out. She has put a large piece of plywood over another window—to prevent stray bullets from fights in the street from shattering the glass above her bed.
The 22-year-old Salvadoran immigrant—one of perhaps 450,000 people who the city estimates live in slum conditions in Los Angeles—so far has refused to surrender to the challenges of living in a little square box of a room at the Cameo Hotel.
Most of her time is spent confined to this 12-by-12 foot space, which she shares with her two little girls and her two brothers, who recently fled El Salvador. She, Claudia, 1 1/2, and Yaritsa, 3, share the double bed while the brothers sleep on the floor.
”We find ourselves under these circumstances,” she says without a trace of self-pity, “but we can’t afford to get a better place.”
Figueroa and other tenants [actually] say the building is a much better place than it was a few months ago. The rats and maggots that fed on human excrement and garbage in the halls and stairwells are gone. So are the winos and addicts who crept in at night to sleep in the passageways [Penelope McMillan, "Life Inside L. A’s Slums: A Window on Despair," Los Angeles Times, August 2, 1989].
Former Los Angeles City Attorney and later Mayor, James Hahn brought suit against the hotel owners and their lending institutions. The charge was “milking the building for profit and failing to maintain it.”
The abuse of the poor is an age-old story. James addressed it in 46 A.D. Before we examine the first six verses of James 5, let’s get a biblical perspective on wealth and poverty.
I. A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE ON WEALTH AND POVERTY
The Creator gave the first human pair a whole world to enjoy, making it obvious that possessions are not wrong in themselves. The eighth commandment says, “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15). One person, clearly, must own something before another can steal it. The Book of Acts tells of worship in the early Christians’ homes. Some in Acts 4 gave their possessions away, but those who retained their property were not considered as sub-par Christians.
The Bible nowhere condemns wealth. It just insists that the rich must be responsible, and aware of the perils of wealth. The most important aspect of money management is the control of our attitude towards it. Money is not “the root of all evil” as Paul is often misquoted. His actual words are, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).
Failure to prioritize is a great hazard of prosperity. Don’t ask, “How much can I make?” “How much can I spend?” “How important can I be?” The proper question is “How much can I bless with the wealth God has entrusted to me?”
James did not consider it a sin to be rich. His concern was with the abuse of riches that caused God to be forgotten. In chapter 4 he criticized plans that failed to include God. Now he advises those who use their wealth as if there is no accountability to God to “...weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.”