[Dec 12]—Warnings And Encouragement

            One of the recurring complaints over the ages is that the rich regularly oppress the poor. Despite our best attempts at an egalitarian society in which everyone is equal before the law, we’d have to be naïve to think that the rich don’t have some unfair advantages over the less well off. At bare minimum, if you’re wealthy you can hire a much more talented attorney to represent you in court. In some cases you might be able to bribe a judge or other official. But as bad as anyone thinks it is today in modern-day America, it was far worse in James’s day and throughout history, and around the world this condition has been pretty much ubiquitous to some degree or another. Quite frankly, it’s part of the sinful human condition. We might be able mitigate it, but we’ll never eliminate it.
            In case you’re just joining us and aren’t familiar with my teaching on wealth and poverty, here we are (with apologies to those who’ve heard this before): Based on the context of Scripture, being rich is not a sin in and of itself, nor is poverty necessarily meritorious. However, material wealth is a very dangerous blessing; rich people have a tendency to trust in their own resources instead of the Lord, and they also tend to place an undue value on wealth. They also might be workaholics and neglect more important things in life, like their families. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, both in Scripture and in daily life: Abraham, Isaac, Job, David, and Joseph of Arimathea are good examples. But in general, the ranks of the redeemed have come from the poorer classes far more than the richer ones. I’d also like to remind you that if you live in America, you’re almost certainly more wealthy and prosperous and live a higher standard of living than about 90% of the world today and about 99% of the people throughout history.
            Most of the original readers of James’s letter were not rich. So why would he write a passage like vss. 1-6, addressing and condemning the rich for abusing those less well-off than themselves? There are at least two good explanations: 1) He’s letting the poor among his readers know that God is not ignoring what’s being done to them, and this leads into vss. 7-11 where he’s calling for patience and trust in the Lord’s timing. 2) There might have been some wealthy members in the church, and James was calling them out on practices which were NOT acceptable.
            I’d hope that for all of us who’re Americans that we wouldn’t be guilty of flagrant abuses of the poor like those James condemns in the first six verses. Hopefully you aren’t withholding the wages of the poor when they’re dependent on that for their daily food. Of course, all of us who frequent restaurants need to be careful to be extra extra extra generous in our tipping of our servers, who are dependent on our tips. If not, that’d be a shame and completely inconsistent with how good the Lord’s been to us.
            But all of us who are comparatively wealthy need to continually examine our attitudes re: our wealth and possessions. Do we inordinately value things which will one day be nothing but dust and ashes? Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, liked to point out that according to the Bible, there are only going to be three things which we can invest in which will last forever: 1) God, 2) the word of God, and 3) the souls of men. To the degree I’m investing in one or more of those things every day, I’m investing in something eternal. To the degree I’m investing in anything else, I’m pouring myself into something that’ll be dust and ashes someday.
            Verses 7-12 are addressed to the “have-nots,” which would be the vast majority of the book’s readers over the millennia. When someone more powerful than us oppresses us or does us harm, like the rich he condemned earlier, we desperately need the corrective of the eternal perspective: “When you’re going through really bad times, keep in mind that this is as close to Hell as you’re ever going to get. When you see a lost man, remember that unless God gets a hold of him, this’ll be the only Heaven he ever sees.”
            We just have to be patient, like the proverbial farmer. The farmer can plow and sow and weed, but he has to wait patiently for the rains to come: He can’t do a thing to make them come any faster than the Lord's going to send them. We have to wait for his timing, which is never early but never ever ever late. And while you’re undergoing all this, one sign that you are being patient is that you refrain from grumbling against each other. When the tough times come, that’s the time when we need to turn to each other and be the Body of Christ we’re supposed to be; that’s the worst time for us to turn on each other.
            There’s a reason why the Lord put stories like Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s and Amos’s in his word: They went through much tougher times and opposition and oppression by the powerful than most of us will ever experience. They made it through much worse with the Lord’s help, and so can we. At any point in their suffering, I’m sure that the thought went thru their head: “This just isn’t worth it. I do the right thing, I warn my people about the judgment to come, and in return they do nothing but spit on me and throw me into prison. No, it’s not worth it.” But they killed those thoughts in their cribs and went forward, and now we honor them. And of course any honor we give them down here is dust and ashes compared to what they’ve received in Glory.     
             It’s the exact same thing with Job. You can read almost any of Job’s not-so-very-subtle complaints against the Lord in the book that bears his name, and you know that he only came to peace after some very strenuous wrestling with his Maker. And in the end. . . one face-to-face encounter with the Lord stilled his doubts and complaints, and God more than made up for his losses even while Job was still alive, much less in Glory.
            It all comes down to the eternal perspective. We all lose it from time to time, and keeping it would make such a difference in every area of our lives, not just the ones we’ve talked about today.
            Just a word about verse 12: This doesn’t seem to be directly connected to the verses immediately prior, at least in any way I was able to discover from the resources I could find. Like we said before, although James doesn’t talk a lot about the Master, he sure does talk a lot like the Master. This is almost an almost word-for-word restatement of Matt. 5:33-37. If you’re interested, I spoke in more detail about the passage in Matthew here, but here’s the bottom line for me: People who claim to be followers of the Truth Incarnate need to demonstrate this in their speech. We shouldn’t be the type of people who require a stack of Bibles to make someone believe us. When we say something, people should know that we mean what we say and say what we mean.
            As they say, right now impacts eternity.

Father God, I forget this way too often. I just live in the now, and forget that I’m made for eternity, and that should change everything I think and say and do. Please let this truth impact me more. 

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