James Understanding of Wealth

When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing. [James 1:9-11]

James is a rather interesting book. In fact, Luther, Calvin and others wanted the Letter from James removed [Luther also wanted the letter of Jude, Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, and John’s Revelations removed as well]. While some say it was because of issues over authorship, Luther himself said it had more to do with what James had to say, and nothing to do with authorship. As we get deeper into James’ letter, we can see why Luther, and other church leaders, might have an issue with his letter.

So, let’s continue our look into James:

What I have always found fascinating is, when I look at commentaries, or read sermons on this section of James’ letter, most of 9-11 is ignored, as if it was not written. When I have been able to find a commentary, or comments, on 9-11 it always centers on how the poor should be happy that money means nothing to the Divine.

In 9-11 we read what James has to say about the arrogant rich.

The first thing James shares is the reality that, “prosperity is as short-lived…” We tend to place great value on wealth in a consumer/capitalist culture. One of the reasons I tend to think Calvin did not like James is that for Calvinists, the more you have the closer to God you are. People with great wealth are godly, and great people. James counters that reality with his honest reality that wealth means nothing, nothing. It is not how much you have, but what you do with what you have that counts.

The second thing James shares is that the “prosperity gospel” is invalid, and not even close to the good news of Jesus. Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” When we center our faith on the accumulation of wealth, we miss out of the story of Jesus. We twist, and misquote lines in scripture to “prove” we are only blessed when we have as much as we can get.

For James, money and the accumulation of “things” means nothing. James teachings center on what we do for others, how we interact with and help others. For James, our faith live should be a faith life of actions, not collection. As we walk deeper into James we will be hit with ideas that run counter to what our culture teaches, and what some churches teach us.

As for me, I’m looking forward to the ride.