I want to start by stating outright that this is something that over the past 2 weeks, God has been challenging me about. Poverty. The area of North Belfast that I’m in has a lot of poverty as a result of people getting into debt and its something God has been putting on my heart. The figures in Northern Ireland are shocking. A piece of research carried out, I have it if your interested in it, concluded that in Northern Ireland 100,000 children live in poverty, with 44,000 of those living in severe poverty who’s families haven’t enough money for food. That means families living on £13 a day, I could eat that easy in food a day, thats how little it is. Kids go to school so dirty, with nits, torn clothes and underfed because their parents can’t afford them. Its such a sad outlook that we know nothing about.
I want to look at James 1:9, it says this:
9 Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honoured them.
There are a couple of things that struck me in reading this. Firstly “Believers who are poor have something to boast about”. So those who believe in God and are poor have something to boast about. Why? For the poor how can they boast, society accepts that the more you have the more you have e.g. The more money you have the more stuff you can buy, but the bible seems and does contradict this. James here wants us to realize that poor people aren’t in anyway second class but if we are poor and believe in Jesus then we are blessed. In fact later in James, he writes this about how we should react to people who are less fortunate than us:
1 My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favour some people over others? 2 For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewellery, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. 3 If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, 4 doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? 5 Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? 6 But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? 7 Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?
So clearly God doesn’t value wealth in money or things we gather up and again Jesus shows this in Matthew 19v24 where He says:
24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
And in Matthew 19:21, 22
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
These verses start to unravel what God values in terms of richness and why God can say at the end of James 1v9 that “God has honoured” the poor.
You see God values obedience. “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”. The rich young ruler was told to give up what he most loved and follow Jesus. This just happened to be money, possessions. It gives us a glimpse however of the danger of loving money. You see what we need to realize especially in our culture is that we have so much money and riches that it actually becomes a barrier between us and God, preventing us from wanting and feeling the need to be saved. This riches young ruler had this problem. His love for money out weighed his passion to follow Jesus. Is that us? Do we long after stuff rather than Jesus? I do at times, I want so many things that it starts to crowd vision for what God wants. I get greedy. This is why when James refers to the poor here in He says that those who are poor and believe in Jesus have much to boast about because God has honoured them. There isn’t going to be that barrier of money between them and God. We can see this in mission. People in countries with tribes who literally live of the land or countries with big style economic problems are more accepting to Jesus than that of here. Thats down to many things but the main root of it all is money. Have you ever wondered why we don’t have persecution over here? Maybe its because the devil is content with how engulfed in possessions we are, me especially when it comes to apple products, that he simply doesn’t need to persecute us. The poor can boast if they believe in Christ because money doesn’t come between them and God, they just rely on God for all their needs realizing that they cannot be self-sufficient but have to rely on God fully for everyday things like food. As a result of this they are closer with God and when He answers prayer they can boast about Him. Its not however the lack of money and stuff that makes us blessed, its our reliance and trust in God as a result that blesses us because then we can see Him literally supply every need we have. If we just put ourselves out there for God, He will supply everything we need.
Maybe your scared, maybe you feel the call to drop everything and go do something for God but the fear of debt, losing friends, losing the dream that you have in your head for your life stops you. What do you do? What do we do in that situation?
Matthew 4:19-20 holds the key
19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
We just have to go. Theres no if buts of maybes. At the minute I’m feeling the call to do my placement for bible college in another country and I’ve always said I’ll never be a missionary because I’m scared of what it means but if God calls us to do something that scares us, no matter how big it is we must be in that place where we have no barriers and just go.
So God undoubtedly doesn’t value us on the amount of money or stuff we have but on our obedience. Is James 9 just talking about the lack of money though? No, James in referring to “the poor” not only is he referring to actual poverty but also being spiritually poor, having that poor spirit that David spoke on in youth. The NLT version puts it so simply
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”
As David said being spiritually poor is just realizing that we are nothing without God. That we can’t live, eat, sleep or be without Him. So can we see why seeking to be poor rather that rich is a blessing. Earthly poverty leads to a physical reliance on God for things such as food and life, being spiritually poor leads to a spiritual reliance on God for our spiritual food and life. We can’t do anything without God we cant survive here on earth without Him, as humans or as the spiritual beings we truly are. So when we realize this we will depend wholly on God for everything, like literally everything. Imagine praying, gathered around the table, that God would somehow provide food for our dinner because we don’t have enough to buy it. That would strengthen or prayer life. Or imagine losing all you had in a fire, and having to pray that God would provide a home and clothes because all our money has gone. That would bring us closer to God. If we can grasp how fleeting possessions and money is, speaking directly to myself, then that true feeling of being content in Christ will come. That true blessing of knowing that even though we have nothing, in every sense of the word, we have Jesus and He is more than enough.
So being poor, as in not loving money or anything before God and being spiritually poor, as in knowing that we are nothing without Jesus, is vital for our relationship and service for Jesus. If we are both of of these things we will feel a nearness to God because we are totally depending on him and on nothing of ourselves.
Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-21
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Lets never focus on what we have on earth but rather focus our lives solely on Jesus.