Seminary Viewpoints

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Approaching Wealth and Poverty: The True Test of Faith

Sam Horn | March 10, 2022
Theology Thursday

Adapted and excerpted from a sermon by Sam Horn and discussed by him on The Steve Noble Show on March 10.

In my latest blog post, I laid out how the book of James focuses on the need to restore living faith. As James begins his teaching on living faith in James 1:2-12, he confronts the true condition of our faith, and then he comforts us by helping us see the value and blessing trials bring when they come. If we are willing to listen and accept the wisdom James is giving us, we discover that nothing builds faith better and stronger than the multi-faceted work that God does in us through the tool of a difficult, ongoing trial.

Another Seminary faculty member previously discussed in a blog post our need for joy and wisdom when encountering trials in James 1:2-8. But then read James 1:9-11:

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Why does James suddenly switch to talking about wealth and poverty in verses 9-11? He is introducing a test which reveals whether or not we have embraced the wisdom from above fully and unreservedly based on our response to wealth and poverty.

Testing Faith with Our Response to Wealth and Poverty

Nothing will test the true nature of our faith better than our response to wealth and poverty when we lack resources necessary for daily life. James puts this test before his readers by asking them if they “boast” in riches or poverty. “Boast” is a term Paul and James use to express the idea of “rejoicing” or “confidence.” James is asking believers, “What brings you joy and where are you placing your security?” What are you delighting in and what are you depending on?

If you lack material wealth:

  • Have you believed what Christ told you about the true status of those who are “poor in Spirit” (Matt. 5:3)?
  • Do you really believe that you are highly exalted with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6-7)?
  • Or are you envious of the material wealth God has entrusted to some in your midst — do you long for it, or have you been distracted by it?
  • Are you willing to bend God’s words or to depart from God’s will for your life to get it? In short, are you looking to what the world has to say about wealth to help you navigate the difficulties and pressures of your life?

If you have wealth:

  • Are you rejoicing in your wealth or are you rejoicing that God has humbled your heart so that you are no longer depending on your wealth for life and strength, but are devoted to using your wealth for the advancement of God’s kingdom and not your own?
  • Have you seen the fleeting nature of the wealth that God has given you in this life and are you using it to build a better life, or are you using it to bring eternal life to others?

The Reward for Passing the Test

In James 1:12, James explains that those who pass the test receive true and lasting blessing. So consider, what is the source of your joy and where is the source of your confidence — wisdom from God or wealth from this world?

For James, this was an important test! Those with a divided heart give preferential treatment to the wealthy over the poor in their midst (2:1-7) and they presume on the providence of God in their pursuit of wealth (4:12-17).

But those with an undivided heart rejoice in their true position in Christ!

If you are divided and doubleminded, you will have temporary joy and eternal sorrow as you watch your riches vanish in the unfolding of your earthly lives. But if your heart is wholeheartedly and unreservedly God’s, you will receive blessing in this life and the crown of life in the life to come.