Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
James has a bit to say about rich people and poor people. As we pointed out earlier, the scattered believers James was writing to were most likely all suffering poverty. Many would have been poor to start with, and many more would have been made poor as a result of their conversion to Christianity. In many cases they would have been driven from jobs and homes, and then likely unable to find work in the places they finally settled.
First of all, let’s clear up any thoughts that James was condemning the simple fact of possessing wealth. James is not doing that, and neither was God. We need only to look at such examples as Job or Abraham to see that God often actually blesses His followers with great wealth.
Nor was James saying the poor people are automatically righteous and rich people automatically unrighteous. James was not saying the poor people have some special merit with God, or are loved more by Him than rich people.
On the other hand, The Father in heaven and Jesus Himself while here on this earth clearly have a special place in their hearts for the poor and the oppressed. And it certainly seems true that the poor and downtrodden have far greater willingness to give their lives to God than those who are wealthy and powerful.
Isn’t this really about attitude? James is not condemning the fact of wealth, but the attitude of wealth. Remember the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-27? It was not his riches which kept him from Jesus, but his attitude towards his money. Remember 1 Timothy 6:10? It is not money per se, but the love of it which causes evil.
Another issue is that those who have nothing but poverty in this life can more easily respond to the promise of riches in the life after, while those with great riches on earth may struggle to see that something could actually be better than what they have here.
Remember, we have choices. We can be poor in this life and rich in the next. We can be rich in this one and poor in the next. We can be both poor in this one and poor in the next. We might even be rich both now and in eternity. It’s all about choices, and it’s all about what choice we make about what we will do with Jesus Christ.