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Chapter 4 WHAT DID JAMES SAY?
One of the strongest books in the N.T. dealing with poverty and riches is the book of James. Simply reading this book in context would give the modern prosperity gospel a strong rebuke! James contrasts both rich and poor, he says that God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom of God. The context also implies that these poor Christians will remain poor in this life! [JAMES 2:5] The prosperity message teaches that if you have faith in God that you will not be poor. It’s obvious that both James and the prosperity teachers of today have a difference of opinion!
Lets look at exactly what the word of God says; JAMES 2:1-6 ‘MY BRETHREN, HAVE NOT THE FAITH OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, THE LORD OF GLORY, WITH RESPECT OF PERSONS. FOR IF THERE COME UNTO YOUR ASSEMBLY A MAN WITH A GOLD RING, IN GOODLY APPAREL, AND THERE COME IN ALSO A POOR MAN IN VILE RAIMENT; AND YE HAVE RESPECT TO HIM THAT WEARETH THE GAY CLOTHING, AND SAY UNTO HIM, SIT THOU HERE IN A GOOD PLACE; AND SAY TO THE POOR, STAND THOU HERE OR SIT HERE UNDER MY FOOTSTOOL: ARE YE NOT THEN PARTIAL IN YOURSELVES AND BECOME JUDGES OF EVIL THOUGHTS? 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? How were they despising the poor and being prejudiced in their thoughts? They were treating poor people with contempt while showing honor to the rich. This is exactly what we do in the church, by teaching that poor Christians have little, or no faith, we unconsciously treat them with contempt. We teach that the poor are under a curse and are therefore not living up to all their benefits in Christ. We actually set up a cast system in the church. James says the poor have great faith! He doesn’t portray them as having small faith. He warns the rich not to trust in uncertain riches. The bible flatly teaches that financial abundance is not a measure of ones faith! We must stop teaching that if you would simply believe God you would have an abundance of money. This is not true in every case. Sometimes the abundant supply from God is the grace and patience that he gives to the believer in the face of severe trials or lack. The N.T. clearly teaches that there are believers with lots of faith who are poor! You can’t deny the plain word of God. We should not suppose that a lack of financial abundance is a sign of weak faith!
Now to one of the most recent ‘new revelations’ that is being taught in the church. I first heard this from a very respected soul-winning evangelist. I then heard it taught from a variety of other teachers. As of this writing it seems to be accepted ‘truth’ in certain circles. Lets read JAMES 5:1-6 ‘GO TO NOW, YE RICH MEN, WEEP AND HOWL FOR YOUR MISERIES THAT SHALL COME UPON YOU. YOUR RICHESARE CORRUPTED, AND YOUR GARMENTS ARE MOTHEATEN. YOUR GOLD AND SILVER IS CANKERED; AND THE RUST OF THEM SHALL BE A WITNESS AGAINST YOU, AND SHALL EAT YOUR FLESH AS IT WERE FIRE. YE HAVE HEAPED TREASURE TOGETHER FOR THE LAST DAYS. BEHOLD, THE HIRE OF THE LABOURERS WHO HAVE REAPED DOWN YOUR FIELDS, WHICH IS OF YOU KEPT BACK BY FRAUD, CRIETH: AND THE CRIES OF THEM WHICH HAVE REAPED ARE ENTERED INTO THE EARS OF THE LORD OF SABAOTH. YE HAVE LIVED IN PLEASURE ON THE EARTH, AND BEEN WANTON; YE HAVE NOURISHED YOUR HEARTS, AS IN A DAY OF SLAUGHTER. YE HAVE CONDEMNED AND KILLED THE JUST; AND HE DOTH NOT RESIST YOU. The first time I heard this ‘new’ truth, the preacher said that this passage was dealing with the end-time transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor. It was explained that in verse 3 ‘YE HAVE HEAPED TREASURE TOGETHER FOR THE LAST DAYS’ meant that the rich gathered together their wealth so it could be given to the church in the last days. While I have no problem with the idea of the world’s wealth being used for kingdom purposes, I do have a problem with distorting the word of God to prove our points! A simple reading of James 5:1-6 shows us that the reason the rich are being reproved is because they spent their lives building up financial fortunes without being rich toward God [LUKE 12:16-21]. This scripture also plainly says what is going to happen to their wealth. Is it going to be ‘transferred’ to us? Is it going to be given to the Christians in the last days? Is it going to be used at all? NO! It is going to canker, rust and corrupt! It is going to be destroyed! It will be of no help at all in the day of judgment [PRVB. 11:4]. It will be a witness against them for living covetous lives. The entire theme of James follows this line of thought. To read all the other things that James says about the rich and poor in this epistle, for us to then interpret this passage and say that James was now teaching the Christians that they would become rich through the end-time transfer of wealth, is ridiculous. Once again the plain meaning of scripture is being distorted in order to make it say the complete opposite of what it means.
One more thing before we leave James. The early Christian community did not equate poverty with being under a curse. They did not equate poverty with sin. There are many rebukes in the N.T. against sin in the church, but the poor in the church were praised, not rebuked! The very mindset of looking upon the poor as a lower class permeates this teaching. If the poor are cursed, not living up to their inheritance, don’t know how to apply faith principles or simply don’t know/believe the word concerning prosperity, then in essence we are despising the poor through our belief system. The N.T. plainly teaches that it is okay to be poor! We need to heed the warning from this N.T. epistle and stop despising the poor!
CHAPTER 5 ‘WHOSE MINISTRY, JESUS OR OURS?’
I’ll never forget the time I was watching ‘Christian’ TV and saw a preacher holding up his Rolex watch and then teaching the people that this was an example of his faith in action! He then went on to explain that when we use our faith to obtain things, we can then show these things to people as a witness of our faith. If this is what it means to go witnessing for Christ, I think most people would be standing in line to sign up!
Over the years I have heard it taught that the only way the world would be saved is if the church becomes extremely rich financially so she could send the gospel to the world. That the world would see our extreme wealth and would ask ‘where did you get all that money?’ and we would then say ‘from God’, and the lost would then want what we have and get saved! Convenient isn’t it. But is this a biblical picture of the N.T. church and her witness in the earth?
In order to answer this question, we need first to look at what the N.T. church is. The church consists of communities of believers scattered throughout the world. All over planet earth, right now, there are believers thriving and testifying of Gods grace in all types of circumstances and situations. The community of believers that Jesus launched 2 thousand years ago is still going strong. She answers to no man or human govt. She has outlasted empires, persecutions, false religions and every other conceivable attack that can be imagined. The prophecy of Jesus has been fulfilled ‘THE GATES OF HELL SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST HER’ [MATT. 16:18].
As of today there has been no other single institution upon earth that has had more influence in the history of the world than the church! Now, if the church truly consists of believers [seeds], planted [sown] all over the world under the lordship of Christ, with various giftings [Apostles, Prophets, etc.] operating under the administration of the Holy Spirit, this ministry [the kingdom of God] already has the potential of a worldwide witness to all nations. As a matter of fact this worldwide gospel of Christ has been prevailing magnificently throughout the generations. This wonderful kingdom, under Christ’s rule, has been active. It has been supernaturally deploying ministers from day one [ACTS 13]. It has even witnessed for Jesus Christ when its main ministers were broke! [ACTS 3:6]. The witness of the gospel has done extremely well throughout the centuries and will continue to do so, whether or not we all become rich!
The reason I say this is because there is a mindset in the church [American mostly] that equates the witness of the gospel with the success of American charismatic entrepreneurial ministries. We have been deluded into believing that unless we all become rich, we will never be able to reach the world. The overall success of the kingdom of God has never been dependent on any budget of any ministry past or present! Most of the modern day proponents of the prosperity gospel usually head up American ministry organizations and equate the sowing of seed [finances], with giving money to help support their organizations. They then sincerely believe that unless their organization makes more and more money, they will never be able to fulfill the great commission of reaching the world.
The N.T. clearly teaches the principles of our witness for Christ, and the focus has never been extreme wealth. But on sacrificial living, loving each other unconditionally, a sharing caring community of people who are known for good deeds of charity. In the book of acts the early church had a powerful witness, and they weren’t rich financially, yet they did reach their world for Christ. How? Through great sacrificial living, through miraculous signs and wonders, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and through a bold proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not one sermon in the book of acts focused on anything else than Jesus Christ and his great work for us. Their hearts and lips flowed with the message of Christ, not money!
I find it troubling that many of the ministries who teach the prosperity gospel usually do receive extreme amounts of money, not to proclaim the message of Jesus [speaking about him], but to simply propagate a money making gospel! You can tune into some of these ministries and find them talking about money all the time. What if a lost person tuned in? Would he hear about Jesus or money? What about when Jesus said out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks? [MATT. 12:34]. If someone is always talking about money where is his heart, what’s his treasure?
We need to shift our focus back to the pure N.T. message of Christ, and understand that his gospel is the power of God unto salvation! Jesus said the world would be saved when the truth is preached in all nations by a united church, not when we all become millionaires so we can finance our own ministries!
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