Bragging Rights

Graphic credit: Ron Mader (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them.  And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.  The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.
-James 1:9-11 (NLT)

Did you know that you have bragging rights?  You can and should brag about how God has honored you, how God has given you dignity.  My Father in heaven is taking good care of me!  He is such a good God.

You should also know that you can brag about how God humbled you.  "Amazing Grace" should be our song.  Worship seven days a week includes bragging on what God has done for you.  He arranged for my humiliation so that I could call him Lord.

God's desire is not to take the money away, as in "money is bad", but to shift our dependency onto him.  I believe God wants to give believers huge amounts of money, but we can not handle it.

What does it mean that poor believers are honored by God?  It might mean that we get our esteem or dignity from God, from being God's children.  Remember Jesus' words, "Blessed are you who are poor", or, "God blesses you who are poor", "for yours is the kingdom of God"?

What it means is that the kingdom of God is the environment or organizing principal from which the believer lives.  The kingdom of God is the rule and reign of Christ.  The subjects of the king are honored to serve the king and be agents of the kingdom of God's expansion on the earth.

Being "poor" is relative.  It is easier to be rich in the kingdom, if you are poor in the eyes of the world.  There's nothing wrong with riches, but it is the heart that Christ changes.  Rich people have a challenge, to not depend on their riches for everything, whereas poorer people have the privilege of depending on God more and this is a more fulfilling life.

So, rich people have the challenge of crossing over to a life in Christ, where they find all their sufficiency in Christ.  The self-sufficient life is a life of pride.  God requires believers to be humble and embrace humility, which is the opposite of pride.

If you are used to being proud, it is radically different to be humble.  We humble ourselves or we get humbled through humiliation.  Sometimes it takes hitting bottom, then relapsing, hitting bottom again, and relapsing again; two, three, or four times, for a person to become humble.

God can arrange circumstances to humble you if you do not humble yourself.  God does this to discipline us, because he loves us as sons and daughters.  Pride is the core sin and God is going to help you get it out of your life. 

The rich people should boast that God has humbled them.  Some have experienced a rude awakening that riches do not bring happiness and that the false worship of comfort and prestige and the power that money brings is serious sin.

When the rich person gets saved they have to give up letting the trappings of wealth dictate their lives.  They come into the kingdom of God, where Jesus is all in all.  The sin of self-sufficiency has to go.

The rich person is humbled by the fact that they now realize that happiness can not be bought and they can not give themselves life through wealth.  They also need to repent, if necessary, of looking down on poorer people or using their wealth to get above poorer people in life.  

They are humbled by Christ to realize that the kingdom of God is flat.  The rich, the famous, and the well-heeled stand shoulder to shoulder with the poor, before Christ.  This is the way it is now, on earth as believers.  

To come down off that perch is a very good thing.  It is a very good humiliation.  It is a humbling to be celebrated.  That is what James is saying.

Your wealth is God's, because you belong to God and everything you have belongs to God.  Like in the story of the rich young ruler (Matt. 10), God might call you to give up everything.  That is not "the rule" for rich people who come to Christ, but a principle that you have to be willing to give up everything.  

What we have, we are called to be good stewards of.  That does not mean being poor is more spiritual.

Everything about wealth that gets in the way of Christ and the kingdom has to go.  You can still have all your holdings, but you can not be invested in them at the core of your life.  The rich person has an adjustment to make, when they enter the kingdom.

They have you see and learn the kingdom life, which runs counter to the life of the world.  They can no longer serve money or love money.  They will learn kingdom stewardship.

The humbling is that you are not superior to others.  The rich person in the kingdom celebrates and boasts that God has awakened them out of this delusion, that the Bible calls, "The deceitfulness of riches"(Mk. 4:19).

James is filled with practical wisdom.  We need to be people who are not enamored with things that fade.  What fades?  Paint, metal, wood, fabric, food, electronics, and film are a few examples.

What does not fade?  Your relationships.  Your relationship with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Your relationships with family and friends.  Your relationships with sisters and brothers in Christ.

Wealth is a tool for relationships, under the reign of the kingdom of God.  Use your money for people.  What if you saw your money as being for the kingdom?

There are rich people all over with new cars, new clothes, nice houses, and wealth stored up.  In Christ, this all is not suddenly bad, but the rich person's transformation makes them different.  They still have the stuff, but the stuff does not have them.

When the rich person gets this and sees the change, versus how they used to be; it is something to boast about.  Any rich person who is afraid to become a Christian does not understand the freedom because they are slaves.  Yes, rich slaves.  They are enslaved to their riches.

Generosity is a kingdom quality or virtue.  Christ's followers are generous.  They are lovers who show their love through generosity.

The kingdom of God is not socialism or communism.  But, we are social and in communion.  Some might look at the book of Acts and believe that the model is for everyone to give all their money to the church leaders, who then use it to care for the poor and send missionaries to preach.

My reading of Acts 4:32 to 5:11, is that all of the generosity and selling things to help other church members and so forth, was voluntary.  Believers are generous and generosity is part and parcel to being filled with the Spirit.  What if I told you that the sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit is generosity?

If you choose to not be generous, you are not excluded or punished, but you missed out on the blessing.  The NT teaches generous giving, in joy, without pride, and with no strings attached.  

In the world, some people are sad that they are poor.  In the kingdom, God turns that around.  We now have "bragging rights" because God is taking care of us.

In the world, there is an idea that money buys happiness and that wealth gives you glory.  In the kingdom, that myth is not allowed and we are given sight and are no longer under that delusion.  We are humbled from that perch of pride we one inhabited.  We have "bragging rights" because it is a glorious thing that God has saved us from pride and humbled us to know his care for us, becoming our Lord and savior.