“Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.” (Psalm 62:9)
“Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 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.” (James 1:9-11)
Dr. Gerald Sseruwagi was a humble, gifted Ugandan pastor who befriended me when I served in Uganda from 2003-2007. He came from very humble beginnings and dedicated his life to serving Christ in his home country in Africa in spite of being offered positions in the United States when he was studying for this MDiv and his Ph.D. Dr. Sseruwagi spoke about his extreme poverty when his sponsor sent him to begin his B.A. work in theology. His thankfulness and appreciation of God’s grace were all he needed to attend to his studies diligently. But he only owned one outfit that he wore to his classes and would launder it when it was dirty, in time for it to dry to wear the next day. Some of the generous Christian folks around the school noticed that he had a very limited wardrobe and gifted him with more clothes. One of his professors asked to see him about a week later to inquire why he suddenly started coming late to class. He explained that before he had no choices in clothing and his morning routine was simple: put on his outfit and go. Now he had options, and his life was more complicated because it took time to decide which outfit to wear each day. Gerald’s moral of the story was usually to be careful that your gifts don’t cause more harm than good. However, his experience also illustrates the problem of a poor person who acquires wealth suddenly, making his life more complicated, distracting him from his walk with God.
The poor person who is consumed with finding food and water is also necessarily distracted by the need to survive. However, in the developed world, those who have less sometimes pretend they are better off because they want to fit in, leading to increased debt, covetousness, and sometimes outright lying. On the other hand, the rich in this world may have a false sense of security, which I have addressed in previous devotions. Some Christians may have accumulated wealth by hoarding it rather than sharing with those in need and their churches. Some may think that being rich is bad (having misinterpreted Scripture) and pretend that they are less wealthy, again refusing to share generously. So, once again, we see that poverty and riches are a snare, because of the love of money—both can tempt us to focus on worldly possessions rather than on Jesus.
The writer of Psalm 62 and James both exhort the rich and poor Christian to realize that they are the same in the eyes of the Lord, have been given grace freely. Both will lose everything material on the day they die, death is the great equalizer. In the context of James, the treatment of wealth and poverty comes under the heading of the testing of our faith in trials.
Do you consider managing your money and material possessions a test of faith? How can you view your personal financial management more biblically, as a way to prove your devotion to Christ?