Sunday Message for 23 September 2018: “Eternal Wealth is Spiritual Health”
Posted On September 7, 2018
Today’s message from James reveals helpful truths. First, consider how you might feel if you were hit in the face with an unexpected spray of cold water. The shock to your system would likely get your attention. Similarly, a spray of hard truth can also strike your sensibilities. Consider James’ words: “For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind” (James 3:16). Note the word selfish, used as an adjective to modify the noun ambition. This means that selfishness is more of the problem than is ambition. Without ambition there would be little to motivate someone toward achievement. However, even ambition becomes problematic if drives an insatiable appetite to devour whatever stands in the way.
Selfish ambition is bad in many ways, such as when it pollutes the earth into oblivion, denies justice and mercy, and leaves a trail of death and destruction. Some political pundits and cultural cheerleaders react by saying that selfish ambition is necessary in a free market, capitalist system. While that is always up for debate, the moral consequences of selfish ambition (e.g., insatiable greed) is negative, no matter how many dollars ambition can squeeze from its victims. “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?” (James 4:1). The focus isn’t socialism versus capitalism, or of any political ideology of the Right against the Left. No, the crux of the issue is what drives you, often the cravings and appetites which motivate your choices and priorities. When selfish ambition trumps loving your neighbor then that’s a life-threatening problem that undermines your life wellbeing.
James’ writing refreshes the spirit and helps align priorities. The gist is that economic prosperity does not guarantee or necessarily promote a healthy morality. Wealth accumulation and all the selfish ambition driving it conflict with the virtues Jesus preached. Both the Old and New Testaments repeatedly condemn the ambitious greed underlying materialism. The problem isn’t so much with the nature of money—it is necessary—as it is with what people do to get it. “You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts” (James 4:2). If greed and selfish ambition control someone then that person will reap harsh consequences and, even worse, will cause collateral damage to society. People who leave a trail of destruction need to be held responsible. Divine justice will prevail against those who stack bodies to build their financial, political, or religious empires. Ego-driven power mongers who manipulate peoples’ fear, ignorance and anger not only destroy themselves from within but also risk infecting those around them.
The amount of wealth you accumulate isn’t necessarily the problem. It’s how you do it and how much you are attached to it. God’s Spirit repeatedly warns humans to avoid addiction and to overcome whatever distracts from love and truth. The problem is compounded when selfish ambition burns both the earth and its people. Go and do all you can to realize your dreams, but make sure you aren’t simultaneously creating a nightmare for others. Move onward and upward and derive blessings from your prosperity. But remember this: you can’t take it with you; love will be your most enduring legacy. Selfishness is never right when it robs you of God’s goodness and impoverishes the soul. Obtain life wellbeing as you elevate your spirit and gain perspective for transformed priorities.
It’s good to examine yourself and determine what it is that moves you forward. Is greed the driving force? God wants you to pursue light and life with all your might. And who knows but that you may be blessed with all sorts of wealth when you have proper priorities. Good folks who enjoy diverse blessings also contribute to the common good. God wants us to give to others out of the measure of our abundant blessings (and both rich and not-so-rich are held to this standard). You might ask yourself if when you depart this earth you are leaving it a better place than how you found it. We can build the eternal wealth of spiritual health as we help people connect with God and thereby increase spiritual vitality for all humanity.