THE POOR AND THE RICH
But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position; 10 and let the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.
For the sun rises with a scorching wind, and withers the grass; and its flower falls off, and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. (James 1:9-11).
James has been dealing with the question of how a Christian is to act under trials. He said that we should “count it all joy” when we encounter such trials as we realize that they are able to bring about a positive quality in our lives.
But saying that is one thing. Putting it into practice is quite another. And so, he moves to a practical illustration of an area where Christians come under trial. It is in the area of finances.
Are you rich? Are you poor? Are you somewhere in between? Then this passage is written for you.
DEALING WITH POVERTY
James begins with the man who is in the midst of poverty. This is a common condition. It is a fact of history that there have always been more people who are poor than who are rich. How can you deal with poverty? How can you count it all joy when you are struggling financially? James has the answer:
But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position (James 1:9).
The believer who is poor has something in which to glory. He has a high position. It is higher than any earthly consulship or kingdom. It is his position in Christ.
If you have taken hold of Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you entered into a union with Him. You were united with Christ. This means you share certain things in common with Christ.
Because He is righteous, you have also been declared to be righteous.
Because He is the Son of God, you have been adopted into His forever family and have become a child of God.
Because He is the heir to the kingdom, you have become a co-heir with Christ.
Because He has eternal life, you also have eternal life.
This is your new identity. It is what James calls “your high position.” You have become a member of God’s chosen race. You are a part of His royal priesthood. You are a citizen of God’s holy nation. You are God’s own personal possession.
What are your present circumstances? Are they of such that might be called “humble circumstances?” Are you lacking in some needed finances? Or are you poor in some other area of life? Is there something that you are lacking? If so, then this passage is for you. It contains a charge. You are called to glory in your high position. It is a call for you to go so far as to boast and to glory in that position.
You have a high and lofty calling. It is to serve the Lord in the circumstances in which you find yourself. How can you do such a thing? By recognizing that God has designed those circumstances and called you to serve Him in the midst of such circumstances.
DEALING WITH RICHES
Perhaps the previous verse did not especially apply to you. It did not apply because you are quite comfortably financially speaking. Your circumstances could hardly be classified as “humble.” Jesus has something to say to you.
And let the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.
For the sun rises with a scorching wind, and withers the grass; and its flower falls off, and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. (James 1:10-11).
James is writing to Jewish Christians. One of the problems that was prevalent among the Jews was their concept of wealth. They believed that material wealth was a sign of God’s favor. In practical terms, they considered that the more money you have, the more God must love you. They had a proverb that said, “God loves the poor, but He helps the rich.
This same line of thinking had begun to filter into the early church. The rich were often shown preferential treatment in the church. The best seat was set aside for him. He might stand to be elected as an officer in the church. When he spoke, the others in the church would give ear. He was a VIP.
James is going to address such attitudes in chapter 2, but right now he issues a warning to those who are rich. He warns them not to focus upon their riches for their self-esteem or for their self-worth. Instead they need to focus upon their poverty.
Why? What is so bad about being rich? They say money can’t buy happiness, but what is wrong with being miserable in comfort?
It is because when you are rich and when you are financially comfortable you don’t have any real needs and when you get to that point it isn’t too long until you don’t need God. Thus when you do come to God, it is no longer out of your sense of need but only because you are “doing God a favor.”
God will not give a man anything unless he comes empty handed. He has nothing to say to the proud. He is opposed to the proud (James 4:6). He resists the one who has no need.
Just as He does not give His wisdom to the one who doesn’t really want it (James 1:6-8), so also He does not give spiritual riches to the one who is satisfied with the riches of this world. He does not fill cups that are already full. But when you go to His with an empty cup, He fills it so that you cup runs over (Psalm 23:5).
This is not a call to be financially irresponsible. Rather it is a call to make some secure long-term investments. It is a call to invest for eternity.
Paula and I recently sat down with a couple of investors. They were telling us how we should plan for our financial future and make certain investments. When they were done, I asked them if I could share with them some better investments; some investments with a guaranteed return that were not dependent upon the random fluctuations of the stock market. I told them how they could have true security -- the kind that goes beyond this life. It is the security that is found only in Christ. After all, what good is it if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?
The best of this world’s wealth is only temporary. James illustrates this temporary quality of riches by comparing it to grass.
For the sun rises with a scorching wind, and withers the grass; and its flower falls off, and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. (James 1:11).
This is not a new illustration. It was a familiar one to these Jewish readers. James draws if from the pages of the Old Testament.
6 A voice says, “Call out.”
Then he answered, “What shall I call out?”
All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:6-8).
If you have lived in this city all your life, then this illustration might lose something in translation. In the city we have automatic sprinkler systems to keep our grass looking good year round.
This is written to people who were familiar with an agricultural economy. They knew what happened in the various seasons. In the spring the grass would begin to grow. And in the summer in would come to maturity. And in the fall it would die. Grass does not last. And neither does the wealth of this world. Diamonds aren’t forever. If you have money it will eventually be lost or stolen or spent because you can’t possibly take it with you.
If you measure your wealth in other worldly ways it will be equally fleeting. Your good looks will one day be masked in wrinkles. Social status and popularity are fleeting. If you actually win the rat race, you find that you are still a rat.
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. 30 But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?
Do not be anxious then, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “With what shall we clothe ourselves?” 32 For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:24-34).
Sometimes people say, “That is well and good, but you still have to live in the real world.” But what is the real world? That is the question that we must faith. For what world are you living? And in which world do you believe?
This is not a call to laziness. Rather it is a call to make the Kingdom first and to allow everything else in your life to flow from that. You seek heaven and God will take care of everything else.
You need to focus on that which is eternal. You need to plan for permanence. You need to see that your worldly riches are really poverty in disguise. It is only then that you can begin to have true wisdom and to see your situation from God’s perspective and to align your priorities for those things that really count in life.
Isaiah’s passage concludes that it is the Word of our God that stands forever. This is the conclusion of James, too.
· In verse 18 he will describe how God brought us forth by the WORD of truth.
· In verse 21 he will call men to receive the WORD which is able to save souls.
· In verses 22-25 he will warn of the dangers of being only a hearer of the WORD instead of a DOER of the word.
What is it about the Word of God that brings salvation? The Word of God is the message of the gospel. It is the message of the cross. It is the message of the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. It is the message of how God sent His Son to die for those who were spiritually bankrupt, so that they could inherit all of the blessings of heaven in Him.