“Faith’s Humility” – James 1:9-11

May 19th, 2013

James 1:9-11 (Psa 49; Mt 6:16-34; Luke 12:13-21; 18:18-30)

“Faith’s Humility”

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Bible Memory Verse for the Week:   For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. — 2 Corinthians  8:9

 

Background Information:

  • Pastor James writes a letter to the Christians “scattered among the nations.”  He knows that many of them live in grinding poverty and fill the lowest-paying positions in society.  These people need words of encouragement, for economic conditions are oppressive and perplexing.  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 42)
  • There was no middle class in first-century Palestine.
  • We know of a famine that struck at about this time and it is probable that Christians, ostracized by much of the populace, would have suffered particularly severely (see Acts 11:28-29).  In the midst of such afflictions, the Christian, whose position in worldly terms is low indeed, is to boast in his exaltation.  Boast (NEB ‘be proud’) means in this context not the arrogant boasting of the self-important, but the joyous pride possessed by the person who values what God values.  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 67)
  • We have examples in Acts 16:19 and 19:23-29 of the gospel’s economic effects, forcing a separation of Christians from immoral financial pursuits and resulting in a backlash of persecution.  Christians suffered economically for their faith.  (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 43-44)
  • How many times did James, upon reflection of his older brother’s sermons (which he thought crazy and a bunch of bunk); did he, after further reflection and coming to believe in the identity, ministry and life of Jesus come to regard them as brilliant, excellent and as wisdom from above?  — Pastor Keith
  • The connection between this paragraph and the preceding is along two lines.  There is an easy tie between “glory” (v 9) and “joy” (v 2).  Just as the Christian is to rejoice in face of trials, knowing the personal benefits that will come, so also he has grounds to glory.  There is also a close relationship between the “double-minded man” (v 8) and the “rich man” (v 10).  As the double-minded man has divided loyalties, so the rich man is torn between his submission to God and his love for earthly possessions.  Double-mindedness and instability prevent joyous confidence in God, and keeping an eye on worldly benefits tends to cloud the greatness and glory of our spiritual condition in Christ.  (Vernon Doerksen, Everyman’s Bible Commentary:  James, 23)
  • The word translated “glory” (pride – NIV) is usually translated as “boast.”  It can be used in both a good and a bad sense.  It can convey the idea of self-congratulation and arrogance, a bragging about what one is or has achieved.  In the good sense, the believer should boast not in himself, but in God (Rom 5:11; 1 Cor 1:31), in the cross (Gal 6:14), in the hope of salvation (Rom 5:2), and in tribulation and weaknesses because of what God can do through them (Rom 5:3; 2 Cor 12:9).  A downcast, insecure, threatened Christian is not the norm.  A believer can be justly proud and hold his head high because of his position.  (Vernon Doerksen, Everyman’s Bible Commentary:  James, 24)
  • (v. 11) This term can also refer to a sirocco, a hot southeast wind that blows straight off the desert like the wave of heat as an oven is opened (see Hos 13:15).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 18)
  • Throughout this Epistle (2:6, 7; 5:1-6) “rich” is a term of reproach.  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 68)

 

The questions to be answered are . . . Why does James include a discussion on poverty and prosperity in his section on rejoicing in our trials?   How can the poor see his poverty as a high position?  And how can the rich see riches as a low position?  What wisdom from above are we to see in James’ message?

 

Answers: Money is a trial.  Both having it and lacking it.  The faith of the poor is increased as a result of their poverty.  The faith of the rich is increased as a result of their awareness that their riches can be obstacles to trusting in God.  The  truly wise, whether rich or poor, will see possessions and wealth as a tool to be used to build the kingdom of God and nothing more.

 

Jesus talked a lot about money.  One-sixth of the Gospels, and one third of the parables address the subject of stewardship.  Jesus was no fund-raiser.  He dealt with money matters, however, because money matters.  It’s a surprise to many people, Christians included, that the Bible has so much to say about this subject.

 

In fact, our checkbooks tell us more about our priorities than does anything else.

That’s why Jesus talked so much about money.  Sixteen of the 38 parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions.  Indeed, Jesus Christ said more about money than about almost any other subject.  The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, fewer than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,350 verses on money and possessions.  (Howard Dayton, Your Money Counts, 8)

 

The Word for the Day is . . . Riches

 

What does James teach us here in 1:9-11 about trials and money?:

 

Both Christians, in other words, must look at their lives from a heavenly, not an earthly , perspective.  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 69)

 

The point James is daring to make is that joy is meant to be the normal experience of every Christian, whatever his circumstances, because of his unconditional confidence in the overruling power and unchanging goodness of the God in whom he has come to put his trust.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 37-38)

 

 

I.  The rich poor are humble because of their diminished social status and thus find joy in their advanced faith in God. (Jas 1:9 see: Ps 82:3; Mt 6:19; Lk 6:20-26; 2 Cor 8:2; Phil 4:10-13, 19; Jas 2:5)

 

Wisdom from above says, “Count it a source of great pride and joy if you are poor because your poverty assists you in trusting in God.”

 

The Greek word translated “in humble circumstances” is tapeinos, which literally means “one who does not rise far above the ground, while the words “high position” come from the Greek word hupsos, which literally means “height.”  Now what an absurdity we seem to have, because if we paraphrase what James is saying, using the primary meanings of these two key words, we arrive at this statement: “Let the brother who does not rise far above the ground take pride in the height he has reached!”  In purely material terms, this makes no sense at all.  For most people there is a feeling that happiness goes hand in hand with prosperity, as do misery and poverty.  But James is not speaking in material terms; he is speaking about a “brother,” someone who has become a Christian, and what he is saying is that having become a Christian, he should never look at his poverty in the same light again.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 38)

 

As Robert Johnstone comments, “Amid the depressing influences of poverty, the Christian is to keep his eye fixed on his real dignity, and glory in it.  His present low position is merely in external things, and consequently temporary, and is appointed him because his heavenly Father sees poverty to be needful for the good of his soul.”  In today’s acquisitive age, only biblical wisdom can see things in that light!  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 39-40)

 

However poor a Christian may be financially or materially, he can rejoice in the fact that God has raised him to a position where he has a new wisdom (the gift of spiritual insight denied even to the wealthiest of unconverted men), a new wealth (unlimited spiritual resources at his disposal because of his union with Christ) and a new wardrobe (the exhilarating potential of pleasing God in his daily life).  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 41)

 

The poor man is enabled to go on with God in spite of the adverse circumstances of poverty because the wisdom from on high has opened the glories of heaven to him, and he counts them richer than all the trials of earth.  And the rich man is enabled to go on with God in spite of the snares and enticements of wealth, because wisdom from on high has opened his eyes to the real state of earthly things, how perishable they are, how unsatisfactory they are in the long run.  Wisdom opens the eyes both to the glories of heaven and to the hollowness of earth.  (Alec Motyer, The Tests of Faith)

 

Some of the believers are in humble circumstances.  They are low on the socioeconomic scale.  The Greek word here, tapeinos, means “insignificant in the world’s eyes, lowly, relatively poor and powerless, lacking in material possessions.”  They receive the subtle honor of being mentioned first.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 15)

 

The point is not that people are saved through poverty or their own pain.  The point is that people who have suffered a lot are less likely to view life on earth as paradise and more likely to be interested in the promises of the gospel.  In Jesus’ story about Lazarus in Luke chapter 16, it was not Lazarus’ poverty that carried him to Abraham’s embrace but his faith; his suffering stripped away all the comfortable illusions about life on earth, all the illusions that money can buy.  (Mark Jeske, The People’s Bible: James, Peter, John, Jude, 15)

 

In general, though, he understands his Christian readers to be poor people suffering in the trial of deprivation.  This fits perfectly with the line of thought already traced from 1:2, as encouragement for the poor to consider their trial pure joy because they know their perseverance in faith will leave them not lacking anything, whereas the path of materialism will lead to destruction.  (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 47)

 

If they would give up their faith in Christ they might improve their earthly state; their refusal multiplies their trials in many ways (v 2).  Does James pity them and allow them to pity themselves?  The very opposite:  Let such a brother boast, yea, boast, no less, “in his high position!”  Let wisdom open his eyes to see what “height” he has attained.  He is a true child of God in Christ Jesus.  Priceless spiritual blessings are his.  Let him shout for joy (v 2: “all joy”)!  (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle of James, 534)

 

We need the poor to teach us the value of dependence, for unless we learn dependence we will never experience grace. (Philip Yancey, Finding God in Unexpected Places, 164)

 

James did not pity his poor brethren or encourage their commiseration.  Rather, he saw them as spiritually advantaged.  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 37)

 

II.  The poor rich are humble because they are reminded of the dangers of self-sufficiency, arrogance, and the lure of money as well and thus find joy in their ultimate total dependence upon God for salvation. (Jas 1:10; see also: Ps ch 10:1-5; 49; 62:10; Prv 1:28; 28:11; Jer 9:23-24; Ezek 28:4-5; Hos 12:8; Mt 19:16-24; Mk 10:21-25; Lk 1:52-53; 12:15-21; Rv 3:17)

 

Wisdom from above says, “The richer you are, the more self-sufficient are your resources, the greater the danger you are in of compromising your faith in God with a faith in things.”

 

The rich convert should rejoice that his conversion has given him an entirely new perspective.  There is an implication that his whole outlook on life had been geared to things he could weigh, see, feel, touch, count or take to the bank.  Now, he realizes the folly and futility of that kind of thinking.  He has been brought into a “low position,” one in which he realizes that, for all of the great reputation his wealth gave him in society (and, no doubt, in his eyes), he was really no more than a hell-deserving sinner, entirely dependent upon the mercy of God for his salvation and for any other blessings of eternal value.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 41-42)

 

The man who puts his trust in earthly values and material possessions is a fool, because he is trusting the temporary.  By a happy coincidence, the central verse in the Bible is one that says this: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man” (Ps 118:8).  No man has life in proper focus until he grasps that truth.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 42)

 

Jesus showed profound concern for both the poor and the wealthy.  His teaching on wealth is in harmony with that of the OT, but it is not identical to it.  Jesus’ emphasis was not on economic reform but on spiritual renewal as the need of the hour.  While He never hinted that wealth per se was evil and poverty virtuous, He was emphatic about the danger of wealth for both the rich and the poor.  Wealth steals the heart’s affection and weans one away from God.  One “cannot serve God and Mammon” (Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13).  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 19:24 par. Mk 10:25; Lk 18:25).  Jesus’ disciples’ response reflects the universality of this trust in riches: “Who then can be saved?” (Mt 19:25; cf. Mk 10:26; Lk 18:26); Jesus in turn made it clear that divine aid is required to free one from the grip of wealth: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26; cf. Mk 10:27; Lk 18:27).  While Jesus’ compassion for the poor is evident throughout the Gospels, these words indicate His concern about the plight of the rich.  Although He warned both rich and poor about the dangers of wealth, the story of the rich young man illustrates that the rich found it particularly difficult to surrender their wealth, (Mt 19:26-22).  Zacchaeus’ ability to renounce his riches was termed “salvation” by Jesus (Lk 19:9).  It must be noted that Jesus did not reject the rich; He accepted persons such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.  (Geoffrey Bromiley, The Int’l Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, 188)

 

What, then, is the humiliation in which this rich Christian is to boast?  Two related ideas may be suggested.  First, the rich Christian should remember that, however ‘exalted’ he may seem in the eyes of the world, his status before God is different.  He must consciously maintain this perspective on his true, spiritual position in order to experience the blessings of God’s good pleasure.  James may well have in mind the words of Jesus, to which he refers in 4:10, ‘whoever humbles himself will be exalted’ (Mt 23:12).  A second, related, idea is that humiliation may suggest the believer’s own identification with Jesus Christ, who ‘humbled himself’ (Phil 2:8) and who was considered of no account in the world.  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 68-69)

 

A rich believer’s true treasure lies in recognizing his natural spiritual poverty and in utter reliance on the true righteousness that Christ gives.  (Mark Jeske, The People’s Bible: James, Peter, John, Jude, 15)

 

Jesus used an unforgettable illustration to point out the difficulty rich people encounter in entering the kingdom of heaven (Mt 19:23-26; Mk 10:23-27; Lk 18:24-27).  No wonder the disciples were incredulous as they pictured a camel trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle.  But Jesus identified the problem as being in the human will, not in God’s willingness or ability to save: “Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God’” (Lk 18:27).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 17)

 

Wealth and the abilities that lead to wealth can create a barrier between us and God.  If we are rich, or even if we live what we modestly call a “comfortable” life-style, James reminds us that our only lasting security is in a relationship with Christ.  We must not trust what money and power seem to guarantee: instead, we must humbly trust in God and his eternal riches.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 18)

 

It is impossible to trust in riches and enter into the kingdom of God, and it to us is impossible to have riches and not to trust in them.  Well, then, of all men, rich men should be most careful.  A man may be rich and godly, but it is because now and then God will work some miracles of grace.  Your possessions will not be your ruin till your corruptions mingle with them.  (Thomas Manton, Geneva Series of Commentaries: James, 68)

 

That a rich man’s humility is his glory.  Your excellency doth not lie in the pomp and splendor of your condition, but in the meekness of your hearts.  Humility is not only a clothing, ‘Put on humbleness of mind,’ Col 3:12, but an ornament, 1 Pt 5:5, ‘Be decked with humility.’  (Thomas Manton, Geneva Series of Commentaries: James, 68)

 

He bids them to glory in their lowness or littleness, in order to repress the haughtiness of those who are usually inflated with prosperity.  But he calls it lowness, because the manifested kingdom of God ought to lead us to despise the world, as we know that all the things we previously greatly admired, are either nothing or very little things.  For Christ, who is not a teacher except of babes, checks by his doctrine all the haughtiness of the flesh.  Lest, then, the vain joy of the world should captivate the rich, they ought to habituate themselves to glory in the casting down of their carnal excellency.  (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of James, 285-86)

 

As the poor believer was to rejoice in his exultation, the wealthy one is to rejoice in his humiliation.  As the former of these terms must be understood spiritually, so must the latter; for it is only thus there can be a proper contrast, as is evidently intended.  The natural tendency of wealth is to fill men with pride, self-confidence, vainglory.  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 64)

 

The rich brother is lowly.  He knows the grandeur and purity of God, and he knows the weakness and corruption of his own soul.  He feels how unsatisfactory earthly possessions are.  He realizes that decisive event which is sure to scatter man’s accumulated treasures to the winds, and to lay all earthly honors in the dust.  And as for the faith which brought peace and safety to his soul, and the piety that holds its dwelling in his heart, he is ready to exclaim (1 Cor 15:10).  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 69)

 

Riches in the having, in the bare possession, are not a hindrance to Christianity, but in our abuse of them.  Your possessions will not be your ruin till your corruptions mingle with them.  Under the law the poor and rich were to pay the same ransom (Ex 30:15), intimating that they may have interest in the same Christ.  Riches in themselves are God’s blessings that come within a promise.  Yea, riches with a blessing are so far from being a hindrance to grace, that they are an ornament to it (Prv 14:24). . . . A rich man’s humility is his glory.  Your excellency doth not lie in the splendor or your condition, but in the meekness of your hearts.  Humility is not only a clothing–“put on humbleness of mind” (Col 3:12)–but an ornament.  “Be decked with humility” (1 Pt 5:5).  A high mind and a low condition are all one to the Lord, only poverty hath the advantage, because it is usually gracious.  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 69-70)

 

Augustine said, he is a great man that is not lifted up because of his greatness.  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 70)

 

Before he can boast of an honorable position, he must learn first to appreciate the significance of his status.  That is, he should look not at material possessions, but at spiritual treasures.  He must have an entirely different outlook on life.  He views life not from the aspect of materialism but rather in relation to spiritual values.  He knows that God himself has elevated the believer to a high rank.  He sees himself as a child of the King–a son or daughter of God.  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 42)

 

Riches steel the unregenerate against the primary requirement for entering the Kingdom of God:  helpless dependence (see Mt 5:3).  It is difficult for the rich to present themselves as naked, humble beggars before God.  Our rich culture is, therefore, disadvantaged and underprivileged.  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 38)

 

Calvin has it right: “He tells them to glory in their lowliness, their smallness, to restrain those lofty motives that swell out of prosperity.”  In other words, the rich Christian is to cultivate the poverty of spirit he experienced when he came to Christ.  He is to work at this lowliness, focus on it, and make it his boast.  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 39)

 

James proceeds to discuss the appropriate way in which those Christians who are rich in this age should relate to those riches.  In short, he says that we should not glory in our riches but rather in our humiliation.  At first thought, this counsel seems very strange.  In fact, it is contradictory to everything which our society would teach us about the power and glory of riches.  (Paul A. Cedar, The Communicator’s Commentary: James, 33)

 

Andrew Carnegie once said, “The almighty dollar bequeathed to a child is an almighty curse.  No one has the right to handicap his children with such a burden as great wealth.  He must face this question squarely: Will the fortune be safe with my child, and will my child be safe with my fortune?”  (Howard Dayton, Your Money Counts, 110)

There is nothing wrong with people possessing riches.  The wrong comes when riches possess people.  — Billy Graham

 

A rich person should leave his kids enough to do something, but not enough to do nothing. — Warren Buffett

 

The fellow that has not money is poor.  The fellow that has nothing but money is poorer still.  — Billy Sunday

 

James is telling us about something that we don’t know about but the old writers knew about it.  Oh, yes they do.  John Flavel, an old Puritan writer wrote in the 1600’s, a marvelous book (it’s very hard to find anymore) called, A Keeping of the Heart.  And he has a list of twelve situations that are spiritually tremendously dangerous situations.  During these situations, in these seasons, one must be unusually diligent to keep the heart — they are times of great trial.  And if you are not careful you can fall into terrible spiritual situations.  He goes through sickness, death approaching, or time of persecution and he makes a list.  But, do you know what the number one trial is?  The number one difficulty is prosperity.  In other words, the Bible teaches, James is teaching the greatest trouble is to have no trouble.  The greatest spiritual trial is to have no trial; that is the greatest spiritual danger there is.  (Tim Keller sermon, Two Kinds of Trouble)

 

That is the problem with prosperity.  You hitch your heart to things and that is what makes them a trouble. . . . Troubles reveal the fading things that you use, the fading things that you build your life on.  Your troubles are wonderful.  That is the reason why the lack of trouble is the biggest trouble of all.  To show you the things that made you weak, the parts of you that are fading. (Tim Keller sermon, Two Kinds of Trouble)

 

It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel.  It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity.  (Frederic D. Huntington, Forum magazine, 1890)

 

As William Wilberforce once said, “Prosperity hardens the heart.”  (Francis Chan, Crazy Love, 90)

 

St. Bernard:  To see a man humble under prosperity is the greatest rarity in the world.

 

For a great many students, limited family resources have been the impediment which constrained a noble mind, born for better things, to enslave itself to the pursuit of gain.  Yet a noble nature generally rises above the greatest difficulties, and great material wealth usually injures good minds more than the most abject poverty.  Of such men it is generally said, not without some resentment: “O how great this man would have been, if he had been born in lesser circumstances!”  For some, the authority of parents and childhood habits stand in the way, for we follow seamlessly as adults the habits we have formed as children, and boys willingly let themselves be shaped by the desires of the parents who have given them birth and brought them up.  (Richard M. Gamble, The Great Tradition, 314)

 

Nothing I am sure has such a tendency to quench the fire of religion as the possession of money.  — J. C. Ryle

 

III.  The poor rich are more likely to want to hang on to this world and forget that everything that the world calls significant will be taken from him in a heart-beat. (Jas 1:11; see also: Job 14:2; Ps 103:15-16Prv 23:4-5; Isa 40:6-7;  Lk 12:16-34; 1 Cor 15:10; Phil 4:10-13; Heb 10:34; 1 Pt 1:24)

 

Do you know how to be rich and remain human?  Or Christian?

 

Wisdom from above says, “Things, money, wealth are nothing but tools to build an eternal Kingdom that will last forever.  Do not see them as anything else but that or you run the great risk of beginning to trust in the tool rather than the craftsman.”

 

Paul instructed believers in Corinth to work to meet not only their own needs but the needs of others as well (2 Cor 8:13-15).  This admonition may have been a conscious rebuttal of the Greek and Roman notion that work was dishonorable (cf. 2 Thes 3:6-13).  In any case, Paul taught that believers must exhibit detachment from possessions, since such things belong to an order that is passing away (1 Cor 7:30f.).  (Geoffrey Bromiley, The Int’l Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, 188-89)

 

St. James held that this world would soon pass away, and that we should still sooner pass out of it; but that there is another world in which we shall live for ever, and in which our conditions will be shaped by our character.  In his view, therefore, the chief aim of every man was, or should be, to form in himself a character which would best fit him both for the life that now is, and for that which is to come.  It mattered very little whether he was rich or poor in things which he must soon leave behind him: what did matter was that by the enjoyment or by the loss of these things he should be qualifying himself for, should be laying hold of, the life which is eternal.  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 66)

 

Suffering reminds us all that we are human and will also pass away.  Wealth may offer temporary protection, but death cannot be bought off.  Because believers trust God and not wealth for their security, they are free to use wealth in God’s service.  If your grip on this life’s treasure is very tight, you may be ignoring what God says about your mortality.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 18)

 

The frequent announcements of the death of well-known people are often made in shocked tones.  Somehow, death is not supposed to happen to successful people.  But it does.  In fact, says James, a rich person can fade away even while he goes about his business.  Life is uncertain.  Disaster is possible at any moment.  The word translated business (poreiais) literally means “goings.”  Death interrupts our schedule, our busyness, our best-laid plans.  It is foolish to trust in what will not last.  The psalmist gives us an appropriate prayer: “Teach us to count our days, that we may gain a wise heart” (Ps 90:12 NRSV).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 19)

 

Great reverses of fortune are very searching and conclusive tests of character.  And can we expect a Christian teacher to bid us grieve over any reverse by which our character is tested, matured, perfected?  The wealth and the poverty will soon pass, but the character will remain, and will determine our destiny.  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 71)

 

The fool looks ahead five years, ten years, perhaps even twenty years and plans what he thinks will benefit him best.  The wise fixes his sight beyond the grave, for he knows the high will be made low and the low high.  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 41)

 

Here is the problem with prosperity.  In fact, here is the problem with wealth in general: The problem with wealth in general is — in fact it is astonishing how if you really have enough money (And you know we are not talking about a magic line here by the way where you cross over and the Bible suddenly says, “You’re rich.” if you make over X amount of money)  No, were talking about a spectrum here.  The more money, the better your life is going, the better your career is going, as you move on up, this is the danger: You set your heart on things that are going to fade.  And therefore, you become like that. There is one of the most interesting things In The Great Divorce, that little novel by C. S. Lewis, where a busload of people from hell come to the outskirts of heaven, and when they get out of the bus, their feet hurt. They can hardly walk on the grass.  Do you remember why?   Because Heaven is a place of things that last, heaven in a place of things that are solid.  You see they are kind of wispy, they are kind of ghosty.  And they can’t even walk on the grass.  The grass hurts their feet.  The grass cuts.   The grass is harder than they are.  (Tim Keller sermon, Two Kinds of Trouble)

 

Each of us will eventually give away all our earthly possessions.  How we choose to do so, however, is a reflection on our commitment to the Kingdom of God.  — Charles F. Stanley

The wise person does indeed think ahead, but far more than 30 years–30 million years ahead.  Someone once said, “He who provides for this life but takes no care for eternity is wise for a moment but a fool forever.”  Jesus said it this way, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mk 8:36).  (Crown Financial Ministries, Crown Biblical Financial Study, 144)

 

After wealthy John D. Rockefeller died, his accountant was asked how much he left.  The accountant responded, “He left it all.”  Job said it this way, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there” (Job 1:21).  Paul wrote, “We have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1 Tm 6:7).  (Crown Financial Ministries, Crown Biblical Financial Study, 146)

 

Money talks…it says goodbye.

 

CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: What does James’ message have to do with Christ and me?:

 

 

A-  Money is always a trial or testing of our faith.  Especially when you have more than enough or none.  Be content and trust in Jesus. (Dt 8:18; 1 Chr 29:11-13; Ps ch 49; 62:10; Prv 30:2-9Mt 6:19-34; 19:16-24; Lk 12:15; 2 Cor 8:2; Phil 4:10-13, 19; 1 Tm 6:6-10, 17; Heb 13:5; Rv 3:17-18)

 

Our main source for Israel’s practical wisdom is the book of Proverbs.  Many passages exhort the reader to an industrious pursuit of wealth, for wealth diligently achieved brings security (e.g., Prv 10:15).  But wealth is not the highest goal: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” (22:1); nor does wealth change one’s basic position before God: “The rich and poor meet together; the Lord is the maker of them all” (v 2).  Wealth may have grave liabilities if it results in pride and thus deprives one of wisdom (28:11).  The ideal according to Wisdom is sufficiency:  not too little, not too much (30:8f.)  (Geoffrey Bromiley, The Int’l Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, 187)

 

Do God’s gifts ever come without God’s testings, whereby we learn (or fail to learn) to enjoy his gifts?  Was this why Solomon got money as well as wisdom?  Is this why James illustrates the use of the gift of wisdom by displaying its ability to see to the heart of wealth?  Or was James just following the teaching of the Lord Jesus and seeing that “the love of mammon is the most common source of double-mindedness”, that fatal flaw (8) which holds us back alike from the gifts of God and from true stability of life?  (John Stott, The Message of James, 45)

 

Because of money we are beset with fears–troubling anxieties about how financial needs will be met.  Because of money we are attacked with a sense of guilt and failure.  We struggle to make ends meet, and we feel internal accusations about inability to manage finances and about mistakes we must have made in financial choices.  Because of money we fall into crippling self-pity, chronic complaining and envy of others who can buy and do things which we lack.  These can produce a terrible bitterness of spirit that makes a desert of our personal fellowship with God.  Because of money we become trapped in attitudes of greed, practices of injustice and a lifestyle of materialism.  No wonder Scripture says that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil!  (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 44)

 

Why does money evoke such destructive reactions in us?  Don’t we fall into these reactions especially because of the particular functions money plays in our lives?  First, money functions as verification of personal worth.  When we are conscious of lacking wealth (which is relative–lacking in comparison to anyone who has more, or in comparison to anything we cannot afford), the implication is that we are worth less than others and that we are less worthy for God to bless.  On the other hand, if we are conscious of having wealth (again, relative to anyone else or relative to anything we want), the prideful comparisons come easily to us.  The implication is that we are more successful because we are worth more.  Second, money functions as security.  That is why a loss of job or a financial setback is so frightening.  It is also why some choices can be so attractive when they are financially helpful even though they will harm our well-being.  A friend admitted to me that he hates going to work because of the evil atmosphere there, but that he took the job because of the financial security it offered.  Third, money functions as power or advantage over other people.  It gives power for people to perform injustices against others; when we lack wealth compared to others, we feel our vulnerability.  (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 44-45)

 

Jacques Ellul has explored in terms of today’s economic systems how money has the function of measuring value (1984:9-33).  From that standpoint, people naturally learn to pursue the goal of having something instead of the goal of being something.  That is why Christians must avoid the deception of wealth as measuring value.  James wants Christians to rejoice in actual value, not illusory value.  (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 45)

 

Men make counterfeit money; in many more cases, money makes counterfeit men.  — Sydney J. Harris

 

As James saw it, Christianity brings to every man what he needs.  As Mayor put it “As the despised poor learns self-respect, so the proud rich learns self-abasement.”  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 47)

 

In these verses James merely contrasts the rich Christian with the poor Christian.  The parallel construction of the two verses indicates that both the noun “brother” and the verb “glory” go with both individuals.  Wealth has its dangers (Mt 19:23; Lk 18:22-27), but it can be used properly and beneficially (Acts 4:37; 11:29; 1 Tm 6:17-19; 1 Jn 3:17).  Rich Christians can be a blessing to the church, but they must have the right inner attitude toward wealth.  (Vernon Doerksen, Everyman’s Bible Commentary:  James, 24)

 

The low position also means to be brought lower in Christ.  That is, the rich are great in this world but are made equal to the poor in God’s world.  Jas 2:5 says that the poor are rich in faith.  So Jas 1:9-11 means that while the poor are low in this world, they are high in God’s eyes, and while the rich are high in this world, they are brought lower in God’s eyes, and both can teach each other.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 17)

 

The poor should be glad that riches mean nothing to God; otherwise poor people would be considered unworthy.  The rich should be glad that wealth means nothing to God, because wealth is easily lost.  We find true wealth by developing our spiritual life, not financial assets.  Stewardship will not happen until wealth is seen in its proper place.  The rich young ruler (Mt 19:16-24; Mk 10:17-22; Lk 18:18-30) could not follow the Lord because his wealth got in the way.  He had to be willing to forsake that god before he could honestly consider the true God.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 19)

 

Faith in Christ lifts the lowly brother beyond his trials to the great height of a position in the kingdom of Christ, where as God’s child he is rich and may rejoice and boast.  Faith in Christ does an equally blessed thing for the rich brother:  it fills him with the spirit of Christ, the spirit of lowliness and true Christian humility (Phil 2:3-11: “with lowly-mindedness,” v 3).  As the poor brother forgets all his earthly poverty, so the rich brother forgets all his earthly riches.  The two are equals by faith in Christ.  (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle of James, 534-35)

 

When, then, the affluent are delivered from this snare; when they are enabled to see the emptiness of all their treasures, and the danger which the possession of them involves; when they are made willing to take their places in the dust as sinners–to abuse themselves before God, and walk without high looks and haughty bearing among men–they have good reason to rejoice, exult, glory.  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 64)

 

Although James does not refer to it specifically, I believe that we are being fair to the text and to the basic conclusion of his teaching to suggest that James is encouraging his readers to enjoy the life of contentment.  (Paul A. Cedar, The Communicator’s Commentary: James, 34)

 

Each kind of Christian, James suggests, has a particular kind of challenge, or “trial,” to face.  The poor Christian can become downhearted because of his or her low value on the world’s socioeconomic scale.  That Christian needs to rejoice in his or her identification with Christ, the “high position” he or she enjoys in Christ.  But the rich Christian can become arrogant and self-satisfied.  That kind of believer needs to remember that he or she is identified with one who is meek and lowly, despised by the world.  (Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Vol 4, 93)

 

In Prv 14:31 and 19:17 we are told that to ignore the needs of a poor man is to sin against the Lord.  So the poor and needy are a test.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 39)

 

The opposite of covet is contentment – Tim Keller

 

Be content with what you have but never with what you are.

 

A man’s treatment of money is the most decisive test of his character—how he makes it and how he spends it.  — James Moffatt

 

God owns all of the property in the earth (see Job 41:11; Ex. 19:5-6; Ps. 24:1; Lv 25:23

Rather than, “How much of my money should I give to God?”  we learn to ask, “How much of God’s money should I keep for myself?”   The difference between these two questions is of monumental proportions. (Richard Foster; Seeking the Kingdom, 78)

 

Money reveals where our interests lie; it can direct our attitudes; it ever exposes us to the  danger of worshiping it; and it represents value.  Money not only talks; it screams — Leslie Flynn

 

When I have money I try to get rid of it as fast as I can lest it burn a hole in my heart. — John Wesley

 

One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realize your need for God.  If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent upon God.  — C. S. Lewis

 

People in every society consistently seek the wrong things.  Some look for money, fame, and power.  But these things cannot satisfy us.  As Solzhenitsyn said about his time in a Soviet gulag, “Bless you, prison.  Bless you for being in my life, for there, lying on the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity, as we are made to believe, but the maturing of the human soul.”  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 58)

 

For if [a Christian] cannot thank and praise God as well in calamities and sufferings as in prosperity and happiness, he is as far from the piety of a Christian as he that only loves them that love him is from the charity of a Christian.  For to thank God only for such things as you like is no more a proper act of piety than to believe only what you see is an act of faith.

Resignation and thanksgiving to God are only acts of piety when they are acts of faith, trust, and confidence in the divine goodness.   (William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, 321)

 

John Wesley was once taking a tour of a very wealthy man’s estate and he was heard to say as he looked at all the possessions the man had, “There are the things that make it difficult for a man to die.”

 

If your giving to the needy does not burden you or cut into your lifestyle in any way, you must give more!  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 75)

 

The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is a trust in God for material provision.  “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously…And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”  (2 Cor 9:6, 8-9).  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 71-72)

 

People can have so much to live on that they have nothing to live for.  — Rick Warren

 

“Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.” — Benjamin Franklin.

 

Money and time are the heaviest burdens of life, and the unhappiest of all mortals are those who have more of either than they know how to use.

                                               

B-  Money and Jesus are mutually exclusive affections.  You must choose.  Choose Jesus. (Ps 62:10; Prv 30:2-9; Eccl 5:10; Jer 9:23-24; Mt 6:24; 13:22; Mk 4:19; Lk 8:14; 16:13; 18:22-25; 1 Tm 6:10-17; Heb 13:5)

 

Wealth is to be accumulated strictly for doing works of mercy and spreading the kingdom.  Wealth is not to be stored up “for yourselves (Mt 6:19-21).  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 72)

 

Bertrand Russell once said, “It is preoccupation with possession more than anything else that prevents man from living freely and nobly.”  If the object of your life is a great getting–of prestige, wealth, power–you are the victim of an ever-increasing appetite which can never be satisfied.  (Lloyd J. Ogilvie, The Communicator’s Commentary: Luke, 275)

 

If you are hoping and trusting in the Lord, and suddenly your health, wealth or future are taken from you then your hope is gone.  Then, you need to confess that it was not the Lord you were hoping in.  It was what you have just lost.  Hope in the Lord NEVER disappoints.  Romans 5:4-5.

 

If we have grown accustomed to measure life’s enjoyment and life’s success by the money we possess, shall we not be at a great disadvantage when we enter a sphere where money is unknown?  Christians have been so swept along by the rush of the world after pleasures that wealth procures, that they are little aware of their unfitness for higher joys.  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 67-68)

 

One of the major areas in which we need the wisdom of God is in relationship to riches.  The love of God and the love of money are mutually exclusive.  Jesus said that we cannot serve God and money (Mt 6:24).  He also said that it was “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 19:24).  (Paul A. Cedar, The Communicator’s Commentary: James, 31)

 

It is really too bad, that some way or another, in the last 50 years in Western Christianity; we have not only wrapped flags around the cross, but we have wrapped dollar bills around the cross.  And James cries out from the first century, “No, No, No!”  (Alistair Begg sermon, “Rich Man, Poor Man”)

 

As Puritan Richard Baxter wrote, “Choose not that [employment] in which you may be most rich or honorable in the world, but that in which you may do most good, and best escape sinning.”   (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 316)

 

Do with me whatever it shall please thee.  For it cannot be anything but good, whatever thou shalt do with me.  If it be thy will I should be in darkness, be thou blessed; and if it be thy will I should be in light, be thou again blessed.  If thou grant me comfort, be thou blessed; and if thou will have me afflicted, be thou still equally blessed.  My son, such as this ought to be thy state, if thou desire to walk with Me.  Thou must be as ready to suffer as to rejoice.  Thou must cheerfully be as destitute and poor, as full and rich.  (Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, III:17:1-2)

 

Covetousness is desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God.

The opposite of covetousness is contentment in God.  When contentment in God decreases, covetousness for gain increases.  That’s why Paul says in Col 3:5 (RSV) that covetousness is idolatry.  “Put to death what is earthly in you; fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  It’s idolatry because the contentment that the heart should be getting from God, it starts to get from something else.”  (John Piper, Future Grace, 221)

 

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. — Jim Elliott

 

A peasant shut up in his village only partially knows his wretchedness, but let him see rich palaces, a superb court, and he will realize all the poverty of his village.  He cannot endure its hovels after a sight of so much magnificence.  It is thus that we see our ugliness and worthlessness in the beauty and infinite grandeur of God.  (Fenelon, Christian Perfection, 145-46)

 

One of the turning points of my life came the day I stopped setting income goals and started setting giving goals.  It was a paradigm shift.  I finally came to terms with the fact that making money is the way you make a living and giving it away is the way you make a life.  True joy is found on the giving end of life.  (Mark Batterson, Primal, A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity, 33)

 

Money is not required to buy one necessity of the soul. (Guideposts, 7/95, 36)

Money makes a great servant, but a terrible master.

 

Jesus is not against investment.  He is against bad investment—namely, setting your heart on the comforts and securities that money can afford in this world.  Money is to be invested for eternal yields in heaven—“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven!”  (John Piper,; Desiring God, 165)

 

The reason physical sacrifice often results in spiritual renewal goes back to a principle Jesus taught in the gospel of Matthew.  As your treasure goes, so goes your heart.  Jesus said it this way: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21).

Your heart and your treasure are linked.  If you want to know what you are really committed to, look at your checkbook and credit card statements.  There is your heart, plain and simple.  There is no clearer reflection of your priorities and values.  The way you handle your money is an indicator of where your heart is.  (Andy Stanley, Visioneering, 138)

 

Your vision has not truly captured your heart until it captures your wallet.  For this reason, at some point along the way, God is going to call upon you to make a financial sacrifice for the thing he has put in your heart to do.  He knows that when you commit your treasure to the vision, your heart will follow.  When you take those first sacrificial steps to act on your vision, your heart moves with you and attaches itself to the vision.

When we loosen our hands from around our treasure, he loosens the world’s death grip from our hearts.  When you apply your hands to a divinely ordered vision, God begins a reordering of your heart as well.  (Andy Stanley, Visioneering, 138)

 

The problem of money is summed up by Jesus: “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money” (Mt 6:24).  The word serve translates “to be a slave to, literally or figuratively, voluntarily or involuntarily.”

It is not a question of advisability, “You should not serve both God and money.”  That would be a priority choice.

It is not a question of accountability, “You must not serve both God and money.”  That would be a moral choice.

Rather, it is a matter of impossibility, “You cannot serve both God and money.”  There is no choice; we each serve one and only one, master.  We are either a slave to God or a slave to money.  Why did Jesus say we cannot serve both? (Patrick Morley;  The Man In The Mirror, 164)

 

Worship point: When you consider the wealth of Jesus and how He gave it all up and became poor so you might become rich, then you will worship in Spirit and in Truth (2 Cor 8:9).

 

Believers know they have dignity before God because Christ died for them.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a great example of this truth.  The dignity that she displayed when she realized what God had done for her is seen in her prayer of praise, called the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 16)

 

What we can have in Jesus Christ outweighs anything in this life.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 16)

 

This passage recalls the Beatitudes and the general teachings of Jesus about the unimportance of worldly standards and measurements in determining the true value of a person.  This passage has much to say to our generation.  We have been touched so deeply by the influences of stark materialism.  Convincing Christians that their source of well-being, their self-worth (to use contemporary terminology), is ultimately in Christ alone is increasingly difficult.  (J. Michael Walters, James, a Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, 47-48)

 

Spiritual Challenge: Stop and think about where your affections truly lie.  With the wisdom from above humbly realize the dangers, liability and hindrance with which you encumber yourself when placing your affections on money, things or wealth.  Endeavor to keep your eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of your faith.

 

You must first possess the spirit from above before you can ever hear and perceive the wisdom from above.  — Pastor Keith

 

The only thing worth boasting about in this world is knowing God.  And anyone who truly knows God will “boast” with humility.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 16)

 

Society will ascribe to physically fit and intellectually capable people a very high quality of life, despite the fact that they are sometimes the most miserable.  Yet society will ascribe a very low quality of life to poor, debilitated people, despite the fact that they are sometimes the most content.  (Joni Eareckson Tada, When Is It Right To Die?, 62)

 

James is not saying, “If you do this you will become rich”.  Rather, he is saying, “If you think about life from this perspective, you will realize you are rich.”  (Alistair Begg sermon, “Rich Man, Poor Man”)

 

In the OT worldly wealth is set forth as the reward of righteousness; in the NT poverty is commended and riches condemned.  When mankind were in their infancy God rewarded them as infants; but on their attaining to years of discretion He sets before them worthier treasures than those things that perish in the using.  When, therefore, Christians look on wealth as the reward of righteousness, they are as grown-up sons mistaking nursery toys for their inheritance.  God has, at it were, opened our nursery door, and shown to us the splendid domain to which we are heirs, and has bid us go forth and fit ourselves for the larger life.  When, then, He puts away our toys, and sends us to school to learn the duties of the life before us, shall we, as silly children, sit down and cry over our banished plaything rather than submit to the discipline wherein we may learn how to acquit ourselves as men?  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 67)

 

 

Quotes to Note:

Wealth does not bring God closer, nor does poverty keep Him further away.  In light of that truth and the present text, “Therefore let us draw near with [equal] confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may [equally] receive mercy and [equally] find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16; cf. Phil 4:19).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 41)

 

Together the disciplines of generous giving and thankful prayer can help today’s church stand against the lie that money is security.  (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 48)

 

Christianity teaches that the exaltation of the poor and the humiliation of the rich are sources of rejoicing.  They now see their nature in the light of Christianity.  Their errors are corrected; they now think of themselves as they ought to think; they now behold their equality with each other.  Between them there is no feeling of superiority and inferiority.  They rejoice in their common brotherhood and oneness.  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 66)

 

Christian respects are not to be measured by these outward things; a man is not to be measured by them, therefore certainly not a Christian.  We choose a horse by his strength and swiftness, not the gaudiness of his trappings; that which Christians should look at is not these outward additaments, but the eminency of grace (2:1).  (Joseph Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, St. James, 66)

 

It is worth remembering that the vision of Judaism encased within the Mosaic Law was of a society marked by a high degree of egalitarian concern.  But the excesses of Solomon and his successors led the prophets to castigate the bloated rich for their lack of concern for the poor.  In a similar fashion, the priestly aristocracy of the second temple period was known for its material excesses.  This led to two popular conclusions.  First, the poor were the pious, for they had supported Judas Maccabeus against the Hellenizing aristocracy in Jerusalem.  Second, wealth tends to make its possessor double-minded, just as in the view of the poor the priestly aristocracy had sold out their religion and people in the interests of personal power.  (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 54)

 

That riches and the social status they afford are insecure foundation, and that distinctions based thereon are of no account in the eyes of God, is a thought which occurs repeatedly in the Bible.  From the Tower of Babel, the boast of Nebuchadrezzar (Dan 4:30), to the story of the rich fool (Lk 12:16-21), it is made plain that man’s glory is not God’s.  Recall the words of the prophet Jeremiah in this connection (Jer 9:23-24; cf. 1 Cor 1:26-29).  (Abingdon Press, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII, 24-25)

 

Christ: The source

of all true wealth

 

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