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James 1.9-11 Riches and Poverty

October 4, 2009 Series: James | Retro-Faith

Topic: New Testament Passage: James 1:9–1:11

James 1.9-11 – Riches and Poverty

October 4, 2009

Sam Ford


We’re in the book of James, the half-brother of Jesus, the pastor, the self-proclaimed BOND-SERVANT of the Lord.  His letter describes his own life of RADICAL change from doubter to martyr. Many will be tempted to read his letter like a “how to” Christian living book.  He intends it as an IN YOUR FACE mirror for us to see what genuine Christian faith looks like.  Some of us are not going to like what we see because our lives have never been that RADICAL.  But the fact is, FAITH generates more than behavior change, it is a RADICAL heart transformation.  2Corinthians 5.17 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  True faith doesn’t change the world we live in as much as it changes how we experience & live in the world.  And from the beginning, James aims to realign us with how God sees things.  I love him because he doesn’t color it up with “self-esteem” crap—he’s honest.  He begins by describing the Christian life as it is—full of pain, suffering, irritations, and difficult decisions. 


Wisdom for Trials

And though we are tempted to think that such things come as a result of God’s absence, James declares, unapologetically, that God is sending these trials to bring us to maturity because He loves us and does not want us to remain where we are.  In those trials, we are supposed to ask for Wisdom.  The Wisdom that comes from God helps us to endure trials we never thought we could.  Not only that, God’s Wisdom reveals the idols of our heart hindering us from growth.  A fool, who does not posses wisdom, will not admit to needing anything or anyone. A truly wise person knows they are a fool and need God.  Trials remind us how much and how often we need a savior. 


The Double-Minded/Double-Souled Man

We ended last week reading about the double-minded man who doubts when he prays to God for help.  It is the man, literally, with a divided soul, a man who does not fully trust in Jesus, loving him with part of their mind and some of their heart some of the time.  This is not a question so much of not allowing any level of uncertainty or fear enter your mind while praying; it is about whether or not you try to love the world and love God at the same time. And James’ first idea after the “double-minded man”, the first example of a trial has to do with being rich and being poor.   The one time Jesus spoke about divided loyalty, he said: Matthew 6.24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Jesus says that men can serve God OR they can serve money, not both. 


The idol of Money 

In verses 9-11 James speaks about poverty and riches.  James 1.9-11  9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 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.


Money, wealth, or riches can be worshipped.  By worshipped I mean it becomes central to one’s life, a source of identity, meaning, happiness, hope, and security.  This is not just about living lavishly—it’s about the FEARING, REVERING, or BOASTING in something other than God.  Our culture defines itself on the wealth we have or do not have; we measure ourselves according to what we can purchase or not; we buy into the world’s judgment of personal value by economic class; and their source of peace and security in portfolios and savings accounts.  Measuring ourselves or our circumstances apart from God’s truth is idolatry.  The worship of money (call it consumerism, capitalism, or the biblical term is greed) is cleverly packaged today in words like fiscal responsibility or even wise stewardship.  In a letter to a young pastor named Timothy, Paul warned, 1Timothy 6.10  10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.  James writes here that both the poor AND the rich can idolize money this way.  Being rich is a trial.  Being poor is a trial.  And the danger in both is finding one’s identity in something other than Jesus.


The trial of poverty

V.9  9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation,

Poverty is a trial sent by God.  We don’t all believe that.  Many of us believe that poverty always results from bad work ethic, poor planning, and social disadvantages.  From what we know, poverty comes as a result of our own sinful choices (one’s God doesn’t stop us from making), or it comes from the sinful choices of others.  Regardless of how it comes, being poor, tests our faith. You can assign numbers or lifestyles to “poverty”, most of his think we’re poor.  Even if that isn’t the actual truth, not having a job, not being able to pay, buy, or provide whatever it is you think you need, tests our faith.  


It is not often or natural for poverty to build our faith—it is always view as undesirable.  The truth is it should build our faith because there are some intrinsic blessings that come from poverty: 1) freedom from materialism 2) Forced dependence on God 3) an appreciation for the small things of life.  Ironically, it is poverty that God often uses to bring us closer to the kingdom, closer to a life like Jesus, as we are forced to deny what we want and depend on God for all that he knows we need.


More often, Poverty hinders faith.  We despair and our faith falters as become overwhelmed with circumstances of not being able pay bills, put food on the table, or to provide.   Instead of leading us to worship God, many of us begin to idolize riches.  We begin to view money as the solution to our problems.  We disregard any spiritual value and seek worldly value:  WE SIN:  we begin to deny that God loves us, deny that He will provide for us, we begin to covet what others have, or we actively break God’s law , we cheat or steal to get ahead, or just get our next meal.  We praise the salvation that we think more money will bring.


Gospel and poverty

James says that the lowly brother, the one who is low in position, petite in wealth, small in power, should not look at himself as poor, but RICH.  He says that our faith is built NOT in obtaining more money to get us out of the trial, but in a change of perspectiveThe poor is to BOAST IN HIS EXALTATION—not that God will make you but that he already has.  He warns us not to focus on the deficiencies of OUR KINGDOM but in the abundance of GOD’S KINGDOM.  To do this is hard.  To not do this is sin. Are you willing to live at the level God wants you to?


When we lack what we THINK we need or want, must dwell on the riches that have been poured out on us through the cross of Jesus.  We must look not to the depths that we are in, but the heights that Jesus has brought us to.  You are righteous before God right now.  You are loved right now.  You are a child of God right now.  You are a citizen of God’s Kingdom right now.  You have access to the throne of the God of the universe right now.  You are an heir with Jesus ready to inherit the glories of eternal life with Him.  If you lost everything that you have even now, you still have Jesus.  Philippians 3.8  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.   


The trials of riches

V. 10-11  10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 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.


Riches are a trial sent by God.  Many of us don’t believe we’re rich.  Let’s be honest, the rich get somewhat of a bad wrap in the Bible.   James does not attack the rich as children of the devil or wealth as wrong.  Biblically, wealth is never wrong.  Everything depends on (1) how the wealth is obtained, (2) how it is used, and (3) what place it holds in the heart of the possessor.  Being rich tests our faith differently.  James is teaching that riches, wealth, prosperity, and success are a trial sent by God.  Though we believe that wealth comes from our own power, the Bible says all wealth comes from God. Deut. 8.17-18  17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 


Most of believe that riches can only be a blessing.  The poor hear about the woe of the rich and think—I’ll trade their problems for mine any day.  In truth, riches are possibly a more difficult trial than even poverty.  It was Jesus who said: Matthew 19.23 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”   Again, most of us don’t think we’re wealthy so you just tuned out.  DON’T, most of you ARE.


But we don’t often view wealth as a trial because the biggest issue with wealth is that it takes care of so many issues—we think.  The rich man is not forced TO DEPEND on God, in the same way the poor man is, for the basics.  He can easily become UNGRATEFUL to God for all he has been blessed with, perhaps even reveling in his own “success”.  He is tempted to become PRIDEFUL prideful, to trust in his wealth and find security.  Again, young Timothy was told to warn the rich:  1Timothy 6.17-19  As for the rich in this present age, charge them  not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.


Gospel and Riches

Riches test our faith. Though it manifests itself differently with the poor, the issue is still one of identity and idolatry.  . James solution to the problem echoes what the prophet Jeremiah says:  Jeremiah 9.23-24  23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”  James says to BOAST in His humiliation.  To the poor he says, glory in HOW RICH YOU ARE.  And to the rich he says, glory in HOW POOR YOU are.  Do not look to the heights that you are at in this world, but focus on the depths that Jesus has taken you from.  We are made rich in the cross of Jesus, but the cross was necessary because of how poor, broken, and weak we are.  We are to identity with the humiliation of Christ, which in the eyes of the world is foolish.  It is foolish for a king to give up all of their wealth, power, and honor for those who don’t deserve it, for the peasants who killed him.  But that is exactly that Jesus did.  We must always be aware of our spiritual bankruptcy—of the COST of our LIFE.  1Corinthians 1.8-9 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.  Humility is the medicine for the rich.


Rich and Poor in the same boat

Our tendency is not to identify the cross in that way whether we are poor or rich.  The poor idolize what they don’t have, thinking it will save them.  The rich idolize what they have, believing it will save them.  James provides a vivid illustration of the sudden reversal of fortunes for the worldly rich people is the burning east wind from the Syrian desert. At first light, the emerald grass and delicate wildflower embrace the morning dew. Yet by midday, the blasting of the desert wind has consumed all in its path leaving only parched ground. The flower of the morning finds its beauty short lived. As one pastor I read said, “No one ever has seen a hearse with a U-Haul trailer behind it.”


Our Church and It’s Idols

James is calling both the RICH and the POOR to a radical faith.  But, as we will see, radical faith requires wisdom for a RIGHT VIEW of our circumstances AND that informed view will always result in WISE ACTION.  Times are economically hard right now but people have been suffering from the IDOLATRY of riches before, during, and they will after.


Whenever a pastor talks about money, many people check out.  What they don’t realize is that Jesus talked about money a lot probably because we LOVE it so much, even more than God.  As we study James’ letter, I am asking you to consider your faith. . Has there been a radical shift in how you live?  Do you have your justifications and legal defense team ready?  Probably.


Giving Records

As part of my preparation this week, I ran the giving records.  I have only done this twice in the three years that we have been a church.  The first time I did it I only ran the elders and the elder-candidates.  And I can with confidence tell you that each of your elders are faithful.  If you’d like to know how much that is, just ask.  I’ll tell you. Providentially, I found out this same week that this was the first month in three years that we did not meet our budget.  Being as I was preaching on the idolatry of riches, I thought it important of me to look.  If that makes you angry or uncomfortable, better ask yourself why?  If you don’t trust your leaders, me, why are you here? 


I was floored by what I found.  First, I was joyful to see that there were and are FAITHFUL people giving in our church.  But I think what surprised me most was the fact that you had, for example, young adults (18-19) giving more than well established families.  There was a faith there that almost brought me to tears and an idolatry that angered me.  But Pastor, how much I give isn’t a measure of our faith?  You’re right, but perhaps it’s a good barometer of your idolatry?  When someone’s cable bill is larger than their giving my guess is they probably spend more time on facebook than they do with God. 


Radical Giving to One Another

Our faith is supposed to be radical because of a radical change in our heart.  Acts 2.42ff  42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

  • That’s right…people should be giving to each other.  I agree. But it doesn’t happen.


Radical Giving to the Church

Acts 2.32ff  32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

  • The church is about more than a building, steel chairs, and holes in the wall.
  • People who need food and gas, pay rent, clothe orphans, spread the gospel inFranceandIndia, teach the gospel here.
  • Funeral for a family who couldn’t afford it.  Still costs us to turn on lights and heat.
  • Medical payment to continue coverage


If you are poor, I pray you will know you are rich.  If you are rich, I pray you will see how poor you

in fact were AND how your Savior gave up.  When was the last time you gave up anything for anyone? When was the last time you really sacrificed and felt it?  We give to Jesus because we’ve been given so much.

More in James | Retro-Faith

January 17, 2010

James 5.19-20: Wandering and Finding

January 10, 2010

James 5.13-18 Praying and Healing

January 3, 2010

James 5.12 Oaths and Vows