Calvary Road Baptist Church

“A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE”

James 1.9-11

Imagine what it must have been like to travel with your friends to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost two thousand years ago, and to discover once you had arrived that the entire city was under a terrible gloom because of the crucifixion of a man some weeks earlier. However, that is not the entire story. The man was thought to be a prophet. However, even that is not all there was. Hundreds in the city were proclaiming they had seen Him after He was raised from the dead. You and your friends discounted such testimonies as the ravings of lunatics until the Day of Pentecost, when one of the man’s twelve apostles preached after several miracles had drawn a huge crowd to assemble at the entrance to the Temple. His name was Simon Peter, and he preached a terrible and wonderful sermon and thousands were saved. However, you were not in attendance on that great day. For you, conversion came several weeks later, though it was just as miraculous for you as your friends’ conversions had been for them, wrought as it was by the precious Holy Spirit of God when you trusted Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. Oh, what a wonderful day it had been when your guilt was all gone, your conscience was cleared, and your sins were cleansed in the blood of the Lamb. Time passed. You grew in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Word as the apostles opened the Hebrew scriptures to your understanding and related the Savior’s teachings during His earthly ministry leading up to His crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorious ascension to His Father’s right hand on high.

There was a predictable backlash in Jerusalem, followed by escalating persecution, and eventually bloody violence that scattered the saints all over that region of the eastern Mediterranean world. Some escaped to the cities of their birth, where they had material resources and seemed to live quite comfortably. Others escaped with nothing, oftentimes moving to the very same cities where wealthier brethren lived, but themselves barely surviving. It was sometimes difficult to comprehend, how some believers had plenty and others survived from meal to meal, scratching out a meager existence. However, just as you began to seriously question not only your own difficulties, but also the comparatively few problems you observed were encountered by others, the letter from James arrived.

Turn to James chapter 1. When you find that portion of God’s Word, please stand and read with me:

1      James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

2      My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;

3      Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

4      But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

5      If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

6      But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

7      For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

8      A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

9      Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:

10     But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.

11     For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.

Today we will examine the two extremes of the wide spectrum of experiences in which are found all the participants of those testings every Christian is subject to. There is no believer in Jesus Christ whose life does not fall somewhere between the two extremes dealt with in our text for today, which is verses 9-11.

Read just our text for today once more with me, verses 9-11:

9      Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:

10     But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.

11     For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.

Keep in mind that here James speaks directly to Christians occupying the two extremes of the different social and economic stations of life, and has in our text nothing to say directly to that person who is unconverted, who has never trusted Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins. This is a text of explanation to God’s children from one of God’s men.

Consider two main points within this larger context in which James addresses the issue of divers temptations in the believer’s life and his need to pray to God for wisdom to deal with those difficult situations:

CONSIDER, FIRST, THE CHRISTIAN WHO IS A BROTHER OF LOW DEGREE

You know what poor people say when you ask them about the hard life? They say, “If I wasn’t so poor, life would be a lot easier. Those rich people have it easy.” Do you know what the rich say when you ask them the same question? They say, “Headaches and pressure all day long. You know, if I just punched a time clock instead of handling all of this responsibility and fighting through government red tape all day long, life sure would be simpler.” The rich man says it is easier having less, while the poor man says it is easier having more. Neither is right in his conclusion because neither takes into account God’s dealings in each believer’s life. Each believer has his own set of problems and trials in life.

Notice what James says about the Christian of low degree, the believer who has comparatively few material resources at his disposal, who may not always have enough to eat or know where he is going to spend the night: “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted.”

What is his predicament? He is of low degree. “The phrase ‘of low degree’ (tapeinov) means one in humble circumstances; one of lowly rank or employment; one in a condition of dependence or poverty.”[1] For some people, being of low degree ruins their whole day. For one type of fellow, his entire self-esteem is derived from the amount of money he has. For that reason, he fails to see the dignity of one who occupies a low station and works a job that does not pay much, which is quite another thing from self-esteem, or thinking much of yourself. However, such is not to be the case with the child of God. So-called self-esteem and a concept of self-worth should be entirely unrelated to the amount of money a man makes or possesses, or to his so-called station in life. Mere outward circumstances should have nothing to do with a person’s perceived value as a human being in the sight of God. Do you doubt what I say? Then consider the poor beggar named Lazarus, the man Jesus spoke of in Luke 16.19-31. Though ignored by the rich man because of his poverty and bad health, this man of low degree in most men’s estimation “was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom” when he died, while the rich man, the man who was respected by others in this life “died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments.”

Therefore, and in light of this reality, James writes an inspired prescription. He directs the brother of low degree to rejoice. What is the poor man supposed to rejoice in? Certainly not his wealth. No, something infinitely more important than perishable material wealth. The poor man who knows Christ can rejoice in any circumstance . . . because he is exalted. Therefore, he is directed to rejoice even when he is of low degree. You see, as we saw with poor Lazarus, this world has everything backwards. Not realizing that Jesus taught that we would always have poverty in our midst, the world system that knows not God is feverishly working to wipe out poverty in our lifetime. While focusing on poverty, so many people ignore their eternal destiny. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, designed to combat the effects of the Depression in the 1930s, is now seen by many economists as having actually prolonged the Depression rather than providing a remedy.[2] The real remedy for the prewar deep Depression turned out to be World War Two. Then there were President John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier and President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society programs. Enacted by Congress to obliterate poverty in the United States, literally trillions of dollars was spent on government programs, some of which still exist. The result? An explosion in illegitimate births in the United States, as young girls figured out that they did not need husbands to get by so long as the government gave them money to subsidize their children. Now we have a nation populated by so many adults who think government at some level should prepare kids for school, that government should feed kids their breakfast and lunch, and that government should take care of kids after school. Parents? They are no longer legally allowed to even monitor their children’s phone conversations anymore.[3] Finally, there was President Bill Clinton’s attempt to remake Medicare several years ago and recent legislation to enact Obamacare. Folks, these measures are all unscriptural attempts to do that which the Word of God says cannot be done, end poverty here on earth by government fiat, to bring heaven down to earth by the efforts of politicians. When you feed a man, you prolong his life by one day. When you concern yourself with the King’s business, when you bring a man to Christ, you are used of God to prolong his life for all eternity. Though he may oftentimes be poor in material possessions, the child of God is exalted to the very throne room of heaven with his Savior. Paul wrote these words to the Ephesians, in Ephesians 2.4-6:

4      But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,

5      Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)

6      And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus

Poor Christian, Christian who is looked down on by the rest of society, Christian who may be suffering great affliction, do not resent or complain about your predicament. Rather, praise God for your position in Christ! That done, and with a right attitude, Christians certainly ought to do what we can to help other believers deal with the daily issues of life, but only after the issues of the soul are first dealt with.

CONSIDER, NEXT, THE RICH BELIEVER

Notice what James says about the man who is rich, in verses 10-11:

10     But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.

11     For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.

First, there is this believer’s position. What is this man’s station in life? He is rich. This Christian enjoys all the material possessions. He has a place to live, clothes to wear, glasses to correct his vision, a job to earn money, food for every meal, air conditioning, a car to drive to work, health coverage provided by his employer, and both a computer and a cell phone. How in the world is such a person not wealthy by any reasonable standard? Is there anything wrong with material wealth, in and of itself? Not at all. I am not complaining. Remember, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were prosperous. David and Solomon certainly were not poor. Job was wealthy, then poor, then wealthy again. Thus, we see in scripture that material prosperity is not wrong in and of itself, so long as a Christian so blessed also realizes his stature in Christ. As the poor man is to rejoice in his exaltation as a believer, the rich man is to rejoice in his abasement as a child of God. Do not be puzzled by this seeming contradiction, for had this man not humbled himself in the sight of God, he would have continued in his pride in this life and would have been punished forever in the life after. This is because, as James reminds us in James 4.6, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” You cannot come to Christ riding a high horse. Additionally, the wealthy Christian must realize that no matter how much of this world’s wealth he may presently enjoy, his wealth is tenuous, at best. Notice the picture of wealth’s frailty painted in verses 10-11:

10     But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.

11     For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.

This speaks of the dry, hot wind that blows in off the desert that suddenly wilts flowers and dries up the grass. Just as suddenly, wealth can shrivel up and blow away. Overnight the once wealthy Christian can find himself sitting on a bus stop bench next to a believer who has never had very much. That said, James is not speaking in verses 10-11 of the rich man’s wealth, but of the rich man himself! “. . . he shall pass away,” verse 10. In verse 11. “. . . so also shall the rich man fade away.” Not only can your wealth evaporate, my prosperous friend, but you can suddenly die. Heart attack? Cancer? Automobile accident? Hunting accident? Stroke? It can end suddenly for anyone, and having money is no guarantee of longevity for the prosperous believer.

Can we not see the situation of each man more clearly now? Each Christian, the relatively poor one and the relatively rich one, has substantial cause and occasion to praise God for where he happens to be at the time. The poor Christian rejoices in his exaltation, while the rich Christian rejoices in his humility. Thus, we are here provided a good lesson on contentment for every child of God. Biblical Christianity gets down to where the rubber meets the road. You cannot spend any time reading, studying, or meditating on this passage of scripture before beginning to realize that what James writes here does not resemble the perversion of Christianity that is portrayed on so much so-called Christian television, with their claims of material prosperity for everyone.

Look at Second John 6. “And this is love, that we walk after His commandments.” Apparently, love for Christ is manifested by obedience. Additionally, from the text before us this morning, we see that love is also seen by your willingness to endure the difficult things encountered in your life, for Him. Does that surprise you? No? It does not surprise me, either. I have known for many years that talk is cheap. Haven’t you? “Oh, how I love Jesus,” people oftentimes say. “If you love me, do what I tell you. If you love me, quit running away from every difficult learning situation I place in your life.” That is what Jesus would say in response.

Folks, from this text we learn two things: First, we learn that everyone goes through it. No matter whether you are rich or poor. Each Christian goes through customized and particular testings and trials suited to making you into a mature Christian, and suited to establishing for your own spiritual assurance whether you really are a Christian. Secondly, and this is so good, the Savior will reward you for just staying with Him through all of this. Be faithful. Demonstrate your love by sticking, and He will exalt you and crown you with the crown of life. That is reserved, Lord willing, for next time.

However, my friend, if you are not saved, this cannot happen to you. You will not successfully deal with trials brought on by your heavenly Father (since God is not your heavenly Father), you will not go to heaven, and you have no chance of being rewarded by the Lord . . . only punished. But, oh, what glory it will be for His Own once we get to heaven.



[1] Albert Barnes, Albert Barnes’ NT Commentary, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com

[2] Jim Powell, FDR’s FOLLY: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression, (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003)




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