We are diving into our second week of study in the book of James. Let’s quickly recap what we learned about the book of James last week. Don’t be shy. If you know the answer, call it out.
James is located in the Old or New Testament? (New) Anyone remember what number book James is out of the 27 New Testament books? (20th) How many different “James”s do we encounter in the New Testament? (4 – James the son of Zebedee, James the son of Alphaeus, James the half-brother of Jesus, and James the father of Judas) And which one appears to be the author of the book of James? (Jesus Brother) Great, when was the book of James written? (mid to late 40s) And finally, who was the book of James written to? (Jewish Believers)
Then we talked about some good reasons to study the book of James, not the least of which is the idea that we have joined in this “spiritual Israel”. So when James indicates right at the beginning of the book that he is writing to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, that now includes us as recipients of this letter.
When we looked at the first eight verses of this letter, there were two things I wanted you to pick-up. First, if you jumped down to verse 4 and then backed your way to the front of the book, you would be able to see the unfolding of this plan that leads to our perfection, our holiness, our sanctification. In verse 4 James tells us that the goal is for us to be perfect, complete, and he says that is the work of patience. Before that he says we build patience through the testing of our faith, and he says that our faith is tested through temptations. Not just negative circumstances or events that happen in our lives, but specifically through temptations.
We also explored this idea of lacking wisdom. That when we lack wisdom we are to ask God for it, and He will provide it. But we are to ask with confidence, and assurance that He will provide it. And we looked at these words that explain the double minded nature of an individual that asks God for wisdom without truly believing they will receive it.
Now, I don’t think it is in anyway coincidental that on the heels of such an opening. Right on the other side of talking about temptations that will test our faith, and talking about how we lack wisdom and need to ask God for it, that James dives into a particular example. And I think it is interesting to note, that thousands of years ago, when James wrote this letter and wanted to provide an immediate example of temptation and lack of wisdom. . .he came to the issue of money.
Two weeks ago we wrapped up our stewardship series looking at the issue of tithing. A very specific money matter. If you were not able to be here, let me encourage you to pick-up a copy of that message, as well as our introduction to James last Sunday if you missed out on that one. But today James gives us a broader look at the issue of money. And we know that with all that has changed in society in the past 2,000 years, the fact that money is a great temptation, and area where we lack wisdom has not.
Roughly 15 percent of everything Christ said relates to the topic of money and possessions. That is more than His teachings on heaven and hell combined. Jesus put an emphasis on money and possessions and James dives right into the topic of money just 9 verses into this letter because there’s a fundamental connection between our spiritual lives and how we think about and handle money. We may try to divorce our faith and our finances, but God sees them as inseparable.
Listen to these numbers. In a recent Gallop poll it was revealed that 64% of all couples argue over money issues, and money is also the #1 cause for all divorces with 54% of all divorces being over money issues. Another poll revealed that nearly 80 percent of all divorced couples between the ages of 20 and 30 list financial difficulties as the primary cause of their separation. When Debbie and I went through our 4 month separation, and our marriage was hanging by a thread, we were also experiencing some major financial issues. The two just seem to go hand in hand.
Finances – money – cash – the green stuff have torn apart many relationships in our culture today. There has been misunderstandings of financial resources and misappropriation of financial resources. This preoccupation with money has created some startling results in our world today.
Consumer debt is at an all time high, currently over 1.4 trillion dollars. Credit card debt is over 500 billion dollars, and according to the Federal Reserve, American consumers add almost 5 billion dollars a month to their credit card debt. 5 billion a month!
In the past ten years, credit card balances have increased a staggering 163%.
Even some of the most dedicated Christians are facing the difficulty of overextended credit and bankruptcy. In the year 2000 alone 1.3 million personal bankruptcies were filed. Mostly by people like you and me.
Look at these spending habits with me. Two different age groups. You can select which one you are closest to either based on age or income. Take your pick.
Age 35-44 25-34
Average Gross Income $55,026 $43,966
Food at Home $3,666 $3,020
Eating Out $2,777 $2,466
Alcoholic Beverages $458 $448
Housing $14,836 $13,084
Clothes and Services $2,394 $2,217
Transportation $8,671 $7,982
Health Care $1,757 $1,265
Entertainment $2,564 $1,959
Personal Products $670 $578
Reading Material $165 $126
Education $602 $544
Tobacco Products $424 $309
Personal Insurance $5,780 $4,423
Contributions $1,040 ($5,503) $746 ($4,397)
Money matters are a huge area of temptation and need for wisdom in our culture, and have been throughout history. So let’s look at what James has to say about it in today’s passage. James 1:9 (read through verse 11).
When I did my first quick read of this passage, I found it very difficult to understand. For instance, right off the bat he refers to the “lowly” brother. Or another version refers to him as the humble brother. So you might not be immediately inclined to see this as a passage on possessions. In fact, you might think that we are dealing with an issue of pride versus humility.
However, when you get to the next verse it opens with that conjunction “but”, so you are going to see some contrast and comparison here as he says “but the rich”. Now, understand that both of these are adjectives in James writing. Lowly and Rich. If you did an English sentence structure, you might list “the rich” in verse 10 as a noun or subject, but as James wrote it, these are two adjectives to describe these two groups of people. “Lowly” and “Rich”. So this first brother he is referring to must not be rich, and rather than lowly or humble, is in fact poor in referring to the person’s financial status.
Also, notice this. James refers to both of these people as “brothers”. The first gets the adjective lowly and the second the adjective rich. So on both ends of the material spectrum; we are dealing with brothers, meaning believers. Fellow Christians.
Now notice what he says about this lowly brother. Let that person, that poor, lowly person, glory in his exaltation. Look at this from two perspectives. First, the earthly perspective. From that perspective it is kind of similar to the verse we looked at last week. “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials”. In other words, that person who is poor, who is enduring financial temptations centered on a lack of finances, should glory in the situation he is in.
There are temptations to being poor. Jealousy. Envy. Coveting. Can even blow up to a level of anger, or hatred with those who are better off financially. So there is definitely an earthly aspect and approach to glorying in a lowly or poor state.
But I want you to notice a second perspective to this glorying in exaltation. This glory in exaltation is an eternal glory in exaltation. I don’t want to bog you down in the Greek, and the cross references, and the complexities of the word choice here. But what is significant about this idea of “exaltation” is that it has an eternal element to it. Paul and Peter use it in their writings.
James is saying that not only is there glory in the fact that you are experiencing financial temptations here on earth, based on a lack of finances which will lead to your perfection, but there is also rejoicing in the fact that you have already attained an eternal exaltation. As a brother in Christ, as a believer, regardless of what your status seems to be here on earth from a financial perspective, you can rejoice in knowing that in the big eternal perspective, you are rich.
Do you see those two perspectives? Glory from an earthly perspective knowing that the temptations of being poor are leading to your Christ likeness. Glory from an eternal perspective knowing that even though you are poor here, you are rich eternally.
So where does that leave the brother experiencing financial riches here on earth? James tells that person to glory in his humiliation. Again, to understand this, you have to look at the two different perspectives James is giving us. First, glory in the earthly temptations you are going to face being rich because it leads to your perfection. Despite the fact that we think the rich have it easier and that the struggles reside with the poor, it is a clear reality that when it comes to temptations, life is no cake walk for those with money.
The Charleston Gazette ran a story last December which indicated that the wife of the lottery winner who took home the richest undivided jackpot in U.S. history says she regrets her husband’s purchase of the $314.9 million ticket that thrust her family into the public spotlight. Jewel Whittaker says, “I wish all of this never would have happened. I wish I would have torn the ticket up.” Life is no cake walk because of money.
There was once a beautiful young woman who was married to a wealthy but elderly gentleman. One day he asked her, “Honey, if I lost all my money, would you still love me? I mean, if I lost my mountain chalet, my yacht, and even my French Villa, would you still love me?” “Of course I would,” she cooed, “and I would miss you too.”
Benjamin Franklin once wrote, "Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature that creates happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of its filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles and triples that want another way."
But again there is not just an earthly perspective to this verse for the rich. There is also that second perspective, that eternal perspective for the rich brother. And while for the poor brother it is a perspective of eternal exaltation despite the lack of worldly wealth, for the rich brother it is a perspective of eternal humiliation despite the existence of worldly wealth. Why? Because for the rich believer, there is an awareness that from the eternal perspective, the riches mean nothing.
Listen to this insightful quote, “When we are abandoned by the things we value, when we discover that no matter how much we have gathered we do not have enough, when we realize that even in the currency we value we are very poor, we are ready to start talking to God. Not before. Faith means betting our lives on the grace of God.” (M. Craig Barnes)
You see, for the rich brother, there is an eternal perspective that enables him to glory in the humility of knowing that the same grace that saves the poor is needed to save him. No riches can buy it, no acts can earn it, and no clout can obtain it. Eternal glory comes only by the blood of the Lamb, regardless of your earthly financial status.
Three life applications. First. . .
1. MONEY DOES NOT EQUAL PERSONAL WORTH.
That is a continuous, consistent, counter culture message of the Word of God. James had to address it in AD 46 because it was already a challenge way back in the early days of the church. You had many believers who were poor when they accepted Christ, and stayed that way the rest of their time on earth. James knew their temptation was a temptation to look upon those with money with jealousy, or envy. A temptation to look upon those with money, and measure their personal worth accordingly, in comparison.
So to those poor brothers, he tells them to rejoice in their high position. Jesus said it to the church in Smyrna, “I know your afflictions and your poverty, yet you are rich!”
Paul says in Ephesians 1:18, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.”
Money does not equal personal worth. James knew that was also true for the rich. He reminds them to be humble in their state because they should realize it is all temporary and insignificant from the perspective of eternity.
A second life application. . .
2. MONEY DOES NOT EQUAL SECURITY.
Notice how he talks about this flower that passes away in verses 10 and 11. This grass that withers. The Middle East is especially known for these scorching winds, known as the sirocco, that are like a convection oven. It can blow day and night for three or four days straight. With little water in the summer, and blistering heat all day long the flowers are baked and destroyed by these natural, weather elements. All the grass and blooms that came up during the cool of the spring, within days can be killed off by the incredible heat and wind.
But here notice a difficulty in this passage. When you read through the commentaries on these verses, you may read how riches are being equated to the temporary and passing nature of this grass and wild flower. That can be a common interpretation. Similar to where Jesus talks about gathering up riches on earth, and how moth and rust will destroy them. Definitely Biblical truth. But that isn’t what James says. Notice, James says the rich person will fade away. Not the riches, but the actual person (read verse 10).
Why does James do that? Why does he suggest the rich person will pass away? Because there is no eternal security in money that will keep you from death.
Another reflection that some of us like to engage in with this passage is to do a little rich person bashing. We like to look at this passage, and tie it to the words of Jesus where he talks about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven. That must be what James is saying. The rich are doomed for eternal destruction.
I have a hard time with that for two reasons. First, some of the great pillars of the faith from God’s word were rich. Abraham was incredibly wealthy. Job ran an upper-class household. David as king lived in a palace. Even Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimethea, Zacchaeus, these were all rich people who did God’s will and God seemed to be pleased with them. It doesn’t seem consistent to believe that God automatically condemns rich people for their wealth.
The second reason I have a hard time with that is determining who defines who is rich? William Boice writes it like this, “Dear Lord, I have been re-reading the record of the rich young ruler and his obviously wrong choice. But it has set me thinking. No matter how much wealth he had, he could not ride in a car, have any surgery, turn on a light, buy penicillin, hear a pipe organ, watch TV, wash dishes in running water, type a letter, mow a lawn, fly in an airplane, sleep on an innerspring mattress, or talk on the phone. If he was rich, then what am I?”
Who is to say who is rich, and who is poor? So I don’t think James is attempting to make some point or suggestion that all rich people are going to hell. I think the picture is broader than that. I think the picture is in the context of what James has already said.
There are two certainties. Whether you are rich or poor. First, you are going to experience temptations, and you are going to need the wisdom of God when you face them. You are going to face them whether you are rich or poor because money does not equal security.
Second, you are going to die. Rich or poor. You are going to die. The rich may struggle more to grasp this reality, but like the grass and flowers of the desert you are going to die.
There was a rich man who was determined to take his wealth with him. He told his wife to get all his money together, put it in a sack, and then hang the sack from the rafters in the attic. He said, "When my spirit is caught up to heaven, I’ll grab the sack on my way." Well he eventually died, and the woman raced to the attic, only to find the money still there. She said, "I knew I should’ve put the sack in the basement."
You are going to die. No matter what schemes, pursuits, or riches you build. . .in the earthly picture, you are going to fade away and your financial status will not result in any security in eternity. So he says to glory in your humiliation that you have been saved by the grace of God, not your own doing.
Money does not equal personal worth, and money does not equal security. A third life application. . .
3. MONEY DOES NOT EQUAL POWER OR ADVANTAGE.
It is interesting to look at a George Barna survey that indicates 50% of Christians consider money to be the primary indicator of success. Christians. 19% of Christians believe you can tell how successful a person is by examining what they own. Christians. One out of five measures success by material possessions. Apparently, 2,000 years later, the message of Jesus and James still hasn’t sunk in with even the church that money does not equal power or advantage.
Back in James day, it was believed that the poor were being ignored or punished by God and therefore deserved no special courtesy. “Hey, if you are in that state, it is because you have done something against God, so who am I to interfere with God’s punishment.” Remember, that was the argument Job had to listen to from his so called friends.
Unfortunately, I still often hear that argument from “Christians” regarding the homeless, or the inner city family living with 12 people in a two bedroom apartment. “They must have made some bad choices.” “They must not have followed God’s plan.”
Meanwhile, the wealthy by contrast, were believed to be blessed by God and should be shown favor. “Hey, if you are rich, you must be making God really happy. If He is happy with you, we should be too.” So, the wealthy were viewed as spiritually blessed and worthy of special treatment while the poor were considered spiritually poor and treated poorly. James talks more about this later in his letter when he addresses favoritism.
But James writes that salvation calls for a radically different view of people. The poor man should take pride in his high position. He may be materially poor, but he has become spiritually rich in Jesus Christ. Though he has no honor, power or advantage in worldly terms, he is exalted and given dignity in Christ. In his weakness, he has been made strong.
Likewise, the rich man should take pride in his low position. Though materially rich, he has been humbled by the recognition that his riches cannot bring him eternal life. He has come to receive true riches in Christ. But both the rich and the poor find their power and eternal advantage not in material wealth, but in the reality of God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
What does it say in Acts 1:8? “For you shall receive power when you attain a six digit salary.” “For you shall receive power when you own two late model cars, and a house.” Or take it the other way, “For you shall receive power when you live below the means of everyone around you.” “For you shall receive power when you vow to make less money, and abject yourself to extreme poverty”
It doesn’t say any of that, because the kingdom of God does not equate power to being rich or being poor. It equates power to having received the blessing of the Holy Spirit upon your life. We talked about it two weeks ago. David killed Goliath because the Holy Spirit had come upon him.
Look at the story of Samson. Remember him. Big guy. Good looking. Real strong. Samson’s strength wasn’t in his hair. Why do we teach kids that? Read the passage where he was overtaken by the Philistines. It doesn’t say that it was because his hair had been cut. It says he got up to defeat them, and did not even realize that the Spirit of God was no longer with him. His power was gone. The Holy Spirit was no longer there.
Money does not equal power or advantage, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit does. That’s where power comes from.
Let me begin to wrap us up with this story of a man who loved money more than anything. He worked all his life and hoarded as much as he could. Just before he died, he told his wife, “When I die, put all my money in the casket with me. I want to take my money to the afterlife with me.” She promised him that she would.
At his funeral, just before the undertakers closed the casket, his wife put a box in the casket. The casket was closed and rolled away. The wife’s friend said, “I know you didn’t put all that money in there with that man. You weren’t foolish enough to do that.” The wife said, “I promised him I would put the money in the casket.”
“You mean to tell me you put that money in the casket with him?” her friend asked. “Yes” she said, “I wrote him a check.”
John D. Rockefeller Jr. wrote "The poorest man I know is the man who has nothing but money". Someone once said, “The man who has no money is poor. The man who has only money is poorer still.”
I want you to ask yourself a question this morning. Probe deep within your heart. Ask God’s Spirit to do a work of revelation in you, and ask Him to show you that place of financial temptation that He desires to use as a testing of your faith to produce patience, and lead to your holiness.
When end of the spectrum are you on? Is it the end that is tempted by the desire to spend, to build material wealth here on earth, and to want to make money to become somebody? If so, ask God to reveal that to you, and to help you see the temporary nature of such riches. And ask Him to provide you with wisdom to escape such a mindset. Ask Him to establish a spirit within you that glories in the eternal humility of reliance upon God’s grace.
But don’t let yourself off the hook if you are at the other end of the spectrum. We in the church, especially holiness denominations, seem to have grasped the mantel of poverty as some form of badge of honor. And yet, there are all forms of traps and temptations awaiting those of lesser financial means. It is at that end of the spectrum where jealousy, envy, covetousness, can creep in and rob you of the joy and fullness that God desires you to experience. Ask God to show you whether in your poverty you are struggling to find personal worth, security, or the exaltation God has reserved for you.