Summary: wealthy or poor - Each group has its own problems – Real Wealth is a Matter of Understanding Sufficiency in Christ
"Rich Man - Poor Man"
OPEN: So we are continuing our journey through the book of James and one of the things we've noted right from the beginning is that James is a man who thinks in a way that is vastly different from the norms we run into in normal society. (whatever that is) If you're really honest, don't you wonder about this guy James? In the first couple of verses of his letter, he tells us, "Consider it pure joy when you encounter all kinds of trials!" Rejoicing and trials don't go together well in anybody's book. I rejoice over good things, I moan and complain about trials and problems. And now he's telling us that poor people should be happy and rich people should be unhappy. What is it with this guy? Why does he want us to be miserable when things are good, and happy when things are bad?
James is a man whose life has been radically changed by Jesus. Now we remember of course that James is the half-brother of our Lord Jesus. It would have been interesting to know how these two related to one another in the home as they were growing up, wouldn't it? I mean how do you deal with sibling rivalry when your brother is Jesus? (How do you argue with Jesus when he says he wants the top bunk?) I don't know what it was like between the two of them as they were growing up but what I do know is that someplace along the line James saw Jesus for who is truly is - the Lamb of God who came to earth to take away the sins of man. More than that he saw and recognized him as Lord and Master because he introduces himself as a slave of the Lord Jesus. His whole world was dramatically affected - his future hopes and dreams -- his values -- his desires -- his activities -- the way he spent his money, energy and resources. Everything changed because of his commitment to Jesus Christ. So when James teaches, his teachings are radically different than what is normal and common in our culture. He acts radically different because he thinks radically different. He acts biblically because he thinks biblically.
I think that to some large degree we fail to realize how much worldly thinking has really impacted our lives. We've grown up and lived in a culture where the values and morals and the methodologies are so vastly different than what God wants us to experience. How can we escape it? We can't A large part of our walk as Christians is dealing with ongoing struggle with the way the world wants us to think and act and the way that God wants us to think and act.
- So James starts out in this book but challenging us to think radically different regarding the problems and trails we face in this life. Learn how to profit from your problems. To do that you have to realize that every situation you face -- God is involved. More than that, He has arranged the problems in your life and my life to test us.
God's Objective For His Tests (our trails) Are Good
God's intentions for His tests are good. Some of the hardest questions a person will ever have to answer is "Why do bad things happen to good people?" and "Why do good things happen to bad people?" Don't think that we're the first ones to come up with that question. It's probably as old as the fall. We know that the psalmist asked the question. That's what the 73rd Psalm is about. In verses 3-5 he wrote, "For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills." The struggle over why the wicked prosper and the righteous struggle is as old as life itself. The Psalmist has a struggle here -- "I know a wicked person when I see one -- I'm poor -- their rich -- they are wicked -- yet they're free from many of the struggles I have to face every day - and they're arrogant about it. -- and what's worse I find in my heart I envy them. Even though I don't like the way the act about their wealth -- I kind of wish I could be one of them. This doesn't seem to make sense!" What God is doing isn't always apparent to us - but His purpose is for our good.
Let me show you what I mean -- Turn to John chapter Nine:
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." (John 9:1-3) His disciples asked Him saying, "Master, who sinned? This man or his parents that he was born blind?" You say what kind of question is that? You mean they assumed that whenever there was suffering or whenever there was illness, whenever there was a problem somebody's sin made it happen? That's exactly what they thought. The rabbis taught that all suffering was directly attributed to acts of sin either by the individual or by his parents. And so the disciples' question is a question that dominated Jewish thought. And whenever anybody got sick, whenever anyone was going through a trail -- whenever there was a problem, it was automatically associated with sin. And the disciples must be thinking this, listen, "If his parents sinned, what a dirty trick. He had nothing to do with it and look what happens to him." As if to say, "Lord, if his parents sinned and He got this as a result of his parents sin, that's not really fair, poor fellow." On the other hand, if it was his sin that did it, how come he was born blind? You know how the Jews answered that? The Jews had a doctrine of prenatal sin. Try that one on for size. They had a doctrine of prenatal sin. They believed that a child could sin in the womb and then pay the penalty all its life for prenatal sin. You say, "Where did they get that?" They just made it up, because it fitted the logic of their religious thinking. If you're going to have sin be the cause of disease, and it perhaps wasn't the parent's sin if you've got a pair of godly, godly parents, what else are you going to say except this?