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James 1:9-11: Rich or Poor, Glory in the Lord

This is God’s word, God’s truth! “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). “Every word of God proves true” (Proverbs 30:5). James is writing under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, so every thought and every word is “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). James knows that his readers are struggling in the midst of various trials. Paul has been writing about patience in trials, asking God for wisdom, doubting God in prayer and being single-minded. James knows that his readers were struggling with many trials. He is reaching out to them in this letter encouraging them to turn to God and to count on Him in their troubles. He admonishes them to exercise confidence in God, and realize His gracious dealings are a part of His Providence, and, whether rich or poor, to place their complete trust in Him.

Verse 9: “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation…”

“This refers to the poor, the slave, the bottom of the social ladder; and the perfection which may be attained by any such disadvantaged person is achieved in his realization of his exalted status as a Christian. Christianity brings to every man what he needs...the despised poor learn self-respect...the proud rich learn self-abasement. The perfection in Christ Jesus exalts the brother of low degree and brings a healing humility to the mighty and the proud. The gospel if given free course in the lives of men will lead to perfection. It elevates the poor under his depression, and humbles the rich in his elevation.” –Coffman

As a pastor I have served church members who were quite wealthy, and many who were very poor. Actually I found that most of the wealthy people were easy to lead, had fewer complaints and, by and large were great contributors to the church. Oh, a few of them wanted a standing ovation every time they came through the door, but they were in the minority. One man would give large offerings, only if he were allowed to announce how much he was giving for the whole church to hear. Then, in another church, there were some poor people who felt privileged because of their poverty. The problem was that they thought everyone should be poor, and they were very jealous of anyone better off than they were. They were very difficult to lead, because they opposed every effort of the church to reach people who were not destitute like themselves.

What does it mean, to glory in our exaltation in Christ? We are not to boast in anything in ourselves:

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 MSG. “Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies?’ That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, ‘If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.’”

Jeremiah 9:23,24 MSG, “Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom. Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits. Don’t let the rich brag of their riches. If you brag, brag of this and this only: That you understand and know me. I’m God, and I act in loyal love…”

1 Corinthians 10:17, “But “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”

Christianity brings to every man what he needs. “As the despised poor learns self-respect, so the proud rich learns self-abasement.”–Mayor. The poor, destitute Christian may glory in the cross of Christ, and the blessed hope laid up for him in heaven; for, being a child of God, he is an heir of God, and a joint heir with Christ (Romans 8:17).

One's lowly circumstances has no bearing on one’s worthiness as a brother in Christ, for both rich and poor are on the same level at the foot of the Cross. James well knew how oppressive and disheartening such circumstances could be.

Is God against Christians being rich? Absolutely not. He has continually blessed His people with wealth and has made promises concerning wealth. God is not against people gaining wealth. Some pastors teach that God called us to be rich. Did God tell Christians and Pastors to seek wealth? Does it trouble you that some celebrity pastors wear Rolex diamond watches, $2000.00 Armani suits, live in mansions and drive Rolls Royce cars? I have heard Pastors say we are supposed to have everything the world has. Really? I read a book years ago, written by a former family member (divorced from the founder’s son) of a “Name and claim it” television preacher. She wrote: ”I could never understand how we could take money from poor widows and widowers, while riding in limousines, wearing $1,000.00 suits and $2000.00 watches, staying in presidential suites in hotels, living in the lap of luxury in mansions.” (my paraphrase)

When God talked about prosperity and abundance He mainly talked about doing the work of God. Supplying the poor, feeding the sick and having no shortage for doing God’s work. He was not talking about getting big fancy cars and mansions. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:28, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” The only reason for wealth is so that we might be able to help those in need!

Paul says this about money and its deception, “But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:9-11 NLT).

In the Parable of the sower, Jesus said this about riches: “…the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:18,19). And Jesus warns about riches, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money” (Matthew 6:24 NLT).

So I ask, “Which of the Apostles drove a Bentley or a Rolls?” The Apostles were flogged, and put in jail; their transportation was usually their own two feet. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Listen to him as he describes what Christ’s servants are to imitate: “…in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…” (1 Corinthians 11:23-27). “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NLT). Doesn’t sound very prosperous does it?

Most of the apostles died horrible deaths in the name of Jesus Christ. They followed God. They didn’t seek after wealth and notoriety. What do we see on television? Preachers doing reality shows, showing off there fancy cars, suits and mansions. This is not what Christ died for? Is Jesus enough for you? Is Jesus enough? –Portions of this were adapted and edited from Norman Grant,

Wealth is certainly deceptive!

Deuteronomy 8:17,18, “Then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’ And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth…”

Proverbs 8:11, “The rich think of their wealth as a strong defense; they imagine it to be a high wall of safety.”

Proverbs 30;8,9 NLT, “First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.”

No matter how poor or destitute, God accepts us, “to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved’ (Ephesians 1:6). And God gives confidence to every believer, even the poor, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). I‘m a child of the King! I have been exalted to Sonship through adoption by the Father! “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 3:4,5).

My Father is rich in houses and lands,

He holdeth the wealth of the world in His hands!

Of rubies and diamonds, of silver and gold,

His coffers are full, He has riches untold.

I’m a child of the King, a child of the King:

With Jesus my Savior, I’m a child of the King.

A tent or a cottage, why should I care?

They’re building a palace for me over there;

Though exiled from home, yet still may I sing:

All glory to God, I’m a child of the King.

–Words by Harriet E. Buell, Music by John B. Sumner, 1877–

Verse 10a: “…but the rich in his humiliation…”

“I've been rich and I've been poor, and believe me, rich is better.” –This quote has been credited to entertainer Sophie Tucker, comedian Joe E. Lewis, comedienne Fanny Brice, actress Mae West and many others.

“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God” (1 Timothy 6:17).

“Money is a powerful force. We work for it, save it, spend it, use it to satisfy our earthside longings, and then wish we had more. Aware of its distracting danger, Jesus taught more about money than any other topic. And, as far as we know, He never took an offering for Himself. Clearly, He didn’t teach about giving to fill His own pockets. Instead, Jesus warned us that trusting in wealth and using it to gain power clogs our spiritual arteries more readily than most other impediments to spiritual development. In telling the story of the ‘rich fool,’ He shamed His listeners for not being rich toward God (Luke 12:13-21), indicating that God has a far different definition of wealth than most of us.

So, what does it mean to be rich toward God? Paul tells us that those who are rich should not be conceited about their wealth, ‘nor to trust in uncertain riches’ (1 Timothy 6:17). Rather, we are to ‘be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share (verse 18). Interesting! God measures wealth by the quality of our lives and our generous disbursement of wealth to bless others. Not exactly Wall Street insider talk, but great advice for those of us who think that our security and reputation are tied up in the size of our bank account.

If we’ve been blessed with riches, we must be rich in deeds;

God wants us to be generous in meeting others’ needs.


Riches are a blessing only to those who make them a blessing to others! –Our Daily Bread, June 2011 (edited by me)

“Humiliation…” in Greek is tapeinosis, meaning, “low, not high, not rising far from the ground.” The rich man is to boast about his condition as lowly or of low degree. He is to have proper opinion of passing, temporal wealth as that which is base, common, and of little value. The idea of this self abasement is to assume an unpretentious state or recognition of one's low estate. To paraphrase Thayer, The rich man is to boast in spiritual abasement, which leads him to perceive and even to lament his (moral) littleness and guilt.

Verse 10b: “…because as a flower of the field he will pass away.”

This clearly speaks of the brevity and uncertainty of life! The Scripture tells us that life is short:

“Swifter than a weaver’s shuttle…” (Job 7:6).

“As the cloud…” (Job 7:9).

“My days are swifter than a runner; they flee away…” (Job 9:25 ESV).

“How short is life, how full of trouble!” (Job 14:1 NLT).

“Our days on earth are as a shadow” (1 Chronicles 29:15).

“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be…how fleeting my life is” (Psalm 39:4).

“You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand” (Psalm 39:5 ESV).

“Our life is like a dream…” (Psalm 90:5).

“Like a sigh…” (Psalm 90:9).

“Remember how short my time is…” (Psalm 89:47).

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).

“For my days disappear like smoke” (Psalm 102:3).

“The scythe of death is sharpening. Green grows the grass, but quick comes the scythe. The destruction of the ungodly will be speedy, sudden, sure, overwhelming, irretrievable. The grass cannot resist or escape the mower. And wither as the green herb. The beauty of the herb dries up at once in the heat of the sun, and so all the glory of the wicked shall disappear at the hour of death. Death kills the ungodly man like grass, and wrath withers him like hay; he dies, and his name rots. How complete an end is made of the man whose boasts had no end! Is it worth while to waste ourselves in fretting about the insect of an hour, an ephemeral which in the same day is born and dies? Within believers there is a living and incorruptible seed which liveth and abideth for ever; why should they envy mere flesh, and the glory of it, which are but as grass, and the flower thereof?” –Spurgeon

Life is short, death is certain and eternity is long! Better get ready by receiving Christ now!

I have never been rich, at least not rich in material things. One of my former Bible College classmates became a millionaire. He gave up every Christian principle he had learned as he gained wealth! He said, “It’s not the money that I like, it’s the power it brings.” He phoned me one day to say that God was dealing with him about ministry. I asked him if he was willing to give up everything for Christ? He was not willing, and, he died broke, and in debt!

Spurgeon goes on to say, “In the morning they are like grass which groweth up. As grass is green in the morning and hay at night, so men are changed from health to corruption in a few hours. We are not cedars, or oaks, but only poor grass, which is vigorous in the spring, but lasts not a summer through. What is there upon earth more frail than we!”

By the way: I used to said, “My friend and I graduated from college together. In 20 years, he gained $20,000,000, while I gained 100 pounds, the difference, I haven’t lost my 100 pounds.”

Verse 11: “For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.”

“We need not pursue this metaphor, as St. James' meaning is sufficiently clear: All human things are transitory; rise and fall, or increase and decay, belong to all the productions of the earth, and to all its inhabitants. This is unavoidable, for in many cases the very cause of their growth becomes the cause of their decay and destruction. The sun by its genial heat nourishes and supports all plants and animals; but when it arises with a burning heat, the atmosphere not being tempered with a sufficiency of moist vapours, the juices are exhaled from the plants; the earth, for lack of moisture, cannot afford a sufficient supply; vegetation becomes checked; and the plants soon wither and die. Earthly possessions are subject to similar mutations. God gives and resumes them at his pleasure, and for reasons which he seldom explains to man. He shows them to be uncertain, that they may never become an object of confidence to his followers, and that they may put their whole trust in God. If for righteousness' sake any of those who were in affluence suffer loss, or spoiling of their goods, they should consider that, while they have gained that of infinite worth, they have lost what is but of little value, and which in the nature of things they must soon part with, though they should suffer nothing on account of religion.” –Clarke

“Will fade away…” means to disappear gradually, die out, or wither. It is used literally of plants losing their vitality. James uses the word figurative describing a person as wasting away, ending up with nothing, losing out. Thayer says it gives the meaning equivalent to having a miserable end.

Are you gradually disappearing, withering on the vine or wasting away? It very well my be that in pursuing wealth and fame you are literally wasting the time and opportunities that God has given you for a very fulfilling life in Christ. So many people talk about their need to be significant, to find purpose and meaning in life. They say things like, “I want to make build a something great.” I want to become a millionaire before I turn 40.” “I want to do something important with my life, to conquer, achieve, excel, to prove myself.” “I want to be somebody.”

Just look at King Solomon, a man who had everything to live with and nothing to live for. The key word in the book of Ecclesiastes is “vanity” or “emptiness,” from the Hebrew word, shav, meaning, “nothingness, and worthlessness, the futile effort of trying to find significance or happiness apart from God.” Watching the daily news, we are bombarded with celebrities who think they are doing something important. Or the very rich who use their millions to try to make up for something lacking in their lives. A lot of self-aggrandizement, self-worth; self-importance; it all just adds up to the word, self, or selfishness!

King Solomon was a good example. He didn’t ask God for wealth, but rather for wisdom…He wanted more of God. Listen to King Solomon as he describes all he has accomplished:

“Oh, I did great things: I built houses, planted vineyards, designed gardens and parks and planted a variety of fruit trees in them, made pools of water to irrigate the groves of trees. I bought slaves, male and female, who had children, giving me even more slaves; I acquired large herds and flocks, larger than any before me in Jerusalem. I piled up silver and gold, loot from kings and kingdoms. I gathered a chorus of singers to entertain me with song, and–most exquisite of all pleasure–voluptuous maidens for my bed. Oh, how I prospered! I left all my predecessors in Jerusalem far behind, left them behind in the dust. What’s more, I kept a clear head through it all. Everything I wanted I took—I never said no to myself. I gave in to every impulse, held back nothing. I sucked the marrow of pleasure out of every task—my reward to myself for a hard day’s work! Then I took a good look at everything I’d done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing… I hate life. As far as I can see, what happens on earth is a bad business. It’s smoke—and spitting into the wind. And I hated everything I’d accomplished and accumulated on this earth. I can’t take it with me—no, I have to leave it to whoever comes after me. Whether they’re worthy or worthless—and who’s to tell?—they’ll take over the earthly results of my intense thinking and hard work. Smoke” (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11;17-19 MSG).

Then he concludes with: “Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), was a lawyer, civil libertarian, and leading member of the ACLU. He was known in his hometown as the “Village Infidel.” The story is told that Mr. Darrow was visited by a pastor near the end of his life. When asked to put the meaning of life into a sentence, Mr. Darrow picked up a Bible and read Luke 5:5. “Master we have toiled all the night and taken nothing.” In other words he felt that his life had been wasted. An old gospel song said it well:

“Wasted years, wasted years, oh how foolish,

As you go on in darkness and fear.

Turn around, turn around God is calling.

He’s calling you from a life of wasted years.”

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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