But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. (James 1:9-11 NASB)
How do you respond to your circumstances? Are you looking at the outside of the cup to determine if what is inside is any good? In this passage, James speaks to two groups of believers on the need to keep the right perspective on lfe and life’s circumstances.1. Woe is me – God doesn’t love me because I’m poor!Are their “true”, “faithful”, “spiritual” believers who are living in poverty? Yes. Both in the New Testament times and today there were true believers who were “in humble circumstances”, that is, were poor people. They were godly. They loved the Lord Jesus Christ. They obeyed God, but they were poor
Why were they poor? Maybe it was famine which had destroyed all their crops and all their reserves. Some had lost everything because of their walk with the Lord Jesus. Some were Jewish Christians who were the casualties of cruel persecution. They had become homeless refugees. They had lost everything for the sake of the Messiah, and were uncertain where their next meal was coming from. Some had incurable diseases and were in the last years of their lives, while others had weak personalities, the victims of abuse, cripplingly withdrawn.
Jesus spoke of a Christian called Lazarus. All he had was a little begging corner at which he asked people for money. Too ill to work, with no-one to support him, he was covered in sores which dogs licked.There are today, brothers and sisters in Kenya whose families have been destroyed by AIDS and with very little but a patch of land they are trying to educate, clothe and feed a dozen children. Visit a Christian orphanage in Uganda, or watch some of the redeemed street children of Manila and you are confronted with a Christian poverty of staggering dimensions.
There are many potential dangers facing poor people. Poverty is not a safe place to be. There are no automatic benefits from being poor. Poverty can embitter. It can make a Christian discontented, complaining, and self-pitying. Fear, worry, envy, and self-righteousness can spoil a poor Christian. Children of poor Christian parents can bring special pains in the heart. “All the other kids are going on the field trip. Why can’t I go?” “I can’t wear that,” a teenager will say, about perfectly good clothes, because those colours, that design is out of date. Those athletic shoes are good enough to last another couple of years, and were very expensive last year, but this year they are out of style. They are the wrong make, and the wrong design. It is not easy for Christians in humble circumstances.
What does the Bible say to a Christian who is broke and suffering? Listen to the two things James says:
1. BE AWARE OF YOUR HIGH POSITION.
Think of Lazarus’s position: his home was a pavement: he was in constant pain. But what was his true position? Do you measure it by his possessions, and his outward circumstances, and his bodily comforts alone?
He was loved by God from the foundation of the earth. In eternity he was given by God the Father to the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved and kept by him. God then called Lazarus into fellowship with Christ. He had given Lazarus a new heart, made him a new creature, gave him the gift of faith, pardoned all his sins. Lazarus was a forgiven man. God had adopted Lazarus into his family and made him a son of God, a joint heir with Christ. He had ended sin’s reign over Lazarus and liberated him. Though he were a beggar he was free. The rich man in his house was a slave to his sins – with all his millions. Lazarus was joined to Jesus Christ. The Son of God lived in him, and he in the Son of God
This poor man was actually a glorified man. Paul put it this way in Romans 8:30, “and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”(Romans 8:30 NASB).
The hope of glory has actually become a present reality because glorification is as certain as anything else that God does. So the Scripture does not say “will glorify” but “the Christian IS glorified” – it’s done. In Christ, Lazarus is seated at the right hand of God. That is his high position. This phrase, “high position” is used in the New Testament to describe the heavenly realms to which Christ has ascended. It describes the place from which the Holy Spirit descends. It is the place from which we await the appearing of the Lord Jesus who will then transform a sore-covered body licked by dogs into a body of glory. This place of glory was Lazarus’s home. Think of the elite addresses in the world. What high position does Lazarus live in? The right hand of God! The heavenly places in Christ Jesus! That is really where he lives.
Think of the knowledge that Lazarus has. He knew who God is and knew who man is. He knew that this is a God-designed and a God-created and a God-sustained world. It was made as part of the beauty of the world to show the grandeur of its Creator. Lazarus could see the flowers that grew in the dust around him and the stars in their loveliness. “I can understand why they are made,” he could say. Jesus tells us that it’s God who clothes the grass of the field. The heavens declare the glories of my Lord and Saviour. In the biggest things of life the poor man in Christ has a greater knowledge that Einstein.
There are biologists who know much about a flower but they don’t know why it is. Because they don’t know God, they don’t know themselves and they don’t know the flower. But a humble believer in her garden actually knows the Creator of those living things and can talk to him and thank him for all he has made. That is something to rejoice in.
The poor man also knew the God of providence. He knew that God is working all things together for his good, that this God so loved him that every hair of his head was numbered. There were things that had happened to Lazarus that had brought him to the dreadful poverty in which he found himself. Maybe his parents had died when he was child. Things had been tough for him and he did not know all the reasons why, but he knew that one day God would make it plain.Lazarus could trust the Lord. This Shepherd would supply all his needs. Nothing would separate him from God’s love. Whatever forces came into his life he wouldn’t just conquer them, he’d be more than conqueror. This poor man could talk to the Lord, and he would hear and answer.That is the high position which every Christian of humble circumstances enjoys?
James goes on to the second thing. He says
2. BOAST IN THIS!”
Take pride in your high position.” “Glory in his high position.”
James tells the poor man, “you are in a high position and when you’ve realised this you’ll show it by delighting in it. “You ought to take pride in it,” he says. “You ought to feel so good about it.” All these truths about our status in Christ build up our morale, they make us encouraged. James is thinking of the poor believers and he wants them to be renewed daily. He wants what they know to make them happy. Barnabas was not a great preacher or evangelist or theologian, but he had this reputation of being a son of encouragement. He lifted people up wherever he went. People felt strong whenever he visited their church. They felt they could cope with their trials; they could stand in an evil day; they could overcome. James was acting like Barnabas here.James says, “Take pride in your high position.” Boast about it. Glory in God’s love for you, Christ dying for you, the Holy Spirit indwelling you. God wants that.
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, in the opening verses, spoke to his disciples, and he said to them, “YOU are the light of the world. YOU are the salt of the earth.” Those 11 men were deeply flawed. They had no qualifications. They had not proved themselves. They had not preached any sermons. They had not suffered much for Christ. Yet he says to them, “You are the salt of the earth.” That was their high position.
Wasn’t there the danger of their pride in their position becoming pride in themselves? Yes but, it exists in all of biblical Christianity. Because salvation is by grace alone there is the danger of us saying, “Let’s sin more and more to give grace plenty of scope.” There are dangers, but the Lord still said to them, “You are the light of the world.” And James says very carefully to this poor man, “Take pride in your high position.” God doesn’t mind us taking pride about what Christ has done for us. He doesn’t mind us glorying in the cross. Jesus said to these men, “I call you my friends. You really matter to me” Paul praises the congregations he writes to for their labor and love and patience and hope. They are Christian graces. They are created by the Holy Spirit. And he tells them how much he’s thrilled by their steadfastness. “We are being steadfast? That’s the first we heard of it.” Now that is not going to fill them with arrogance because it’s only because of God they produce steadfastness.
James is writing to this man who is nothing in the eyes of the world – they believe he is a crank, but he matters to God and he matters to the people of God. And James wants all these people to take pride in God’s love for them and all he has done.This is not the teaching of the self-esteem movement. James is not saying, “Poor man you are great in yourself. Love yourself. Feel good about yourself.” He is lifting this man up to the heavenlies. He is reminding Lazarus of his status in Christ. This man can only boast in the Lord, and take pride in what God has done for him. “I the chief of sinners am but Jesus died for me.”
The poet Shelley’s wrote about a traveller who had been to an antique land and there in its vast sands he had come across the ruins of a huge monument – “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert.” That’s all that’s left of what was once a huge imposing statue. The legs of someone. It’s a ruin. Then the traveller looked and saw there was an inscription. It said these words, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.” Even the man’s name has been forgotten. “Ozymandias”? “King of kings “? He’s nothing. He’s nobody. He is utterly insignificant, forgotten by history. That’s the real message of the statue. This man once boasted in himself, and was proud of himself and everything he had done. He actually esteemed himself so highly that he had this statue erected. Now what remains of this man? Shelley says, “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Don’t merely accept yourself as a man. That’s the message of humanism. That’s what Ozymandias did. God says, “Let not the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches. But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD” (Jer.9:23). Accept yourself in Christ, James says, and take pride in this. “He loved me and gave himself for me.” Boast in that. Look at verse 5 in the next chapter. James says, “Listen my dear brothers. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him” (James 2:5)
Only one life, ’twill soon be past;
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Original message by GEOFF THOMAS August 2 1998http://www.alfredplacechurch.org.uk/Sermons/james4.htm
Edited by standrewscumberland