Sermon: Trading Places (James 1:9-12)

Trading Places

James 1:9-12

There is a misconception in our consumer driven culture.  The misconception is, money = security or money = happiness.  It’s interesting that of all the trials James could mention specifically, he begins speaking of the haves and the have-nots.

Here is an interesting statistic: Compared with Americans in 1957, today we own twice as many cars per person, eat out twice as often and enjoy endless other commodities that weren’t around then–big-screen TVs, microwave ovens, SUVs and handheld wireless devices, to name a few. But are we any happier?  Are our lives filled with ease and contentment?  The answer is that we are not happier.  We are not more content, in fact, we are the most unhappy and medicated culture ever to exist.  We spend our lives acquiring goods only to find they don’t satisfy.  They didn’t provide security, or make our lives easier.  They didn’t deliver what they said they would.  As a result, we are left with debt, bills, and depression.  Keeping up with the Jones’ is a race that leads nowhere but destruction. 

James saw the temptation to base our security, happiness on externals as a real problem. The reason it was a problem was because since the persecution broke out many if not most Christians had lost just about everything they had.  The Christians were having their faith shaken.  How could James encourage the believers who were downcast? How could he encourage faith in a time where material possessions were being lost? 

Christianity in the early stages was made up of practically all poor people who had given all to follow Christ.  There was, however, some in the fellowship that had much wealth.  So a tension existed. The wealthy were challenged not to use their exceptional means for self-promotion but the promotion of the kingdom of God.  At the same time, those of lesser means were challenged not to focus on their lack but on their wealth in Christ.  We can see the connection between this verse and the idea of counting trials as joy and boasting in humility.  It is interesting that James now gives us two specific examples of trials and both have to do with money.  One had little, the other had a lot. 

James 1:9-12 (ESV) 

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation,  [10] and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.  [11] For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. [12]Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 

The poverty and suffering in Kenya and in other parts of the Third World are striking to American Christian visitors. But what might be most shocking to Americans is witnessing the exuberant joy Kenyans express, despite the difficult circumstances. Kenyans exhibit a love for one another and a zest for life that’s envious. It’s almost become a cliché for American Christians to return from trips to the Third World, saying in amazement: The people are so poor, they have nothing — and yet they have such joy, they seem so happy!

It’s as if the idea doesn’t register in our minds that people could be happy and lack material possessions.  Can this be?  Not according to our commercials.  Not according to our TV shows.  Not according to the magazines we read.  However, it is true according to the Word of God.  So, the thing that should strike us about this statement isn’t that those Christians in poor countries can be happy, but what is striking is that Christians in Americans can’t believe it’s true!!  That’s the astonishing truth.  That’s the truth that should send us to our knees in prayer and repentance.  That’s the truth that must be dealt with.  Is our joy dependant upon our possessions?  I must admit these verses are very challenging. 

Matthew 6:24 (ESV) 

 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

What else are we serving when money and possessions determine our mood? 

James brings us back to reality.  He brings us face to face with our sin of idol worship.  The truth is we Americans are burdened with wealth.  We are troubled with prosperity.  Is it a blessing when we have too many cars to fit into our garage?  Is it a blessing when we must build bigger storehouses to house our possessions?

Luke 12:13-21 (ESV) 

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  [14] But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”  [15] And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  [16] And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully,  [17] and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’  [18] And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  [19] And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’  [20] But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  [21] So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.

“The human heart is an idol factory—John Calvin

Our hearts long for contentment and joy.  We are prone to search everywhere for them.  Everywhere, that is, except in our Lord.  James knew his people and he knows us.  How is it that believers can have joy in a world of materialism?  James’ reasoning is as follows: You can count it joy when you suffer under poverty because of the great role reversal in the kingdom of God.  This role reversal is for eternity.  The first trial James speaks of is the trial of poverty.

1- The Trial of Poverty (vs. 9) 

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation,

The Church has always been made up of a diversified gathering of God’s people.  A healthy church should have those from all walks of life.  It should include white collar, blue collar.  It has even been discovered that in the early church there were slaves and freemen.  There were even times when slaves, while being the lowest socially were in fact elders within the church. 

After persecution set in many within the church had the clothes on their back and that was about it.  That’s why we read in the Book of Acts that those who had possessions shared them with those who had need.  So, our Lord is the great equalizer of those within the church.  Those of the called are made equal in Christ.  We are all fellow heirs with Christ, none being more or less important than the other.  The world may not even notice you but if you are a child of God, He adores you.  The world may not know your name; God has it written down in a book.  The world may find you and your convictions shocking, God calls you His child. 

James shows what the lowly brother has going for him.  He is exalted in the church.  He will find ultimate exaltation in the world to come.  The brother who lacks wealth on earth will find unimaginable wealth in His Savior.  While the lowly brother focused his faith toward Christ he found reason to boast.  He has now become one of single-mindedness not double-minded.  He doesn’t place trust in possessions and the Lord.  His focus is Christ and His glory.

The poor brother’s poverty now gives reason for gladness of heart because it has turned into a benefit.  The benefit is none other than promoting his humility and faith in the things unseen.  His future is made to shine all the more when set against the backdrop of poverty. 

We’re not really poor are we?  In this country we have never experienced true poverty.  We’ve never really experienced persecution because of our faith.  Still, this principle remains as true for us as it was for those in the first century: don’t allow the goal of your life be the pursuit of riches and security outside of Christ.  Our hope as believers is found in Christ and nowhere else.  Every other pursuit is trivial and meaningless.  Money can’t buy eternity.

Paul had this kind of idea in mind when he wrote,

1 Cor. 7:22 (ESV) 

For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 

2- The Trial of Prosperity (vs. 10-11)

The second trial spoken of by James is the trial of prosperity.  Have you ever viewed prosperity as a trial?  He shows us that trials show up in two general ways.  There are painful trials and then there are pleasant trials.  We often think of painful ones but seldom think of the ones that cloak themselves in comfort.  We seek God in pain but often forget Him when things are going well.  The wealthy may well be more tempted to forget God than do those who have little.

 [10] and the rich (brother boast) in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.  [11] For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

The wealthy Christians should boast in their humility.  James doesn’t mean that the rich run around and say I’m the most humble person I know.  What he does mean is that the rich should boast in their lowly state found as a slave in Christ. 

Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 

There is a truth found in Scripture, those who possess much are in more danger of placing their security in their possessions. 

Proverbs 18:11 (ESV) 

A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination.

Wealth brings with it the delusion of security.  So, while those in poverty need to be reminded that one day they will be rich, those with much should be reminded that they are slaves of Christ.  He is their security not their money.  Those who are wealthy as far as the world goes must be on guard.  Possessions can quickly become temptations.  The rich need to practice self-sacrifice to maintain their single-minded trust in Christ. 

The wealthy, like the poor must trust Christ alone.   The reason James gives for this Christ exalting attitude is as he puts it: because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 

-The lowly glorify God when they consider the riches of Christ worth far more than what others around them may have in material possessions.

-Likewise, the rich glorify God when they consider their riches as nothing compared to the eternal riches found in Christ.  They submit to His Lordship because they have the right perspective on their possessions.  They view their wealth as a means to glorify God rather than a means to glorify themselves.

James considers temporal riches to be like a wildflower in the field.  Not only is wealth like a flower that will pass away, but so are people.  Our lives are short and all will soon pass away.  If the Lord doesn’t return in our life time, everyone in this room will die like the flower in the field. 

James tells us how it works.  He says the process of fading away is harsh.  The sun in Palestine comes up with its scorching heat.  When the sun is high in the sky the flowers that were once beautiful die and fall away.   

So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

While the wealthy are busy being wealthy they will pass away.  While they are endeavoring to maintain their wealth they will, like the wildflower” pass away.

Summary of 9-11,

The poor Christian may find their social condition a very painful trial.  However, they must not become depressed by this.  Instead they should think upon their high condition as a child of the King.  On the other hand a wealthy Christian should see his wealth as a trial as well.  He should see the vanity of his temporal condition of prosperity.  All of his temporal possessions should only remind him that his true wealth lies in Christ. 

3- The Promise (vs. 12)

[12]Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 

James closes this section of his letter with a promise.  This promise has two parts.

A- The Promise While Enduring Trials.

[12]Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial

There is an inner peace that is only experienced while obeying the Lord under hardship.  Blessed, literally means fortunate.  This person who is in the process of enduring a trial for the glory of God is receiving endurance, peace, and becoming mature in Christ. 

B- The Promise After the Trials.

when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Faithful perseverance through trials is the mark of one who possesses saving faith.  A genuine love for Christ will show up in the life of a believer as perseverance.  A genuine Christian is not someone who only has made a profession of faith, but one who is demonstrating his faith in a changed life.  True love for God manifests itself in godly living. 

1 Peter 1:3-9 (ESV) 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  [4] to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,  [5] who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  [6] In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,  [7] so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  [8] Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,  [9] obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Our steadfastness does not gain salvation.  One who is converted will remain steadfast through suffering.  We may at times believe we can’t take any more.  God remains faithful to His children.  He is gracious to His people.  Do you possesses an ongoing love for Christ that cannot be destroyed by pain and suffering no matter how severe? It is in the tests of life we are shown the genuineness of our faith.

So whether the testing of your faith is poverty…leading us to look to the riches of Christ or the testing of your faith is prosperity leading us to humble ourselves under the lordship of Christ may we as His people endure trials and count them as joy for the glory of Christ.