Is Your Happiness Driven by Your Possessions? (Part 1)
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,  and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.  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. 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 America 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?
**Please read Luke (12:13-21)
I really like this quote by the great reformer, John Calvin:
“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 and 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.
I’m Brian Evans Pastor of Grace Community Church @ 313 West 2nd Street, Waverly. If you’re looking for a church home, come join us on Sundays at 9:45am for Disciple Hour and 11:00am for worship.
Grace to you and peace,