A Humble Spirit

Friday, May 19, 2017

In this passage, James addresses Christians who fall into two categories: the brother of humble circumstances and the brother identified as "the rich man." James first addresses "the brother of humble circumstances” who was economically poor and represented most of the persecuted Jewish believers to whom he wrote. From the context of persecution, these believers had once been at least somewhat well-off financially, but had their homes, property, and possessions confiscated, or had to leave them behind, when fleeing from prosecutors. At this time, their most common lot was poverty. Despite that circumstance, such a believer was to glory in his high position. "Glory'' (kauchaomai) is often translated "rejoice" or "boast." In such circumstances, a Christian may be considered "the scum of the earth, the dregs of all things" (1Cor4:13) in the eyes of the world, but in God’s eyes, he is exalted. Beloved, there is a legitimate form of pride that even the most destitute Christian can have, for as a child of God, he as been elevated to a “high position.”

"He may be hungry, but has the bread of life.

He may be thirsty, but has the water of life.

He may poor, but has eternal riches.

He may be cast aside by men,

but he has been eternally received by God.

He may have no home on earth,

but he has a glorious abode in heaven!"

(John MacArthur, The Commentary of James, p. 39).

God's ultimate goal for believers is that they be transformed into the moral likeness of Christ. In His wisdom and sovereignty, He may take away physical possessions from His children, but it is for the purpose of making them spiritually mature. Paul considered spiritual maturity to be a blessing infinitely more valuable than anything he might have lost or have wanted, but never possessed.

Sanctification is not a very "easy'' process, maturing never is. We have to actively participate, cooperate, with the indwelling Spirit of Christ if we are to become mature sons and daughters of God. Obedience is an active choice. When we chose to be obedient to God, we should expect to become despised and hated by men. The believer who is despised in this life, accepts this temporary and insignificant deprivation because he has a future divine inheritance that is both eternal and secure.

You find similar encouragement in the writings of Peter (1Pet.3.1-6) and John (1 Jn3:1-3). During Christ’s incarnation, He spoke of this spiritual reality when He delivered the Sermon on the Mount (The Beatitudes, Matt. 5). Paul testified that he considered "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18).

James, the half-brother of Jesus, next presents the other side of the principle. Just as a materially poor believer should rejoice in his spiritual riches, the materially ''rich man [should] glory in his humiliation.'' The idea is that a believer who is materially well-off, healthy, and otherwise physically blessed, should rejoice when trials come, for they teach him the transitory nature of those materiel things and their inability to give inner and lasting satisfaction or help, especially, spiritual help. The rich man and his possessions are "like flowering grass" and "will pass away'' (l Pet.1:24; Isa. 40:6-7). Too often believers need to be reminded that like unbelievers, they to have a natural tendency to trust in material things, a danger James tells believers they must continually be aware of and guard against.

Expanding on the temporariness of physical things and reemphasizing the danger of trusting in them, James adds," 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." The loss of material things is meant to drive the rich person to the Lord and hence to greater spiritual maturity, blessing, and satisfaction.

And at that point, the rich and poor are exactly alike. Neither material possessions nor the lack of them is of ultimate consequence. What is of significance is a trusting relationship with God. The Lord is the giver of all good gifts and it is He who showers all His children with spiritual wealth that will never diminish or fail to satisfy. Faith in Christ to supply his needs lifts the lowly believer beyond his trials to the great height of position in the eternal kingdom of Christ, where, as God's child, he is rich and may rejoice and boast. Faith in Christ does an equally blessed thing for the rich believer, whose riches are temporary; it fills him with the spirit of lowliness and true humility. As the poor brother forgets all his earthly poverty, so the rich brother forgets all his earthly riches. The two are equals by faith in Christ.

When you lose a loved one whether it’s a son, daughter, spouse, or parent, wealth is no comfort. When you lose your health, are betrayed by a friend, or are wrongfully maligned, money cannot buy peace of mind or the decrease the pain. Trials are the great equalizer, bringing all of God's children to dependence on Him. Wealth does not bring God closer, nor does poverty keep Him further away.