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The Highest Humility

James  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  46:16
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Sharing Rothschild’s Wealth
“It isn’t fair,” a poor man once declared to one of the Rothschild’s, “for one man to have millions and millions of dollars, while his neighbor may have nothing at all.”
Rothschild motioned to his secretary and asked him to get the figures on his total wealth. While the secretary was doing this the rich banker consulted an almanac to find out how many people there were in the world.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the Rothschild family would share their wealth with you and me?
Well, when the figures had been compared and a few calculations made, Rothschild again spoke to the secretary.
“Give this man three cents,” he said, “that is his share of my total wealth.”
So when considering the total population of the world and how his wealth would be evenly distributed, only $0.03 was the fair share for any one person out of the wealth of the Rothschild family.
Now whether this anecdote truly happened is irrelevant to the fact that wealth is relative and fleeting. The apostle James has something to say about this too
James 1:9–11 ESV
9 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.
In the previous verses, we saw that godly wisdom comes when we ask God in faith.
This verse is somewhat surprising here, it appears suddenly and seems to have little to do with the context before. But upon further reflection the connections come into focus.
The conditions of poverty constitute a “trial,” parallel to the others already hinted to by James.
Having riches also brings trials to the Christian.
The contrast between faith and double-mindedness can parallel that between humility and pride in wealth.
Here is an illustration given directly by James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to apply this godly wisdom as opposed to worldly wisdom.
Questions flooded my mind here as I read these verses: Are both the poor and the rich Christians? Is this poverty economic or spiritual? Why should each “take pride” or “exult”? What do “riches” reveal about us? The first question has occasioned the most debate. All agree that the poor brother is a member of the Christian community. But what about the rich man?
David P. Nystrom, James, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 54.
James introduces a subject here that he plans to harp on more as this Epistle progresses (especially Chs. 2 & 5—which I’m sure we’ll get to in the next 12 months or so!):
The Poor & the Rich
What James is saying
What James is not saying
I want to expose “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” about these subjects. I bet most of you are aware of at least that title from that 1960’s Clint Eastwood movie. but instead of diving into the themes of that movie, I’m just stealing the title for a way of an outline.

1. The Poor (v. 9)

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly (v. 9)
In this verse, James addresses ‘the lowly brother’.
Whom did he have in mind? There is no difficulty here. He was addressing all of his readers who were poverty stricken as a result of the persecution they were encountering. If you’re sitting here this morning, and are saying “the only two chances I have at getting rich are: slim and none!” this is for you.

i. What James is saying

This is the “good.” James did not want the terrible circumstances of these poor and persecuted people to make them think of themselves as second-rate or inferior Christians. To keep this from happening, he encouraged them to take pride in their high position. Kent Hughes writes about these early Christians: ‘… because they were economically low, they were low in the eyes of the world and, no doubt, in most instances low in their own eyes. Their poverty produced a lowliness of mind.’

Warning against poverty

(the mindset of poverty)
And what was their high position? It is their position as ‘brothers’. James calls them “brothers!” Their poverty could not negate or nullify God’s appointing of them as brothers and sisters in the faith. No matter how low they were in terms of the world’s goods, they were exceedingly rich in spiritual terms! They had been torn out of the condemnation and ruin of sin by the saving work of Jesus Christ and had been made part of the family of God forever!
We need this word quite as much as James’s readers. This is a day in which many Christians are being made to feel inferior because of their faith. These days, we are frequently told that we are guilty of hate crimes if we adhere to the teaching of the Bible. An easy example of this: The Bible teaches us that Jesus alone is the way to heaven (Jn 14:6). But as we believe that, live that, and share it with others, we find ourselves accused of being intolerant!
Many Christians find themselves constantly beaten down especially at work or in school or, perhaps, even among friends and family. And, while it may not be so severe here in America, it is certainly true that many Christians in other places are actually suffering from poverty only because of persecution.
Every Christian who feels life’s cruel pounding can crawl into the warm wisdom offered by James. No matter how hated we are in this world, no matter how low and despicable we appear to be, we actually enjoy the highest of all privileges, namely, being part of the family of God.
James’s point in verse 9 can be stated, then, in this way: The key for the low Christians is to keep in mind their high position in Christ - the low are actually, in reality, high!

ii. What James is not saying

This is the “bad.” With our sin nature and cursed minds, sometimes we tend to read more into these words and verses than what is really there and it happens easily when talking about classes of people.

Being poor is more spiritual

This is false, but it is an easy theological trap to fall into since it sometimes appears that scripture, even Jesus’ own words, seem to condemn the rich and exalt the poor; for instance: The Rich man and Lazarus, The widow’s mite, The Young Rich Ruler, and so forth.
However, ti is still possible for a Christian in poverty to be just as much a snob as a Christian in prosperity. The believers who are not rich should never envy or mistreat those who are. Bitterness comes with no price—freely available to the poorest person.
Proverbs 30 has a prayer that demonstrates this principle:
Proverbs 30:8–9 ESV
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, 9 lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
Here in Proverbs, we see that both ends of the financial spectrum can have its problems and both ends can lead us into sin.
Illustration: I heard of a monk once who lived during the middle ages and he deeply struggled with lusting after women. He was so fed up with his sin that he decided to spend at least three years alone in the Arabian desert in order to flee from his temptation. He cut his solitary confinement short and came back to his monastery to report that his time in the desert was plagued with his thoughts and mental images of sin. This was proof to him, his contemporaries, and even to us this morning that even extreme poverty cannot rid sin and create spirituality.

The Prosperity Gospel

This is the “ugly.” I want to mention here that the Prosperity Gospel (otherwise known as the health and wealth gospel) is pretty well rejected by us here in conservative evangelicalism and for good reason but sometimes when we adamantly reject a wrong idea and totally avoid a bad ditch, we end up crashing in the other ditch. In other words, some of us might totally reject the Prosperity Gospel to the extreme of thinking that any rich Christian must be wrong.
I agree with Charles Grant when he said: “Being poor is a problem, but being rich ain’t the answer.”

2. The Rich (v.10)

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
Not all James’s readers were being persecuted. Some were doing quite well. Their property had not been seized. They had not been refused the right to do business and to make money. In some way or another, either they had managed to avoid detection, or those who had detected their Christianity had chosen to be tolerant in the dispersion. if you’re sitting here this morning saying, “there is no better companion in life than my fat wallet” then this is for you.
James seems to come down harsher on the rich. One reason is the rich unbelievers were the most guilty of persecuting the early church. But perhaps it is also because Jame can still recall his half-brother’s words about wealth often being an obstruction to the reception of the gospel Mr 10:23–25
Mark 10:23–25 ESV
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
And the temptation facing these early Christians, whom James classifies as ‘rich’, was to think that they were better off than their suffering brothers because they were better in some way and God blessed only them.

i. What James is saying

If the key for the low Christians is to remember their high position in Christ, the key for the high Christians is to remember their low position as mortals. In other words, James calls for rich Christians to stay humble by remembering that the riches of this life are fleeting and unpredictable. Life in this world passes very quickly. It is like withering grass and the fading flower. And when we get out into eternity, we will not be rich Christians and poor Christians. We will all be the same in heaven.
Roger Ellsworth, Opening up James, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2009), 34–36.
What James is doing here is encouraging humility in the wealthy believer. When someone speaks enviously to him about his fine house, servants, and in our time now, expensive car, the rich Christian ought to reply, “I don’t rejoice in that. I rejoice that I am going to die one day and go to heaven. And all the beauty that you see in my property is just temporal and will one day be destroyed. I am rich because I know my Savior. —This is the “good”

Warning against the wealthy

The rich cannot trust in their wealth
It is interesting to see here in our translation at the end of verse 10, “...because like a flower of the grass he [[the rich man]] will pass away” as opposed to what we would rather it say “his riches will pass away.” Now in the Greek here, the phrase: “he will pass away” is actually just one word that is in the third person, singular grammatically. So we could translate this: “it will pass away” and the ‘it could indeed refer to his riches rather than he, himself. However, perhaps leaving it as the ESV has translated it is wise (although slightly morbid) since Jesus in Luke 12 tells the parable of the Rich fool. This rich person was materially blessed by God; his land “produced plentifully” (verse 16). As God continued to bless the man, instead of using his increase to give to the needy and to further the will of God, all he was interested in was managing his increase and accumulating his growing wealth. So the man builds larger barns in place of the existing ones and starts planning an early retirement. What happens next? look at verse 20 in Luke 12:
Luke 12:20 ESV
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?’
Little did he know, this was this rich man’s last night on earth. Jesus then closes the story by saying, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” so you seen the emphasis of the story in Luke 12 is on the fact that the rich man died--not that his wealth suddenly disappears. With a moment’s reflection, you can see that this is more fitting since an eternal perspective is more important the momentary wealth--even if that moment of wealth is a whole lifetime, it pales in comparison to Eternity. God would have us focus on where our soul is going rather than where our money goes.
So the point of the Parable of the Rich Fool is we are not to devote our lives to the gathering and accumulation of wealth. It is possible I might die tomorrow in the midst of going about my business.
I said at the beginning that riches lead to other trials for the believer. What are they? trials caused by:
a. Pride. Ezek 28:5
b. Forgetting God. Deut 8:14.
d. Forsaking God. Deut 32:15.
e. Rebelling against God. Neh 9:25, 26.
f. Self-sufficiency.
h. Anxiety.
i. Oppression. James 2:6.
j. Fraud. James 5:4.
k. indulgence. James 5:5.
This is just a few examples of how riches become a trial. It has been told to me that one of the worst things you could do to a Ministry is to dump a whole bunch of money all at once on to it, because more times than not, you’ll have a bunch of Christians fighting over what should be done with that money— now that’s a trial I would like to see Grace Baptist go through!!

ii. What James is not saying

Now we’ll transition to the “bad”

Being rich is wrong

We must be careful we do not misunderstand what the Bible says about riches. It is not against God’s people being rich. Abraham was rich. Issac & Jacob were both rich. David was rich. Kinsman redeemer Boaz was rich. King Jehoshaphat & King Hezekiah feared YHWH and were rich. Rich Joseph of Arimathea gave Jesus his tomb for a few godly examples.
It is rather against Christians allowing their riches to make them proud, elitist and presumptuous.
Psalm 52:7
Psalm 52:7 ESV
7 “See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!”
Job really is a fine example for a lot of things. if you’re poor and suffering you should read Job, if you’re rich and well to do, you should read Job. if you don’t understand why things are the way they are in life, you should read the book of Job. and if you’re just plain bored, you should probably read Job!
As far as we know it seems like he’s been rich near forever, then God allowed Satan to take it all away, and finally, God gives Job more than he’s ever had at the end of the story and Job remains righteous before YHWH though extreme riches and insane poverty and back again. Job proves that God never condemns the rich if they remain righteous before Him. Being rich is not wrong.
Yet, we still have the tendency to equate prosperity with God’s blessing and adversity with God’s displeasure, just as Job’s friends did. And we honestly can’t blame Job’s friends since the Mosaic law in a nut shell taught that obedience brings blessings and disobedience brings cursings. But James would have none of this. He wanted the rich Christians not to shun those in their midst who were worse off than themselves, but rather to embrace them as brothers and sisters and treat them as equals.
Poor people are made by God, just as the rich are: 1 Sam 2:7
1 Samuel 2:7 ESV
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.

The Prosperity Gospel

Again, the Prosperity Gospel can cause issues here. It can be easy for us believers who are rich, to get thinking that the reason we are rich is because God must be rewarding our spirituality and that our riches might be somehow proportionate to the amount of faith we have, or the degree of obedience we perform just as it seems in the majority of the OT. And in our circles, we might not go as far as verbalizing this underlying wrong belief. However, if we allow ourselves to believe it long enough, we are really just fooling ourselves and embracing the root of the Prosperity Gospel which teaches the wrong applications of the promises of God.

3. The Fate of Both (v.11)

Now with this last point you could be thinking, “wait Josh, James is only talking about how the rich will die, how can you say both? well, which one of you poor won’t die? so to drive home the idea of equality that we have in Christ: it is both the rich and poor that will die. So the question then becomes not which one were you while you were here on Earth, but rather where will you be after you die. You see the rich brother and the poor brother will both be in heaven worshipping God together.
Psalm 49:5-9
Psalm 49:5–9 ESV
5 Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, 6 those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? 7 Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, 8 for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, 9 that he should live on forever and never see the pit.
Proverbs 11:4 ESV
4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.
So having your own mortality in the forefront of your mind helps to keep that Eternal perspective, so that no matter what wealth you may have or not have you can do what Dr. Olsen used to always say, “Keep the main thing, the main thing!”
Here is the example James gives leads us to the right view of wealth: Human glory is like a beautiful flower that blossoms and soon fades away. The exhortation James then offers: Only God’s glory is eternal.
I want to leave you with a poem by the missionary Charles Thomas Studd Only One Life
Pastor Kimbrough had actually read parts of this poem in the past, but I want to read it to you again, in its entirety as I see it convicting of how we ought to “keep the main thing, the main thing.”
Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart, And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, the still small voice, Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave, And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, a few brief years, Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill, living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
When this bright world would tempt me sore, When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way, Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Give me Father, a purpose deep, In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife, Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Oh let my love with fervor burn, And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone, Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes only one, Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call, I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
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