************ Sermon on James 1:9-11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 3, 2006
"The Great Reversal"
I am not a baseball fan – I think the game is boring and slow – but I loved the 2004 playoffs. In the American League Championship Series the New York Yankees were ahead of the Boston Red Sox three games to zero. The Red Sox made one of the most amazing come backs in the history of sports and won the next four games and the series. They then swept the World Series four games to zero. I don't know what made me happier – that the Red Sox finally won or that the mighty Yankees got beaten.
The American sport's fan loves the underdog. We love it when a team that is not expected to win comes from behind and wins the championship. We love it when there is a reversal of fortune.
We look in the Bible and we see the same kind of reversal. What is high is brought low. What is low is brought high. What is proud is humbled. What is out is in. What is in is out. But that is because the standards and values of the Kingdom are completely different than the standards and values of the world. For instance, it was David – the shepherd boy – who was picked as Israel's king and not his older and stronger brothers. It was Jacob, the quiet man who liked staying by the tents, not Esau, the skillful hunter, who was chosen by God to receive the birthright. It was Mary chosen to give birth to Jesus, not one of a thousand other women that came from better circumstances.
We see this same kind of reversal in the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon Jesus completely turns upside down the values of this world. Listen to just two of the beatitudes:
(Mt 5:5,10) Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth ... (10) Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Our world tends to look down on the meek and the persecuted. It certainly does not consider them "blessed." But Jesus does!
James talks about the same kind of reversal in our text for this evening. He talks about a reversal in roles for the rich and the poor. Now, you should realize that issues concerning wealth and poverty are some of the main concerns of James' letter. We will see these issues coming up a number of times as we go through this letter. James does not teach that poverty in itself is a virtue. Nor does he regard wealth in itself as evil. What he does condemn is greed and exploitation and a dependence upon wealth.
Don't forget, James is writing to servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ who have been persecuted for their faith (James 1:1). He is reminding them that they must always live out their faith. He is reminding them that their religion must be pure and faultless. He is reminding them – and us – that a person's attitude towards riches and poverty is also part of true religion.
I The Poor
A James writes, "The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position" (James 1:9). Who are these brothers – and sisters – in "humble circumstances" James is talking about? James is talking about those who are physically poor. He is talking about those at the bottom of the social ladder. He is talking about those who are slaves or beggars or indentured servants. But notice, they aren't just poor; they are also fellow believers because James identifies them as a brother – or a sister – in the Lord.
Who are these brothers and sisters in "humble circumstances" today? We look around the church – not just our congregation but the wider church in Visalia – and it is easy to identify these brothers and sisters in "humble circumstances." They are the widows who barely scrape by on their widow's pension. They are the elderly on fixed incomes who have to watch every dollar. They are the working poor who earn the minimum wage and get no benefits like health insurance and pension plans. They are the farm workers who are taken advantage of by labor contractors. They are the homeless who do not know where their next meal is coming from. They are the drug users, alcoholics, and released prisoners that we meet at the Rescue Mission.
B "The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position" (James 1:9). What high position? You got to be kidding, James! They don't have a high position. If anything, they can barely sink any lower than they already have. Part of the problem is that they are looked down upon by the world and even those within the church are guilty of doing this. So what is James talking about?
Sad, isn't it, that those who are poor are condemned for their poverty? Sad, isn't it, that those of "humble circumstances" are looked down upon by those of high position? Sad, isn't it, that even some within the church are guilty of this?
C Nevertheless, James' advice to servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ is this: "The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position" (James 1:9).
What "high position" is James talking about? The poorest Christian needs to remember something. He or she needs to remember what they are by grace and through faith. He or she needs to remember what God has done in them and to them and for them. He or she needs to remember they are heirs of the Kingdom (James 2:5). He or she needs to remember the King of kings and the Lord of lords is their brother (Heb 2:11). He or she needs to remember they have been raised with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6). He or she needs to remember they will one day judge angels (1 Cor 6:3). He or she needs to remember they are children of God (Jn 1:12; 1 Jn 3:1-2). He or she needs to remember the great reversal that takes place because of the Gospel: the lowly of this world, if they believe, are exalted to the highest position.
Heirs of the Kingdom. Jesus as brother. Raised and seated with Christ. Judging angels. Children of God. Wow, what a list! What a high position!
The brother and sister in "humble circumstances" should not moan and groan about their poverty. They should not feel sorry for themselves. They should not have a victim mentality. They should not have a "poor me" syndrome. Instead, they should remember their exalted position in Christ.
The lowest Christian is higher than the highest unbeliever. The lowest Christian is higher than any unbelieving President, Prime Minister, millionaire, billionaire, CEO, movie star, and sports hero. The world may not think so. The church may not act so. But that is what the Bible says. This reminds me of the story of "Garbage Mary."
Topic: RichesFrom the outside she looked so poor. But in reality she was so rich. Similarly, the brother and sister in humble circumstances may look poor but in reality they are rich.
"Garbage Mary" lived in a small town in Florida. Every day she would be seen dressed in her rags, walking the streets, scavenging through garbage cans for food, which she hoarded in her car or in her tiny two-room apartment. She was a recluse with no friends, and, as she scrounged cigarettes and ice cubes from anyone who was available, it was logical to believe that she was an old woman who was rapidly losing her mind and living on the verge of destitution.
Finally, Garbage Mary was picked up by police and confined in a psychiatric institution. But, when some court officials went to her apartment to collect a few of her personal effects, they were amazed to discover that there was money everywhere. Scattered through her apartment and her car were bank books, stock securities, oil-drilling rights, real-estate documents, and cash, which indicated that Garbage Mary was worth more than a million dollars. These documents also indicated that she was not an old woman, but a forty-eight-year-old college graduate, who had inherited a great deal of money when her father died in 1974.
II The Rich
A James also has advice for the rich. He writes, "But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position ..." (James 1:10). Who are these rich James is talking about? James is talking about those who are physically rich. James is talking about those who are rich from a worldly point-of-view. He is talking about those who drop more in the collection plate than many people earn in a year. He is talking about those who can buy something without worrying about the price. Again, James is not saying that being rich is an evil thing. But notice, they aren't just rich; they are also fellow believers because James identifies them too as a brother or sister. They too are servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ and need to be reminded of how they should be living out their faith.
Notice the great reversal? The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. The brother who is rich should take pride in his low position.
B James tells the rich to take pride in their low position. What low position? You got to be kidding, James! They don't have a low position. They are the movers and shakers of this world. They are at the top of the heap. Congressmen, Senators, and Presidents come to them, hat in hand, looking for money and advice – especially in an election year. Even those within the church look up to them and idolize them. So what is James talking about?
Sad, isn't it, that those who are rich are looked up to just because they are rich? Sad, isn't it, that those who are rich are fawned over just because of their wealth? Sad, isn't it, that even some within the church are guilty of this?
C Nevertheless, James' advice to the rich is this: "But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position ..." (James 1:10).
What "low position" is James talking about? The richest Christian needs to remember something. He or she needs to remember what they are by grace and through faith. He or she needs to remember what God has done in them and to them and for them. He or she needs to remember they are servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1).
The Ancient World knew what a servant was. A better word is slave. The duty of a servant is to serve. A servant never gets the last word. A servant never gets to throw his or her weight around. A servant never gets to make demands. A servant is not in charge.
"But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position ..." (James 1:10). The rich are being told to identify with Jesus. They are told to be like Jesus, Who being in very nature God made Himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant (Phil 2:6-7). The rich are told to be like Jesus Who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor (2 Cor 8:9). The rich are told to be like Jesus Who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28). The rich are told to be like Jesus Who, in an act of incredible service, washed the feet of His disciples. Ironically, the Christian has no higher calling than to serve as Jesus served.
D "But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position ..." (James 1:10). James gives us a reason for this advice to the rich brother and sister: "because he will pass away like a wild flower" (James 1:10). James borrows a theme from the psalmist and the prophet here:
(Ps 90:5-6) You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning-- (6) though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.Every Spring the green grass and the blooming flowers on the foothills are absolutely gorgeous to look at. But they don't last long. It doesn't take long before all you see is brown grass. That is what man is like.
(Isa 40:6-8) A voice says, "Cry out." And I said, "What shall I cry?" "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. (7) The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. (8) The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."
Topic: Riches"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field" (Is 40:6).
Dennis Barnhart was president of an aggressive, rapidly growing company, Eagle Computer Incorporated. From a small beginning, his firm grew incredibly fast. He finally decided they should go public. Eagle netted $37 million from the initial offering of 2.75 million shares. The stock which hit the market at $13 a share quickly rose as high as $27 before closing at a bid price of $15.50. That made Barnhart's ownership of 592,000 shares worth more than $9 million.
That same afternoon, while he was in his red Ferrari only blocks from the company headquarters, he drove his car through twenty feet of guard rail into a ravine and died.
In death all men are the same. Death is the great equalizer. No matter how rich or how famous or how important you are, in death you are the equal of everyone else. For in death all the distinctions which seem to carry so much weight in this world disappear and lose their significance. Both the rich and the poor must die. And when they die they are left with nothing. Jesus reminds us in the "Parable of the Rich Fool" (Lk 12:13-21) that when we die we cannot take our wealth, our possessions, our position, our fame, and our importance with us. Remember the words of Job and others?
(Job 1:21) "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart."
(Ps 49:10, 16-17) For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others ... (16) Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; (17) for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him.
(Eccl 5:15) Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.
Whether we are rich or poor or in between, the perspective of faith tells us that we must boast only in Jesus and the status that His Kingdom grants us. Neither wealth nor poverty makes us better in Jesus' eyes.
Our sense of personal worth or identity does not come from things or money or wealth or position or fame. Nor should our sense of personal worth or identity come from a lack of things or money or wealth or position or fame. Our sense of personal worth or identity comes from Christ alone. In Him we are heirs of the Kingdom and children of God. In Him we are humble and obedient servants. So, it is in Him that we boast and it is in His work that we take pride.
"The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. (10) But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower" (James 1:9-10). This is the Word of the Lord for us today.
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