Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How are the rich to respond to trials?

Yesterday we looked at James 1:9 where James says, “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation” and saw that the “lowly” or poor “brother” is to “glory” or boast in that Christ has exalted him. Today we’re looking at verses 10-11 where James focuses on the rich brother. As I said yesterday, trials have a way of putting everyone on the same level whether your poor or rich.

Notice what James says in 1:10-11 about the rich brother. He says, “But the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat that it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.”

James begins by defining the rich brother’s social status. He is “rich” (plousios). This word denotes “one who does not need to work for a living.” In chapter two, the rich man is described as having “ “gold rings...fine apparel” (2:2), “gold and silver” (5:3). But aside for what the man possesses, James says in verse 9 that this man is a “brother.”

James gives the same instructions to this rich brother as he does the poor one. He said that he is to “glory” or boast “in his humiliation.” The word “humiliation” (tapeinosis) refers to “abasement” or to be “made low.” Spiros Zodhiates says, “The natural thing for the rich man is to be proud of his possessions. But, declares James, the rich Christian brother ought not to boast in the things of the earth, in his possessions, but rather in his position in Christ Jesus, just like the poor brother” (The Work of Faith 49). The rich can boast in his humiliation because he realizes that at the cross he stands on a level with the poor brother. Jeremiah 9:23-24 says, “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord.” Paul commanded Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:17 to “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” Linski says, “Faith in Christ lifts the lowly brother beyond his trial to the great height of a position in the 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 brother: it fills him with the Spirit of Christ, the spirit of lowliness and true Christian 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” (The Interpretation of the Epistles to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James 534-535).

James illustrates his point in verses 10-11 by referring to “the flower of the field” and “the burning heat.” The “flower of the field” (v.10) that James pictures here is of the flowing grass of Palestine. The anemone, cyclamen, and the lily that flourish with beautiful color in February are dried up by May. The point is: the rich man who flourishes in his material possessions will become like the beautiful “flower of the field,” he will soon “pass away,” and his possessions will be left behind. The second illustration is from Isaiah 40:6-8. The burning heat, which could refer to the scorching wind known as a sirocco, destroys vegetation in its path. That is illustrative of the fury of death and the judgment of God that put an end to the rich man’s earthly life and his material possessions. The rich man should rejoice in his trouble because it divorces him from dependency on his material resources. When they are burned up, he will have true riches, just as the poor man does. The wealthy Christian has a true spirit of humility that says, “I don’t put my trust in the possessions of life, which pass so fast.”

So whether you’re poor or rich, you are to “boast” in the exaltation that comes through Jesus Christ. Are you “boasting” “about [your] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in [you]”? (2 Cor.12:9).

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