Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"The Treasure of Poverty," James 1:9-12

What do you think of when you hear "status symbol?" Is there something in your life that you have, that you didn't have, that makes you feel more important? In some places my wife and I have lived we met many people who valued different things in life as symbols of their status. Accomplishments. What I drive, where I live, family, friends, salary, husband (my wife's problem . . .just kidding), wife, etc.
James will speak this time about status, and lack of it. Poverty is a status, and we will see how high or low. Richness is a status, and we will also see how high or low in God's eyes. Abraham Lincoln said that anyone could withstand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power. Thomas Carlyle said, "Adversity is hard on a man. But for everyone who can handle prosperity, there a hundred who can handle adversity."[1]
Take a moment to read James 1:9–12. Go ahead.
James will show us the following. Here's a synopsis of what to expect. Vv. 9–12: Poverty is an external trial, yet it is highly valued by God while riches are something to be humble about. In the context of rich who were oppressing poor, and Jesus’ caution that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom, the trial of poverty becomes the treasure of poverty, freeing one from relying on wealth instead of God. Both rich and poor should rely on God and not their wealth, but this is easier for the poor, so their poverty has become their treasure. The rich have a "rock in their shoe" in their wealth, or a humble status. Also, enduring a trial results in riches that far outweigh riches on earth—the crown of life.
James' word to the humble, which is translated poor. If you are poor, be proud of your high position (v. 9). James is referred to as the proverbs of the New Testament. Here is one. It takes time to think it through. At first glance, it is a contradiction. The poor have reason to be proud about their high position. Yet, James says, "The one who is poor should boast in his 'high position' (NIV). Am I to read this right, that those who lack material goods should be proud
Jesus brought reversal of social, economic, and spiritual law. Jesus said, quoted in Acts but not the gospels, "It is more blessed to give than receive," and also better to give than receive; blessed are the “poor” “meek,” “hungry” “those who suffer.”

Doesn't saying, "God bless you," or "blessings" mean the recipient is supposed to get better? Elevated status? Jesus taught a reversal of it.
The next time you say, "God bless you," be careful.

Why would He do this? Jesus devoted a whole Beatitude to the poor. In Luke 4, Jesus read Isaiah and the prophecy of Him coming to preach the gospel to the poor was fulfilled.
Maybe it will shed light to see how this fits into the whole context of James so far. Let's see:
We've seen that trials create perseverance and perseverance creates a faith not lacking in anything. Wisdom is something very important that we should not lack, but if you lack wisdom, ask of God and it will be given to you. Ask for it in faith, as with any prayer, without doubting, or you show hesitation which is the opposite of persevering faith. Doubting when asking God is guaranteed to result in receiving nothing, nada, zip, zilch.
Then, comes poverty.
Poverty is a trial, the first one James mentions. He goes from generalizing to specifics. Financial poverty for followers of Jesus is a treasure—because it forces/allows one to trust in God alone.
God has a soft spot for the poor. Doesn’t mean throw all your money to the wind to have this treasure. I knew of someone who did this once; the person emptied their bank account and threw it into a neighbor’s front yard. That's not what this means, and I would recommend to that person if I knew how to reach them that they should not do that again.
James did not instruct them to become poor, but to rejoice in the status where they found themselves. Why? What does a poor person have to celebrate?
Caution here: Jesus' teachings on the poor have been misinterpreted many, many times. It doesn't mean you should try to be poor, but if you find yourself poor, God regards you as having a high status.
Why am I in a higher status if I'm poor?

First, if you have ever been in a situation where you don't know where the next dollar is coming from, you know what it means to cling to God (or you should).
Once, when I was in junior college, I remember driving my '78 Ford Ranger King sized F250 pickup truck, rusty and held together with bubble gum and duct tape, not having enough money for gas to get to school the next day. God came through, but I was listening intently to Him and praying.
I think (Whiteside theology) that the answer to "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?" is because if it wasn't for the bad things making us look up, we would always look inwards. Sometimes, we only relate to God when we have a need. Sadly, most who read this (me too) if we're honest, by far pray when we have a need we want God to meet. We rarely pray to commune with God and know Him more.

The poor are more like the wealthy than they think; both wish they had what they don't. God's word shows us it's not about what you don't have, but about what you do have, and the poor have opportunity and a clear vision. Poverty releases you from the tentacles of money.
That should encourage the reader.
That was one of the most important points of this entry.
Also, poverty and doing without creates an attitude of gratitude.
To the poor, be encouraged, because in the world you are nothing, but to God you are highly exalted! You are able to trust in Him and He can be a part of you without the barrier of money!

Second, if you are wealthy, you are humble in status (v. 10)
Later, James will talk about internal trials (temptation, the tongue, arguing, impatience), but now he’s dealing with the external trials. Get this: the wealthy have a humble status, and therefore reason to boast. “But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position/humble status,” (v. 10).
In verse 10, see how James writes, (NIV) "But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower." Read verse 11 and see it is quick and complete in its destruction. How do you think this struck the wealthy people, sitting in the pews of the first century churches? "Great, thanks a lot James. I'm hiding out for my life, daily dodging questions about my activities so I don't get persecuted for my faith or lose my business, and this is what I get? I'm lowly or humble, and going to pass away like a wild flower?"
Is what James said true? Search the Scriptures, and see that the wealthy are the humblest of all in God’s economy. Not regarded less, but wealth is only a blessing among men, not when dealing with God. It gives us no leverage, but it can keep us from growing spiritually. The more power it brings, the less we seek the power of God.

This too is a very important point.
I have met some whose relatives were at the end of their life, still clinging to their money. Does that make sense? Don't they understand that you can't take it with you? I heard of one man who took his gold with him when he died, brought it to the heavenly gates, and St. Peter met him and said, "Bring the truck over here, we've got more pavement!" Don't forget to wipe the gold dust off your feet--don't get it on my clean floor.
There is an inversely proportional ratio of God’s wealth and our wealth. The greater our need, the more He can give us. The greater we have self-sufficiency, the less we cry out to Him, and the less we receive. Outwardly the wealthy appear powerful, but to God He longs for them to guard their hearts against the tentacles of money.
That was one of the most important points of this entry too. (let the reader understand). Did James, thus God, hate the rich? Keep reading and you will see them come up again and again in James, and you'll get a picture for the wealthy. See the following passages: in 2:6–7 James describes these people: obviously not believers in Jesus, but slanderers and persecutors of Christians and Jesus Christ’s name. See also 5:1–6, and the character of those specific rich oppressors is evident.
Though there were wealthy in the congregation (read 2:1–4). It was a very hard source of suffering externally. Wealth has never been called a sin in Scripture. If God blesses you to gain more money, go for it. Barnabas sold land and laid all the money at the apostles' feet (Acts 4:36–37). I know many fine men and women sold out for Christ, who use their wealth for the kingdom of God. Be successful, but be careful!
It’s like having a pet elephant: It will demand to be fed and cared for, and attract friends you never knew you had, and problems you never knew were there.
I have some relatives and friends who have done quite well for themselves, and even those who hated them suddenly warm up to them. Wealth can become a horrible monster, and corrupt even the godliest person! Be successful, and be careful!
Why are pride and humility important? Humility is the goal of followers of Jesus. Poor = financially humble; rich = spiritually humble.
Pride in riches creeps up quickly. Those who deal with money have to constantly struggle against lording it over others.
Proverbs 22:22 “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case, and will plunder those who plunder them."
To the rich, be careful. Riches fade, but the word of God does not. God knows those who are His.

Finally, persevere through what is temporary and you will have what is eternal. All people and things on earth are vulnerable to decay, but not God’s. James is still banging the drum of "persevere," even if it is through an inner struggle that comes with having or not having money.
Riches fade as the flowers wither, but persevering through a trial results in riches that are not earthly and will not fade (v.11–12)
It is not if, but when a person’s wealth fade. Look at verse 11, and see it is not just fading away, but the wealth accumulated on earth is destroyed. The imagery here probably suggests the sirocco hot wind of the Middle East. E. F. F. Bishop, Apostles of Palestine, wrote about the sun’s ability to scorch, “no one who has lived in Palestine ever forgets as it blows continuously night and day once it has started. The temperature hardly seems to vary. Flowers and herbage wilt and fade, lasting as long as “morning glory.” Anemones and cyclamen, carpeting the hillsides of Galilee in spring, have a loveliness that belongs only to the past when the hot wind comes. Drooping flowers make fuel. The field of lupins are here today and gone tomorrow.”
Since I've moved to Darlington I've officiated 10 funerals. In Texas, I officiated 10 funerals, and before that I've attended dozens of other funerals. I have never seen a U-Haul on the back of a hearse. I've never seen someone stashing cash into the deceased pockets as they viewed the body, saying, "This is from your mother and I, you'll need this."
A comforting word to the poor, and a caution to the rich not to get too attached to earthly wealth. Two things James points out about earthly wealth and rich oppressors:

1) Gaining riches on earth may or may not happen, but

2) their complete destruction will.
If you're asking the question, "Then how do I invest my wealth in something that will not be destroyed?" The answer is "Use it for God's Kingdom!" The best thing you can do with what God blesses you with is to invest it in His Kingdom work. The Kingdom of Heaven is what the church of Jesus Christ is doing on earth, trying to help people understand and believe that Jesus died for them so they could have eternal life be believing in His death and resurrection for their sin. The Kingdom work is also trying to make those who believe into disciples who use their gifts and abilities for the Lord, and glorify God. Invest in your local Church, missions, privately helping those in need for the Gospel. Jesus Christ’s Kingdom is the only live market that guarantees high return, and has been guaranteeing it for 2,000 years! Not money, but better than money!
Note: Not just any old ministry. it is wise to consider that, though there are many good para church ministries that I too give regularly to, nothing except the church is guaranteed to withstand the gates of Hell. Jesus only said He would build His church, and all other ministries can receive above and beyond what we give to God's kingdom through what God has decided is more important.

When we die, we lose access to money. We will wish we had spent our time on what we have access to—God, His word, people.
Pause here. If God had stopped His word here and had James move onto the next topic, both the poor and the rich would be left thirsting after worldly wealth, with no good substitution. But he answers that need in verse 12.
What does verse 12 give as a word of hope? As we said above, persevere through the temporary until you get to the eternal. Enduring a trial results in riches that far outweigh riches on earth, because all the rich and their riches will pass away, but all who persevere through trials will receive the crown of life.
I'd like to give some free information here, some research on the crowns mentioned in the New Testament. There are 5 crowns mentioned in the New Testament, using the same word "stephanos."

1 Cor 9:25, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive an imperishable wreath (stephanos), but we an imperishable.” Crowns were given for those who competed and won, also who competed and won according to the rules. It was for finishing, but for finishing well. God has crowns for us to look forward to if we persevere.
1) The crown of “glory and honor” which every human is crowned with by God; Hebrews 2:7, 2:9 (Read that). Most likely indicates the rule and dominion mankind is supposed to have under God’s authority over this earth, as the only created thing in God’s image.
2) Those we lead to Christ are a crown of saints.
1. Philippians 4:1, “Therefore my beloved brethren, whom I long to see, my joy and my crown.”
2. 1 Thessalonians 2:19, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you at the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.”
3) 2 Timothy 4:8, a crown of righteousness is laid up for all who have loved Jesus Christ’s appearing (future).
4) 1 Peter 5:4, a crown of glory awaits faithful shepherds/pastors who finish well (not fall away). Pastors, ministers, priests who fall away do not qualify, for they do not faithfully finish. Certainly the false teachers and teachers who veer off Scripture for their own agendas or pleasures also forfeit their stephanos.
5) The crown of life, probably metaphor for salvation, which we will have if we persevere, James 1:12.
1. Rev 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison; so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for 10 days, be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
2. Again in Rev 3:11, “I am coming quickly. Hold fast so that no one may take your crown.”
Emphasis is not on what type of crown, but that it is life, unaffected by sun, wind, heat, cold, rich who oppress the poor, or evil men who persecute followers of Jesus. It is a crown of life, eternal, given (Rev 2) after death!
Is salvation something we only receive if we do enough good works? Acts 16:31 tells us that if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be saved from our sin. We take that in faith. Jesus also said in John 10:28-30, Jesus shows us no one can snatch us from His hand, or His Father's hand (even ourselves--no one means no one, we would not want to leave Him if we are saved, but the longer discussion of this is for another entry). Other passages lead to this too.

Why seek a crown? This is salvation! This is eternal life! You have it already, and James is saying to persevere through the “testing of one’s character” (trial) and you can expect this crown! Look in Revelation 4, the 24 elders around the throne of God cast their crowns down at His feet, as we sing, “All the saints adore Thee, casting down their golden crowns upon the glassy sea.” So you want to have a crown in that day. You want to persevere through trials!
How do I apply this? Who cares about money! We pray for what we need, but compared to the crown--salvation--that cannot perish, we will be embarrassed if all we lived for in these 7, 8, or 9 decades was for money.
Poverty is an external trial, yet it is highly valued by God while riches are something to be humble about. In the context of rich who were oppressing poor, and Jesus’ caution that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom, the trial of poverty becomes the treasure of poverty, freeing one from relying on wealth instead of God. Both rich and poor should rely on God and not their wealth, but this is easier for the poor, so their poverty has become their treasure. Also, enduring a trial results in riches that far outweigh riches on earth, because all the rich and their riches will pass away, but all who persevere through trials will receive the crown of life.
Luke 12:27-32 comforts us. Don't worry (command), either about eating or wearing clothes. He urges us to take care of His business, and He will take care of ours. Verse 31, "But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well."

[1] Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), 22.

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