Glory in your High Position
The Rich and the Poor in the Book of James
The book of James is a practical book that deals with a variety of subjects that challenge Christians and with issues that commonly concern people. One theme developed in the book of James is the contrast between the rich and the poor. In fact, in every chapter except 3 something directly related to this contrast is found. Even in Chapter 3 we are warned against selfish ambition and earthly wisdom which are values that the rich often extol. In this letter there are valuable instructions that teach and warn us about the trap earthly treasures present to the faithful child of God, as well as mankind in general.
The first passage dealing with this subject is James 1:9-11. James contrasts and gives instructions to the “brother of humble circumstances” and the “rich man”. While there are no concrete figures, the book of James indicates that many, if not most of the Lord’s body were from the lower classes. It was the “rich” that “oppressed” and would “drag” Christians into court (2:6). It was the rich who would “blaspheme the fair name” of Jesus Christ (2:7). It was the rich who would withhold their pay from the laborers, (who were often members of the Lord’s body) (5:4). It was the rich who “condemned and put to death the righteous man” (5:6). Certainly there were rich who would visit their gatherings (2:2) and no doubt there were a few who were noble according to earthly standards that the Lord had called (1 Corinthians 1:26), but in general, Christians were not the successful in society. So the comparison begins between a poor “brother” (a Christian) and a “rich man” (nonChristian). In this contrast James teaches us which one is in the superior position.
The brother of humble circumstances is told to “glory in his high position”. This would be laughable to successful people, as well as most people of humble circumstances. Why would someone who lived with humble means rejoice and glory due to their prominent position? There was nothing prominent about their life. The brother of humble circumstances would not live with the respect and admiration of others. He would not enjoy the luxuries that those in high positions would enjoy. Even if he had gained some respect from his upstanding character, others might see it, but they still wouldn’t desire his lot in life. What is there to glory in? What high position is James speaking about? While the brother may not have gotten ahead in life, as a child of God he held a position of honor. He has a “crown of life” (1:12) waiting for Him as he perseveres through his difficult earthly circumstances. He has access to “every good and perfect gift” (1:17) from the Father of lights. While not an admirable position from the stand point of earthly values, from Gods perspective the brother of humble circumstances has it all! Therefore, he is to glory in his high position.
It would be easy for the brother of humble circumstances to look
longingly at the rich man. It would be natural for him to want what the rich man
possessed. As society has a different value system than the Lord, God’s people
need to fight against the tendencies to indulge the flesh and put confidence in
the achievements man embraces. James warns us of the nature of those
achievements. The rich man will in humility pass away like the flowers of the
field and in the midst of his pursuits all that He has earned and gathered will
be “destroyed”. All the efforts, all the success, all the glorious achievements
will amount to nothing for the rich man. It is for this reason that he is to
“glory in his humiliation”, after all he has wasted his life. He spent all his
energy pursuing the wrong treasures and all the beauty he managed to possess
will wither away. No doubt James is trying to get brethren to see the dangers in
longing after earthly riches as they are possessed by many. Instead of longing
after these riches, we need to see them for what they really are! Distractions
from what this life is all about! Don’t envy the rich man’s glory, for his
position will end in humiliation. In our indulgent society, it is easy to see
how these instructions are of monumental importance.
God’s people must embrace a different value system than the values of our current culture. What man praises will bring humiliation, what God values will bring glory. Remember the words of our Lord “for where you treasure is, there your heart will be also”
By Nathan Quinn
From Expository Files 23.6; June 2016