J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes from James 1:9-11

Family Devotion

Big Idea:  How do we participate in the upside down nature of God’s Kingdom?

 

James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:  Greetings.  2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

 

 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

 

  • Reread verses 1-8 and discuss the promises surrounding steadfastness and trials.
  • How does God promise to help His children in the midst of trials (vs 5)?

 

9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation

 

  • How are both lowly and rich conditions related to James’ discussion of trials?
  • Read Matthew 19:16-30 and Proverbs 30:7-9.  How do this verses help you understand the teachings of verse 9-10.

 

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.

 

  • Verse 11 speaks of a rich man pursuing riches for riches sake.  Why is this contrary to God’s will?
  • How should these verses inform your giving, your generosity, and your general approach to wealth?
  • How does Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:19-24 help us understand these verses?

 Sermon Notes

Christianity in the hands of sinful men and women always goes to extremes.  It is not that Christianity is lived somewhere in the middle or lived in one of my least favorite phrases “in balance” because it is not.  The extremes of Christianity require very little faith and trying to find a balance often means “hey I’m just going to drop my commitments and God’s commandments for a while”.  Balance is not really something scripture speaks about.  Christianity is lived by faith, yet extremes are often where we go anyway.  Let me give you a few examples of what I’m talking about.

Romans 1 tells us that the righteous will live by faith alone in Jesus and James 2 will tell us in a few weeks that though we are saved by faith, if that faith isn’t accompanied by works, then that faith is dead and nonexistent.  Those two truths often produce extremes.  There are a host of folks who will say “Since I am saved by faith, I am going to sin it up and live it up, no law of God matters.”  That type of teaching is called antinomianism which means no law.  This teaching forgets that the new heart giving to you by Jesus changes and transforms your desires.  So you will not be saved by what you do but you will want to obey.  The other extreme says, “Well God forgives me, but if I want to experience any love and affection from God, I’m going have to earn by how hard I work.”  Some even have gone so far as to punish themselves or flagellate themselves because they feel like there is still punishment for their sins.  This is of course legalism or as a good friend of mine here calls that, “the lostpel”. Neither of those extremes are true.  We are saved by faith and faith alone.  But that faith is transformational and we will obey because God has given us a new heart that is able to obey Him.

Let me give you another example.  In Matthew 19 Jesus says, 24 Again I tell you, 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.”  But 3 John 2 says, and I’ll use the KJV for effect  2Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.  Because of these teachings, two extremes are produced.  There have been entire movements in Christianity where earning money, making money, even owning possessions were deemed as a lesser form of faith.  And you don’t have to travel back in time to find these monastic movements.  I know of one in Durham, even read the guys’ book.  They will say that ownership and capitalism are counter to the Kingdom.  Now on the other hand, there are a host of teachers today that would say, “Nope, God wants you to be rich, take back the riches of Egyptians” as they would say.  If you have enough faith, God will pour out all the treasure of heaven in earthy blessings.

How then do we live?  Well, our first step should be always to live these hard truths by faith asking ourselves, “What does dependence in all things look like?”  Our dependence on God for our health and our money and other truths should mimic our dependence upon God for salvation.  These things are His work.  I do know this:  the nature of God’s Kingdom, of which all Christians belong whether it be salvation or finances or whatever else, is upside down and contrary to the world.  Up is down and down is up.  What the world exalts, God casts down.  That doesn’t mean that in Kingdom of God that 2 plus 3 equals 6, but it does mean that the living out of faith and living in the Kingdom of God is going to be informed by the scriptures and lived out by faith.  A person with no faith in Christ does not depend on either of those things:  faith in God or the word of God.  Faith in Jesus means live is just going to be drastically different than not having faith in Jesus.

So with that in mind, let’s approach, let’s again approach the book of James and ask this:  Big Picture Question:  How do we participate in the upside down nature of God’s Kingdom?  For the sake of our memory and for understanding today’s passage in its proper context, I’m going to read the passage that we look at last week as well as the scripture for this week.

James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:  Greetings.  2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

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.

If you weren’t with us last week or even if you were, let me remind all of us where the first 8 verses of James took us.  James begins with perhaps one of the most preposterous commands in all of the scriptures. James commands us, he doesn’t suggest to us, but actually commands us that whenever we face trials, any kind of trial, whether it be health, relationship, financial, whatever, that for the believer in Jesus Christ, when we face that trial we should consider it pure joy.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t ask God to give us relief from our trials, we can.  What we know God intends for His children is that no matter the trial they have great joy.

Why you might ask?  Well, God wants us to have joy in our trials because the testing of our faith produces steadfastness and steadfastness prepares us for whatever it is that God calls us to do.  Essentially, our trials are God’s equipping ground.  If you want to be used by God, then you will go through trials in preparation.  And the reason that we often just cry out for God to take away our trials instead of asking for joy and steadfastness in their midst is because we often worship ease and comfort more than we worship God.

The American church’s inability and lack of willingness to embrace trials as part of God’s will is, at least in my humble opinion, part of the reason why the American church is weak, cold, and at times appears to be on life support.  And embracing of God’s grand design to use trials to make us more like Jesus would transform us and the church.  And if we just don’t know how to do that, verses 7-8 tell us that if we ask God for wisdom, He will give it to us so that we will know how to live in the midst of trials.  Just like in everything else, we are commanded to ask for that wisdom by faith and God promises to give it to us.

Now having said, as if those commands were not radical enough having reminded us all that we should live with joy in trials and asking God for wisdom, James decides to throw us for another loop.  In verse 9, he says.

9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation,

Where in the world does this come from?  How in the world could this be connected to teaching on trials and wisdom?  Let’s see.  What we have here is a command for two different folks to boast in something.  The lowly brother is commanded to boast in his exaltation and the rich person is commanded to boast in his humiliation.  So before we understand why they should boast, we need to understand why the lowly brother is exalted the rich brother is humiliated.

Well, that question is directly related to James discussion of trials.  The lowly brother or the brother who is poor and without many worldy riches and the rich person are both in extreme trials and difficult circumstances.  And because of those circumstances, James is telling them both to enjoy what God is doing in their lives.

God often uses the loss of wordly riches and the financial struggle of individuals and yes even churches to bring people to Himself.  Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord and what will happen?  God promises to life you up.  So when we don’t humble ourselves, God has a tendency to do that for us.  Now that doesn’t mean that financial struggles or any circumstance that would qualify one to be called lowly is evidence of being disciplined.  Perhaps but not necessarily.  But it does mean that the intention of any lowly circumstance is for one to take great joy and even boast in it because they know that God is going to lift them up.  Error is seeking lowliness and destituteness with foolish and irresponsible decisions.

No but the lowly brother who claims faith in Christ should thank God that God is actively at work on their behalf and if we do that, you and I and this church, will be lifted up.  That doesn’t mean that lowliness equals the gateway to winning the lotto.  But it does mean that God promises to buffet and support and encourage those who are presently struggling in lowly situations.

So right now, the conditions in your life and the conditions within this church that are causing us to feel lowly, whether those conditions are financial or physical or good folks  moving away, whatever, boast in it, be thankful for it, take joy it, because God is going to exalt you, lift you up, equip, and support you.  The difference in the lowly brother’s life, the difference in your life is how you view these conditions.

As Simon Kistemaker says, “Before the poor brother can boast of an honorable position, he must first learn to appreciate the significance of his status.  That is, he should look not at material possessions, but at spiritual treasures.  He must have an entirely different outlook on life.  He views life not from the aspect of materialism but rather in relation to spiritual values.”

Faith and perspective make every difference.  Now for the rich, James commands them also to boast because God is going to humble them.  That sounds no fun.  Listen being rich in this world is wonderful.  You can do whatever you want.  You can do great things. You can gold plated toilets on your personal jet.  You rims can spin and you can have a grotto in our backyard.

But being rich ain’t easy.  In fact, in the story of the Rich Young Ruler, Jesus tells us in Matthew 19 that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Thankfully though, Jesus also tells us that with God, all things are possible.  I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “Yeah, I know the Bible says that being rich is a difficult life, but I sure would like to give it a try.

But James is telling even the richest of people and the riches of churches, “Your riches are a trial and ultimately, in one way or another, God is going to humble you.”  That doesn’t necessarily mean that every rich person is going to lose all their riches, but it does mean that God is going to cast down anyone who has a trust in their riches.  Watch any VH1 reality show and see the absolute misery that the Mob wives, the Basketball wives, the wives of New Jersey, the behind the music specials whatever, God will cast down those who trust in anything but themselves.

Now you might hear that and think, “Well, I’m not rich.  I don’t drive a Bentley, have 800 thread count sheets or have a maid and a nanny.”  But Gang, c’mon, you don’t have to have those things to be rich.  Let me give you some insight into our riches because rich is only rich by way of comparison.

The average household income in America is 49,445.  Now, America is not all that big compared to the rest of the world, so if you make $49,445 as a household, you are richer than 99.02% of rest of the world.  Let’s say you make $100,000 a year as a household.  You are richer than 99.33% of the rest of the world.  Let’s go in the other direction.  Let’s say your household income is what America calls “below the poverty level”.  We arrogant Americans describe the poverty level as a household of 4 making less than $22,314.  If you make $22,314, then you are richer than 98.33% of the rest of the world.

By any definition, we are rich folks, so even if we struggle to make ends meet, the world would kill for our financial problems.  I don’t mean to be insensitive to any one’s financial struggles, but when the vast majority of us look at this verse, we should see ourselves as the rich who boast in the fact that we are going to be humbled by God in some way.  And God calls our hearts to call these trials good and joyful because the trials we face are intended to equip us to love Jesus greater and serve Him more faithfully.

So what should our attitude be?  Well, there is plenty of sermon left to go, so for the moment, I’ll just offer Proverbs 30 to us as a beginning application.  Proverbs 30:8 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.”  The extremes are always a dangerous place and the author of Proverbs knew it.  He said, “Hey God, I don’t want to be rich because I will quickly deny you if I don’t have to depend on you.”  “And please don’t make me poor because I have such a hard time trusting you for your provision that I will ultimately steal if I have to.”  As Francis Schaeffer once asked, “How should we then we live, Gang?”

We have to ask that because this teaching in James is so upside down that apart from God’s help, it just doesn’t even seem true.  The rich among us are going to quickly say, “I’m not rich,” and the poor among us are not going to admit how rich we are either.  More than likely, all of us want just a bit more.  Folks, quick litmus test.  If your generosity doesn’t hurt or pinch a bit, then you are probably living  like you want a little bit more.  We need more help, and James gives is to us by explaining the fleeting nature of trusting in wealth as opposed to trusting God in the second half of verse 10 through verse 11.

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.

Flowers pass away.  The sun rises and scorches the grass, especially in my yard during the summer.  The beauty of a flower is just for a season and will eventually perish as a flower withers to the ground and dies.  As poetic as that is, what does that have to do with anything?

Well, pursuing wealth, ease, and subsequent security through riches is a dead end game.  Seeking security in riches means that ultimately you are going to fade away just like the scorched grass and the withering flower in the summer heat.  Notice, the promise here is not that the riches are going to fade away.   The rich man is going to fade away.  You might keep every dollar you have ever earned but if your trust is in your income, then you will fade away like a dead flower.

So how then does the Christian live in this upside down kingdom of our God’s?  What do we do?  Do we take the two extremes offered in our introduction?  Do we seek poverty and askew any property ownership, wealth, and income?  Or do we assume that God is talking about the wealth of the ungodly and seek God’s making us rich financially.  Again, the extremes are the error and balance is not the goal either.  Faith is the goal.  So, let’s seek further wisdom from the scriptures about what that faith looks like to help us understand James.

First and foremost, we are to be guided by Jesus’ empowering example from Philippians 2.  4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus left the treasures and glories of Heaven, not holding onto them, but willingly and joyfully emptied Himself to serve you.  And God humbled Him and He became obedient to everything God commanded and obedient in receiving the punishment that your sin merited.  Paul tells us that the mind of Jesus that motivated Him to such selflessness is now our mind as we are in Christ Jesus.  So when it comes to your possessions that you have worked so hard for and when it comes to the money that you have worked so hard for and when it comes to the tiny little kingdom that you are building, Paul tells us that as you are in Christ Jesus.  What that means that you are now able to look after other people’s interest just as well as you are able to look after your own.

That folks is a radical approach to wealth and riches, much more radical than seeking poverty or seeking wealth.  There should be no unmet needs among this congregation because we look at each other and say, “Their interest is my interest.”  This should have a radical effect on our love for and service to the Garner community and the neighborhoods in which we live.

Gang, let me give you both encouraging and discouraging examples of this teaching from right here at SK.  I’ve seen you guys provide meals for folks who were sick.  The mercy fund has paid rent and light bills.  You’ve provided Christmas presents for each other.  My family and other families have greatly enjoyed a hospitality and a sacrificial spirit among you guys and so have the ladies of Hayes place and the officers with the GPD.

But one area in which we have not lived this out is our love for the community in which the church resides.  Less than a quarter of a mile from this doorstep is an apartment complex that has incredible need:  Poverty, absentee parents, children who need tutoring, parents who need mentoring.  I know of one mission that tries to love them and they so desperately need help and the police echo that need.  If we ever leave this space and that community does not have a thankful spirit for the mercy that we have extended there, then we have fallen short of our calling and our responsibility.  Pray with me every time you drive by that complex:  Dear God, make their interests my interests and enable me and SK Church to empty ourselves in love to them just as Christ emptied Himself for me.

Second, the treasures that we are to seek are treasures in heaven.  Matthew 6: 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  The key to this passage is in the laying up.  We all have to work as our working is a reflection of the image of God.  For every able bodied person in this room, 2 Thessalonians 3:10 tells you, “Hey, if you aren’t working you shouldn’t be eating.”  Why?  Because if you are able to work and you don’t, then you are mooching off the ones who are working.  Quick takeaway:  able bodied men and women, go get a job.

So working is good.  Laying up treasures on earth however aren’t worth squat.  Jesus tells a parable around this teaching about a man who had so much money that he tore down his barns to build bigger ones.  And the night he executed that plan, he died.  So is the Bible anti-savings account?  Does Dave Ramsey and his “have 6 months of overhead in the bank” wrong?”

Again, we take the whole scriptures into account.  Our efforts of loving the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and mind and our efforts of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves should surpass our efforts of making money and storing up money.  So, if you are blessed with a good income or even a huge income, your efforts in loving God and loving others should surpass your efforts to make money.  Whichever one you seek the most will be your treasure.  If you have a savings account, great.  Your generosity should out pace your savings.  For every one of us, this teaching should shake us to the core.  I get it, we all have to work hard to pay our bills.  We have rent, utilities, cable, cell phones, on and on.  Some of us spend every month on our cell phones the same amount of money it takes to build a mobile health clinic for a village in Uganda.

Listen, I’m with you.  God has used my house greatly for ministry, but I have buyers regret.  I want to simplify my life so that my efforts of storing treasures in heaven exceeds my efforts to pay my bills.  For us to begin to apply this teaching, I think would revolutionize this church and this community.  SK would pay her bills, meet the needs of this congregation, love Garner, the apartment complex next to us, the communities in which we live, plant a church, and launch foreign missionaries.  There is enough wealth in this congregation for that but for us to realize that is probably going to take a radical shift in our life and priorities financially.  I’m praying for that for me and for you, so look out.

And finally, there are no greater riches that the riches of God’s grace in Jesus.  Ephesians 2: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

The biggest transition that has to happen in our hearts as we approach our finances, our wealth, the storing up of treasures, and loving and serving other is realizing that there are no greater riches than the riches of God’s grace towards us in Christ Jesus.  Ephesians 2 encourages us in this way.  True riches look like this.  Apart from the work of Christ and the outpouring of grace, every human being is dead in their trespasses and sin.  This death is both the condition of our heart and the sentence passed down by God for our sins.  But by God’s grace, His love and favor given to those who don’t deserve it, He makes us alive with Jesus Christ.  He makes our heart alive to Him and removes the right and just judgment of death under which we live as we have faith in Him.  We go from being dead in sin unable to obey God awaiting judgment in hell to being alive in Christ, able to obey God and our ultimate hope and home is being seated with Jesus Christ in heaven.

That is God’s pouring out of the immeasurable riches of His grace to us through Jesus Christ.  If you have faith in Christ, you have immeasurable riches, so don’t be fooled into seeking the riches of this world for the sake of riches in this world.  Seek humility, be empowered by Jesus’ example, seek treasures in heaven above treasures on earth and live out of the riches of God’s grace in Jesus.  This will transform us folks.  Just like last week’s teachings on trials.  If we can find joy in trials instead of constantly wishing them away, we might very well experience a revival here that books would be written about.  And if we would seek the interests of others more than our own interests and seek heavenly treasures more than earthly one, if we would boast in our poverty, if we would move away from a “I earned my money” mentality and move towards a “I’m God’s steward and my money is His” great things would happen.

Some of us, probably all of us are being called to and live out a radical change in their lives.  We will care for and bless other individuals in need.  SK would be transformed.  That community next to us would be transformed.  Your neighborhood would be transformed.  The world would be transformed.

All in all, in each of your decisions concerning your riches and treasures, you would see that the riches of God’s grace poured out to us in Jesus, you would see that as far more valuable than any dollar bill, piece of land, home, or anything else this world calls valuable.

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January 9, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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