These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the book of James. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
God’s Word is filled with paradoxes. A paradox is defined as “a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true.” Let me give you some examples from the Bible:
- Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10, NLT)
- Jesus said, “Anyone who finds his life will lose it, and anyone who loses his life because of me will find it” (Matt. 10:39, ESV).
- Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43, NLT)
- Paul said, “We own nothing, and yet we have everything” (2 Cor. 6:10, NLT).
- Jesus said, “The last will be first, and the first last” ( 20:16, NLT).
All those statements catch our attention because they sound contradictory at first, until you think about them. A paradox is a powerful tool for truth, because it makes people think. There are some things in life that we really need to think deeply and carefully about.
One of those things is found in James 1:9-11 and James uses a paradox to help grab our attention about it and to help us think about it. Take a careful look at James 1:9-11, “Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. 10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. 11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements” (NLT). Before we get into the meat of this, let me give you some general observations.
- General observation #1: James gives us two paradoxes. The first deals with the poor, “Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them.” As you will see, the poor are rich. Then James says, “Those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them.” As you will see, the rich are poor. Those statements of truth sound contradictory, but they are true… once you think about them and understand them. That’s the purpose of a paradox. God uses them to cause us to pause and slow down and think deeper about it. And that’s what we are going to do.
- General observation #2: Everyone will go through a trial. Why does James mention these two people groups now? Why is he talking about the rich and the poor? Because everyone goes through a trial. So far James has been talking about troubles and trails and how to face them with joy, faith, endurance, and wisdom. In verse 9 he identifies two types of believers who will be tested. They will be tested differently, but they will be tested.
One will be tested in their poverty and the other will be tested in their wealth. They both need faith and wisdom to face the test.
- The poor will be challenged to endure the temptations that come with having very little.
- The rich will be challenged with temptations that money cannot fix.
Everyone, the rich and the poor and all in between, will go through trials.
Listen to this wise prayer in Proverbs 30:8-9, “Give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” And if I am too poor I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name” (NLT).
- The temptation or test for the rich is to rely on their money to meet their needs and fix their problems and eventually drift away from God to where they forget Him and ask, “Who is the Lord?” which is another way to say, “God, who needs Him?”
- On the other hand, the temptation for the poor will be to doubt God by taking matters into their own hands. They may steal for what they need rather than trusting God to provide what they need. If the poor were to ask a question it would be, “Where is the Lord?” He hasn’t provided yet. Where is He when you need Him?
For both the rich and the poor believers the temptation is to act independently of God. I’ve got money to meet my needs, I don’t need God. I’m too poor to provide for my needs, so I will do find a way apart from God.
- General observation #3: This is about your spiritual growth. James has not changed subjects. James is trying to get you from verse 2 to verse 12. In verse 2 James tells you, “trouble will come your way,” but in verse 12 James says, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation” (NLT). James is trying to help you with the reality of your trouble and trials so you can experience the blessings of God that can only come through your patient endurance that come from your faith in God and the wisdom of God applied to your life. This is about you’re your spiritual growth.
- General observation #4: As a believer you are more affected by your wealth (or the lack of wealth) than you think. Apparently, money and social status were real problems among these people (see James 2:1-7, 15-16; 4:1-3, 13-17; 5:1-8), because this contrast between the rich and the poor will show up five more times in James.
But here is the thing: the testings of life and the trials we go through have a way of leveling us, where being rich or poor does not matter.
- When testing comes to the poor man, he lets God have His way and rejoices that he possesses spiritual riches that cannot be taken from him.
- When testing comes to the rich man he also lets God have His way, and he rejoices that his riches in Christ cannot wither or fade away.
In other words, it is not your material resources that take you through the testings of life; it is your spiritual resources.
- General observation #5: Regardless of our financial position, we are to boast in our spiritual position. The position we are to get excited about is our position before God.
- The poor believer needs to remember that he or she has been blessed with every spiritual blessing there is in Christ. When a poor person becomes a believer… they become a child of God, an heir to an internal inheritance, they get it all.
- The rich believer needs to remember that even though they have all that money can buy, they have nothing of eternal value without Jesus. So, the poor need to remember they are rich and the rich need to remember they are poor. That’s the paradox.
With all that said, let’s look a little closer at the first paradox: the poor being rich. James 1:9 says, “Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them” (NLT). Some translations say it like this, “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation” (ESV) or “Let the brother in humble circumstances glory in his high position” (AMP). To understand this and see the deeper meaning more clearly and apply it to our lives we need to break this down into three phrases.
- “Believers who are poor”
Phrase number one: “Believers who are poor….” These poor believers are specifically followers of Jesus who are poor. They don’t have a lot of money. They don’t have a big house. They don’t have a nice car. They don’t have nice clothes. They don’t have a big education. They are poor. They live in a broken down house, if they have a house at all. They drive an old car, if they have one at all. When you don’t have money to provide what you think your children need or when you can’t do what others are doing, you are going to be faced with discontentment, envy, jealousy, and maybe greed. Some of their trails, at least, are economic.
There is another temptation that comes with being poor. You start seeing yourself not that valuable. You start seeing yourself as a no one. If the world and those around you disregard you because you don’t have anything, you may start disregarding yourself. If the world sees you as low and a nobody, then you will be tempted to see yourself as low and a nobody.
The reality is there are Christians who are poor, but the question is how does God see them and how do they see themselves?
- “have something to boast about”
Phrase number two: “Believers who are poor have something to boast about….” The word “boast” (kauchaomai) is can be translated as “rejoice” or “glory.” James is talking about a legitimate reason for poor Christians to rejoice and a genuine reason for them to glory in “something.” For poor folks, sometimes it can be difficult to find that “something” to get excited about… to have something to brag about without being arrogant.
You may not be able to rejoice or boast about your house, your car, your clothes, or anything you own but you can boast about how God has honored you by adopting you into His family, given you wisdom for the journey of life, and provided an eternal future in heaven. It doesn’t matter how little you have, you have something to boast about as a child of God. That’s your reality. That’s your truth.
Listen to what God’s Word says in 1 Peter 1:3, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. 6 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while” (vs. 3-6, NLT). You can rejoice, be glad, or boast about what’s to come. This takes us to phrase number 3.
- “for God has honored them”
Phrase number three: “Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them” (NLT). However materially lacking life might be, James says the poor believers are to consider that God has “honored” them, which means exalted them (ESV), and given them a high position (AMP). This is what God has done for them through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Spiritually, James tells them, you have it made it. You have reached the top.
How has God honored the poor believer? By giving him a high position, which refers to his spiritual wealth in Christ.
- If you are a poor person and don’t have a lot and you have put your trust in Christ as Savior and Lord, you instantly became an heir of a vast fortune. You have been honored.
- You are a child of the King of kings, with access to all of the King’s resources. You have been honored.
- Paul describes you as seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). You have been honored.
- When Jesus died on that cross and rose again, He provided freedom for you, a new life, new wisdom, new strength, and new direction in your life. You have been honored.
When you start feeling low because you don’t have much in this world and what you have is broken down, bowered, and worn out… and you start thinking to yourself that you aren’t much, and you are a nobody, that’s when you need to remember how rich you are in what really counts. You can talk to the Heavenly Father, you have the Holy Spirit living in you, this is not your home you are only passing through to your mansion in heaven where there is no sorrow, no sickness, no poverty, no pain, no death and all that heaven has to offer is all yours. Even though you may be poor here, you are rich there. Remember this things when you face your trials.
As you think about this paradox about the poor being rich you will discover somewhere in there that money may make life easier, but it doesn’t make life more meaningful. Jesus wants you to experience a meaningful life that can only be experienced in the eternal things of God and those are things that make you truly rich.