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 wants you to think deeper than you normally do. God uses all kinds of techniques to get us to pause and to pull back the layers of the obvious for us to experience greater depths of His truths. One of those techniques is called a paradox. A paradox is “a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is true.” For example…
- Paul said, “When I am weak, than I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10, NLT). That’s a paradox.
- 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).
- 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” (Matt. 20:16, NLT).
In this series we are looking at two paradoxes. One dealing with the poor being rich and the other with the rich being poor. They are both meant to be encouraging and comforting. We see these Biblical paradoxes in 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). Today we are going to focus our attention on verse 9 and dealing with the paradox of the poor being rich, those who are usually dishonored by the world being honored by God.
Before we go any further with this I need to make a disclaimer. I’m not trying to offend anyone today, but I feel like I might. We are going to take a look at some sensitive issues for some people. I want you to know up front that my intent is to address what God’s Word says and to help us have a Biblical perspective on the issue. I want us to think deeper into this paradox about the poor being rich.
There are going to be times where it sounds like I’m being harsh, but I’m not. God’s Word is very clear about this when it says, “Those who mock the poor insult their Maker” (Proverbs 17:5, NLT). So, when you and I talk about the poor we need to be real careful about how and what we say. You can insult your God by the way you talk to and about those who have less than you.
James 1:9 says, “Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them” (NLT). Let’s break that down into three key parts.
“Believers who are poor” are everywhere
First, “Believers who are poor” are everywhere. That’s obvious and normal. This statement by James reveals more than at first glance. James begins verse 9 by saying, “Believers who are poor…” (NLT). Let’s think about followers of Jesus who are poor. Let’s answer some questions.
- What does “poor” mean?
What does the word “poor” mean? The word “poor” means “lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society.” Your income may make you poor in this country, but the same income could make you rich in another country, but we are not talking about another country. We are talking about the country or society you live in right now. Today, I’m talking about those who do not have enough money to live a comfortable or a normal life here. When we talk about “poor” it will be determined by the context of where you live.
- Why are believers poor?
The next question is “Why are believers poor?” The reason I want to address this question is because there are some well-meaning people, who also love the Lord, and they will tell you that God wants you to be wealthy in this world. They will tell you that part of what Jesus died for on the cross was for you to escape poverty so you can experience the wealth of this world. They are wrong. Remember, there is more to this statement than at first glance.
So, let’s ask the basic question of why are believers poor? Poverty can come upon someone for several reasons.
First, there are the external reasons. An external reason are things out of your control. You have no real choice about it. Let me give you some examples.
- Natural disasters can cause some to be poor (Neh. 5:1-3). This could be due to a flood, famine, tornado, hurricane, or earthquake. They lose their home, valuables, their job, and have to relocate and start over.
- Excessive taxes can cause some to be poor (Neh. 5:1-5). For some believers the government can create poverty with excessive taxation. Depending on your situation, taxes in the United States may be high but they are not excessive. You are not having to sale your property or children into slavery in order to pay your taxes. We thank God for that.
- Enemies can cause some to be poor (Isaiah 5:8). For some believers enemies can come into your land, your house, your country and steal or destroy what you have and create a level of poverty in your life.
- Christian persecution can cause some to be poor (2 Cor. 6 & 8). Sometimes a believer can experience poverty due to the persecution of their faith. A key member of their family arrested or killed for being a Christian. Whatever money they were bringing in is no longer there.
Those are external reasons for poverty. Now let me give you some internal reasons. Internal reasons for poverty deals with something you can control. These deal with decisions you make that effect your financial status.
- Laziness can cause some to be poor. Proverbs 10:4 says, “Lazy people are soon poor…” (NLT). A lazy person doesn’t want to work. They may have a job, but when they are there they are doing the minimum to get by. This causes them to either lose their job or not get promoted. “Lazy people are soon poor….”
- Fantasies can cause some to be poor. Proverbs 28:19 says, “… a person who chases fantasies ends up in poverty” (NLT). This person goes from one big idea to another without really being committed to any of them. He chases one get rich scheme after another. He is always talking about how he will get rich, but never does.
- Arrogance can cause some to be poor. Proverbs 13:18 says, “If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept correction, you will be honored” (NLT). If you cannot take constructive criticism you will not get better. Arrogance causes people to not learn or to listen to others. Sometimes this refusal to seriously apply constructive criticism can lead to financial hardship.
- Pleasure can cause some to be poor. Proverbs 21:17 says, “Those who love pleasure become poor; those who love wine and luxury will never be rich” (NLT). These people spend too much of their on what’s fun, not what’s necessary. Their irresponsibility leads them to being poor.
There are more reasons for why people become poor or stay poor, but I did want to mention some of them so you can see the reasons can vary. Whether a person’s poor status is due to a natural disaster, bad personal decisions, or decisions made by others the reality is the poor are going to face trails and temptations. That’s what James is saying.
- What trials and temptations do poor believers face?
This brings us to our third question, “What trials and temptations do poor believers face?” We see one of the temptations in Proverbs 30:8-9 where we see a very wise prayer which says, “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 for the poor will be to doubt God by taking matters into their own hands. Instead of trusting God for what they need, they will steal for what they need. They will start doubting God’s care and provision and “thus insult God’s holy name.” They will be tempted to steal, but what does that look like? It can take many forms.
- Refusing to pay your debts
- Keeping for yourself what belongs to another
- Dishonest business practices
- Stealing from your boss
- Cheating on taxes
- Robbing God by not giving or tithing
When a believer starts stealing, they insult the character and reputation of God. That’s the temptation.
“Believers who are poor” can rejoice
Number two, “believers who are poor” can rejoice. When we don’t have anything, it does not mean we have nothing. James says it this way, “Believers who are poor have something to boast about…” (NLT). The word “boast” (kauchaomai) can also 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.
In the Bible there are two types of boasting – the healthy kind of boasting and the unhealthy kind of boasting.
- The unhealthy kind of boasting is self-centered boasting. It’s all about how great you are, what you have accomplished, and how better you are than others. Self-centered boasting lifts you up in order to put others down. Look at this list of things that should never be done in Romans 1:28, “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done.29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning…” (vs. 28-30, NLT). Improper boasting is praising yourself for being self-sufficient and not needing anything from God. This is pointing out how good you are and how great you are without God’s help.
- The healthy kind of boasting is God-centered boasting. It’s all about how great God is and what He has done for you and in you. God-centered boasting lifts up God by stating what He has done for you. How He has blessed you, guided you, strengthened you, and provided for you. The Psalmist said in Psalm 44:8, “We boast in God all day long; we will praise your name forever” (CSB). When you are boasting in God you are displaying God’s goodness, enjoying God’s greatness, and taking pride in your loving God.
When it comes to God, no matter who you are as a believer, you have something to boast about and that something is the awesomeness of God in your life and what God has done in and through you. This takes us to our third observation.
“Believers who are poor” are rich
Number three, “believers who are poor” are rich. Look at James 1:9 one more time, “Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them” (NLT). Regardless of how little a believer may have, James says the poor believer should recognize that God has “honored” them spiritually. The word “honored” means to be exalted (ESV) and given a high position (AMP). This is what God has done for them through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The world may place you in a low position, but God has exalted you to high position. This “honor” that James is referring to… are things like this…
- In Ephesians 1:18, Paul says to some believers, “I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called – his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance” (NLT). The world may not see you as valuable, but God sees you as “his rich and glorious inheritance.” That is God honoring and exalting you.
- Then in Romans 8:17 we are told, “Since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory” (NLT). When a wealthy person dies and they honor the people they love by leaving them an inheritance it demonstrates their love and honor for them. In similar fashion, when Christ died on that cross, resurrected from the grave, and you placed your faith in Him for salvation and became a part of God’s family then God decided to honor you by making you an heir of His “glory.” That glory refers to every wonderful thing that God is and has. The world may disown you and put you down, but God honors and exalts you with making you an heir of His greatness.
- Look at Ephesians 1:3 which says, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ” (NLT).
Let me tell you what all this means. You have been born again. You are made new in Christ. You are forgiven. You have been adopted into God’s family. You have a place in heaven. You are the head and not the tail. You are victorious in Christ. You are more than a conqueror. Nothing formed against you will prosper. God has a plan for your life. You have the Holy Spirit in you to guide you. You have a new kind of wealth that thieves cannot break in and steal. You have a new wardrobe called love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. You have a new mind to see things differently. God has honored you and He has exalted you because He loves you. “Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them” (NLT).
I don’t know who said it, but when you are down to nothing, God is up to something. You may not have the house you want, the salary you want, and you may not be able to provide what you think your children or grand-children need and you may go from one pay check to another barely getting by. But stay faithful, honor God with what you have, do your best, be a smart and hard worker, pay your bills, manage your finances the best you can with Biblical principles and let God honor you. Build your treasure up in heaven and remember that the real wealth is not what can be seen, but what is unseen. Begin seeing yourself as someone who is already blessed in the spiritual realm.