Monday, July 24, 2006

Wealth and wisdom

In James 1, the half-brother of Jesus is writing regarding how to live out our faith in times of trials. In verses 2-4, he commands us to change our perspective on trials and to have an attitude of contentment when we face adversity. We learn that as we stand firm, staying faithful and enduring under trials, it results in greater spiritual maturity and develops us into everything God wants us to become. In verses 5-8, we are promised that if we are lacking the ability to see our trials through a divine perspective that gives us an inner confidence, we can ask God for this perspective and if we ask in faith, He will give it to us without bargaining and without reprimanding us for our need to ask for wisdom.

As we reach verse 9, we are reminded that trials affect both the wealthy and the poor. James addresses both and their need to rejoice even in the midst of suffering. He deals first with the poor man who he calls the brother of humble circumstances. James is speaking of the Christian who was economically poor which was no doubt most of his Jewish readers due to the persecution they faced. What were they to do in the midst of adversity? They were to glory in their high position. What kind of high position is possessed by the poor? James is looking beyond their economic standing to their spiritual standing. He is speaking of their position as children of God with all of the blessings that position brings (First Peter 1:3-6; First John 3:1-3; Romans 8:16-18).

James tells the rich man to do the same thing in verse 10. The rich man is also to glory but his rejoicing is not in his position but rather in his humiliation. A poor person should rejoice in the midst of trials because of his spiritual position as a child of God. The rich man is to rejoice in the same scenario because trials, to the one who is wealthy, allows him to understand humility, which is something that those with material substance often struggle to understand. This humility occurs when we realize that our wealth cannot protect us from trials.

To prove this point, James looks to nature in verse 11 and points his readers to the flowering grass which was temporary (First Peter 1:24; Isaiah 40:6-7). The flowers and grass of Israel flourished in February and were dried up by May (Isaiah 40:6-8; Ps 102:4, 11; 103:15). Material things are also temporary and knowing this, we should be driven to put our trust in God rather than in material wealth

James now ends this section with the encouraging prospect of reward in verse 12. This reward is given when we are content and consistent trough adversity. This is a reward given to the one who posses an inner contentment and does not relinquish his trust in God in spite of trials. Those who continue to trust in God in spite of trials are approved by God. That’s a hero. It is one who goes through the fire of adversity and remains faithful to God. This person will receive the Crown of Life. This comes from the realm of athletics, not that of royalty, and speaks of a wreath placed on the head of an athletic victor. Some believe this speaks of eternal life itself but it is more likely a specific eternal reward given to those who endure trials with trust.

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