Many of us talk like the Bible is practical and speaks to us today, but act like it is archaic and has little to do with real life. We say we respect the Bible and live like we don’t.
We go to church and nod our heads when the pastor says we shouldn’t be proud. But then we go out and live self-centered lives, never stopping to consider how the truths we learned on Sunday might apply specifically to the way we live our lives. Or we read the commands in Scripture to love others sacrificially, but when someone comes to us with a need fail to think about how what we studied in our devotions might impact how we react to that particular crisis.
We’ve mastered the art of sounding spiritual while living worldly.
That may be due to the fact that it is much easier to sound biblical than it is to live biblically. It is easier for me to tell you that you need to consider it all joy when you face many trials than it is for me to respond with joy when my car breaks down, or things don’t go my way.
We fool ourselves into thinking if we just talk about something enough we’re actually doing it. We’re like a man who continually talks about going to the gym but never does, and can’t figure out why he’s not getting into shape. We continually talk about the Christian life but don’t live it out, and then can’t figure out why we are not maturing.
Many of us have developed a pattern of coming to church, sitting, listening, but never changing. The truth is, we’re not sure how to move beyond spouting off the pious platitudes we’ve become so accustomed to – to actually putting those platitudes into practice.
I’ve found that to be true when it comes to handling trials. Most Christians know what Scripture teaches about considering trials a reason for joy. But few Christians actually consider their trials a reason for joy. That’s because many of us fail to think specifically about how the truths James teaches actually relate to the way we live our life.
That’s a problem – a major problem. James didn’t write this letter merely to inform us, he wrote it to change us. That’s why time and time again throughout this letter you’ll find that he teaches a truth, explains it, and then concludes by illustrating and applying it. He doesn’t want to leave the principle hanging out there in the land of fuzzy thinking but instead zones in to show us the difference that truth should make in our every day lives.
And that’s exactly what he does in this particular passage. He begins in verses 2-4 by giving the basics for handling trials. “Consider it all joy my brothers when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God wants us to look on trials as an occasion for rejoicing because of what we know to be true about them. But James knows we are going to have difficulties doing that, so he explains in verses 5-8. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” If we are going to become complete Christians we must respond to trials correctly. If we are going to respond to trials correctly we need wisdom. If we lack wisdom we must ask God for it. And when we ask God for wisdom, we’ve got to want it.
Now, all that sounds great on paper, but what’s it look like lived out?
That’s the question James answers in verses nine through eleven. He takes the general principles he’s given, and gets specific. He gives us a ‘survival test.’ James knows it’s one thing to know how to handle trials when you are “sitting in the classroom,” it’s another when you are “out in the wild…” It’s one thing for a person to be able to recite James 1:2-8 back to their pastor while at church, and another to live James 1:2-8 out when they are confronted by the pressures of real life.
It’s easy to consider it all joy when everything is going our way but what does it look like to consider it all joy when we do not have enough food to eat? When we have a hard time paying our bills? When others look down on us because of our financial situation? That’s where the rubber meets the road.
James’ answer to these questions is pretty surprising.
“But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position.”
Early Christians referred to one another as brothers and sisters. In fact in the margin of my Bible there’s a footnote which says the word brother could be translated church member. So we know James is describing a Christian.
This particular Christian is ‘of humble circumstances.’ The word humble means lowly, unimportant, and poor. This is a person who doesn’t have much. His clothes are dirty, he lives in a bad part of town, and as far as the world is considered, he is completely insignificant.
Most of those to whom this letter was addressed would have readily identified with this man of humble circumstances. They were godly people. They loved Jesus Christ. But as we’ve seen, they were of humble circumstances. They were living in a foreign country, hated by their own people, looked down on, abused, oppressed, and treated as unimportant and insignificant.
Truth is, they weren’t all that unique. Most of the early Christians were of ‘humble circumstances.’ One historian goes so far as to say that Christians were the “dregs of the populace.”
Few of us know what it’s like to be as poor as these early believers. Even most who consider themselves poor in America are rich by most of the world’s standards. I remember the first time I went to the Dominican Republic being shocked by the poverty. Kids growing up with only one pair of pants, no shoes, a shirt if they were lucky; going home to a house that’s just a couple pieces of tin that their parents found alongside the road and nailed together.
Yet even though we may not know that kind of poverty, we can identify to a certain extent with the brother in humble circumstances. We know what it is like not to have much, we know what it’s like to be looked on as insignificant and unimportant.
Honestly, that’s a difficult trial. How should a believer deal with that? James says that the poor, insignificant brother should glory in his high position. The word glory is the first word in the sentence in the Greek. That means James is emphasizing it. It literally means to take pride in. It’s equivalent to boasting. He’s describing a strong personal reaction, a feeling of pride and exultation.
That’s pretty shocking. Think about what James is saying:
Let the brother who is looked down on by everyone glory…
Let the brother who is being abused by the rich in society glory…
Let the brother who doesn’t have enough money for nice clothes glory…
Let the brother who is a slave glory…
Let the brother who has no home glory…
Let the brother who has to sit outside the home of a rich man and beg for food glory…
Let the brother who has no earthly inheritance glory…
Let the brother who the world thinks of as a failure glory…
Let the brother who the world thinks of as insignificant and unimportant glory…
Let the brother who has no money in his bank account glory…
Let the brother who has a terrible, low-paying job glory…
James is turning the world’s way of thinking completely on its head. In fact, what he is saying sounds almost un-American. When the world looks at the poor person what do they say? “So sad. I feel sorry for him.” Even the word poor is used to describe a person who doesn’t have much money as well as someone we pity. Poor guy.
And if we are thinking like the world, when we are in a situation where we don’t have much money, where people don’t notice us and think we are important, or where we are looked down on, our first reaction, most likely, will be to pity ourselves. We’ll want to focus on what we don’t have and feel
sorry for ourselves.
But James says, as a believer that’s not how we are to respond to our circumstances. There’s no reason for self-pity. We shouldn’t be going about moaning and groaning. We shouldn’t be constantly worrying about how you can become rich.
Instead if we are poor, insignificant in the world’s eyes and looked down on by others around us our basic attitude should be that of joy. It should be that of glory! It should be that of exultation! We shouldn’t be complaining. We should be boasting.
He isn’t saying we should glory because we don’t have much money or because we are insignificant. We’re not more holy just because we are poor or unimportant. James doesn’t write, “Let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his humble circumstances…” Instead he is just saying, poverty, riches; they are not really the point. The Christian’s position is not linked to his earthly condition.
The world says if a person is poor and impoverished then he is a person of low position and if a person is rich and famous he is a person of a high position. But God looks on life very differently. In fact, God turns the way the world looks at life upside down. The things that cause shame and dishonor in this world are by no means the same things the Bible considers shameful or dishonorable. And the things that our culture considers honorable might in fact be quite dishonorable in God’s eyes. James is teaching us that, “…what seemed shameful…such as being born among the lower levels of society…could go hand in hand with great honor in the sight of God.”
A person may be poor and lowly in the world’s eyes, but if he is a believer, he is not poor and lowly in God’s eyes.
James is saying when we are poor we should remember we are rich. If we are believers, we may be lowly in the world’s eyes, but we need to stop and consider what’s real. We can rejoice and boast about our high spiritual standing before God because of His grace and the hope which that brings. I like how Dr. MacArthur puts it. The brother of humble circumstances “may be hungry but he has the bread of life. He may be thirsty but he has the water of life. He may be poor but he has eternal riches. He may be cast aside by men but he has been eternally received by God. He may have no home on earth but he has a glorious abode in heaven. When God in His wisdom and sovereignty takes away physical possessions from some of his children it is for the purpose of making them spiritually mature, a blessing infinitely more valuable than anything they have lost or have wanted but never possessed. The believer who is deprived in this life can accept that temporary and insignificant deprivation because he has a future divine inheritance that is both eternal
James is showing us what it looks like to apply God’s wisdom to every day situations of our life. God’s Word should affect the way we look at our
Your child comes home from school crying because he’s been mocked, ridiculed and treated poorly by his peers. How do you counsel him?
If he’s a believer, here’s where you can start.
Gently remind him to glory in his high position; to stop worrying about how he can get in with the “in” crowd and start exulting right now where he’s at.
You look like a failure in the eyes of the world. You haven’t been successful at anything you’ve done. No one notices
you. You feel very insignificant and unimportant in the great scheme of things. You are tempted to become bitter and resentful about the way things are going in your life. How should you respond?
Exult, glory, boast right now where you are at in your high position. Focus on God and what He’s done for you. Find joy in Him.
How do you do that?
You must stop looking at your circumstances from the world’s perspective. You must start looking at our circumstances from God’s. Instead of getting upset that you don’t have much materially, instead of becoming resentful and discontent about your financial situation, and our obscurity and your seeming insignificance, you must remember “that you are a prince. As a Son of the King, you are heir of the future kingdom in glory. You need not be disheartened by your present poverty, or regard it as evil, you are the possessor of spiritual riches that more than counterbalance your material poverty.”
I understand that’s not easy to do. It takes commitment and it takes practice. But that’s why poverty’s a great test for us – especially those of us living in an affluent society.
If God came and stripped everything you had away from you right now, would you still be joyful? If you lost your job and people looked down on you, would you still be able to glory? As one writer has asked, ‘how much are you worth if you lost all your money?’ What are you boasting in? Where’s your treasure? What’s the source of your joy?