Rich Man, Poor Man, and the Crown of Life

I was thinking this morning about all the ways that we can experience Christ: through His Word, through prayer, and in a physical, tangible way as we gather this morning. We are His body, so we get to look into the eyes of Christ as we see each other, we get to experience His warmth through hugs and pats on the back when we come and encourage one another, experience Him through encouraging conversations and words, so we really do get a taste of what it’s like to be in the presence of Christ when we come together and worship with one another. I am so thankful that the Lord has blessed us with that, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to take some time to speak with you, sharing from James 1:9-12.

 

1 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. 2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. 12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:9-12)

Today we are going to focus of verses 9-12, and will be diving that into three main sections:
First, a look at the poor believer and the trials associated with poverty.
Second, we will take a look at the rich believer and the trials associated with wealth.
Third, we will look at the reward promised to those faithful believers who endure to the end. 

So starting with verse 9, which says, “But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position;” It seems this morning like James is speaking to us in a riddle. What is this humble circumstance? As I said earlier it is poverty, to be poor. It is to have little in material means. I think it is safe to say that most of us would acknowledge that struggling financially is a trial. To not have enough money to feed yourself or your family, or not have the money to afford a roof over your head, or clothes to wear, or the means to pay for medical attention when you or a family member is sick. But the trial of poverty is not just a lack of material resources, it’s also emotional, mental, there is a social stigma that goes along with poverty. Having people look down on you, assuming that you are lazy or unintelligent because you may be out of work or have a low-paying job. Or having someone avoid making eye contact with you when you’re walking down the street or in a store because your clothes are old and worn, or way out of style. 

Yes, it is humbling to lack the resources you need to take care of yourself and your loved ones, or maybe to have to ask for help in order to meet your basic needs. Yes, it is emotionally humbling to deal with the attitudes of those who would judge you based on your poverty. All of these and more are part of the trials that make up the humble circumstances James is talking about in verse 9. Even as believers we are not immune from looking down on, or even mistreating, the poor. That is why James 2:1-7 warns us not to treat the poor brother any different than we would treat the rich. 

We need to ask ourselves this morning: have we made any assumptions about a whole group of people based upon our own subtle, and sometime not so subtle, prejudice? Do we think of the poor as hard working or lazy? Do we think of the poor as independent or dependent, just wanting handouts? Do we see them as a benefit to our society or as a problem? If we have any preformed attitudes toward the poor it can cause you and I, who are called to be the hands and feet and eyes and heart of Christ, His ministers of mercy, to think and act in a way that is not consistent with our high calling.

So given the real physical and emotional pain and discomfort that can be the reality of the brother of humble circumstances, what in the world is there to glory in? And what is this high position James is talking about? The brother of humble circumstances can glory in this, as 2 Peter 1:1-4 states: that he has received a faith of the same kind as the apostle Peter himself, and that faith has come by the very righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. The brother of humble circumstances can glory in the reality that God’s divine power has granted to him every spiritual blessing pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. The poor brother can glory in the fact that, while he may lack material resources, he has been given every spiritual resource needed to endure the trial of poverty for as long as it lasts. Whether it is a season in his life or his whole life. The poor brother can also glory in the fact that his trial of poverty is temporary, and soon enough this life will be over, and heaven is waiting for him in the near distance. The poor brother can also glory in his high position of having been adopted into the family of God as a son of the living God, and there is no position of wealth, or privilege, or rank, or family of earthly royalty, that can compare in any way to the high position of being a son or daughter of the living God. To be adopted into the family of God with all its benefits is truly something to boast about! And as such he is no longer a slave to sin, but he is truly free to live a life that reflects his high position.

For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (2 Peter 1:4)

If you have ever been caught in the grip of a sin, or sins, and if you have been saved today – we have all at one time been slaves to sin; no matter what those sins were – drugs, alcohol, lying, sexual immorality, anger, worry, pride, or whatever it was – and you knew what it was like to have your life controlled by that sin, and to know that the sin had you, it owned you completely, and then to have been freed from that. To be freed from the sin that had gripped you and controlled your life, and that you knew was your master. To be completely freed from that, and to now have a new master, one that brought you joy, and life, not death. That is why the brother of humble circumstances who has experienced that kind of true freedom, after having been a slave of sin, he can glory in his high position, even though he may be hungry, or poorly clothed, or even lacking a place to lay his head.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

No matter what sins the poor brother was formerly a slave to, he has been washed, he has been sanctified, he has been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God. In that he can boast and glory! His high position also includes having been made a citizen of heaven. The poor brother may not enjoy many of the material benefits of whatever earthly country he is a citizen of, but one day he will enjoy all of the benefits of being a citizen of heaven. Chief among them is spending eternity with Jesus, where there is no more sorrow, no more tears, no more lack, no more need of anything. And just as Jesus described the poor man Lazarus in Luke 16, so the poor man in our generation who suffers and is taken up, that poor brother will be comforted by the Lord in heaven. The brother of humble circumstances can truly glory in his high position, because while he may be physically hungry, he has been given the bread of life! While he may be physically thirsty, he has been given living water! And while he may be physically poorly clothed, he has been clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

If you are financially struggling this morning, please be encouraged and glory in your high position if you belong to Christ. If you are here this morning and you are not financially struggling, please take the time to encourage your brother or sister whom you know is struggling. We all need to come alongside and assist them where we can in meeting their material needs, and I know many of you are already doing that. The church has a place in managing the resources that the Lord provides in order to meet the needs of those who need help in the body. And here at GBFC we are truly trying to be faithful to that calling through our benevolence ministry which the deacons administer and the elders oversee. But there is also a place for each of us, on a personal, person-to-person level, to come alongside and help those in need of help. The reality is that we are all in need of some help, whether it’s material, emotional, the remnants of past sins that still cling to us, whatever it is, we are all in need of coming alongside and encouraging one another.

So now we come to the two verses that talk about the rich man and how he is to view the trial of wealth. You may be saying to yourself, “I don’t know that that’s much of a trial!” But it may be more of a trial than you have considered.

and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. (James 1:10-11)

James again is speaking in this language that almost sounds like a riddle. What is the humiliation of the rich man that he is to glory in? And how can you glory or boast in something that is a humiliation? Part of his humiliation is that his wealth cannot solve the most important trials of life, and that he, like the poor man, is driven back to God for help. The reality is that the rich man is in just as much need of God’s help as the poor man, and that can be very humbling to the man who is used to being in charge of others and used to commanding great resources. But when a loved one dies there is no amount of wealth that can ease that pain. The only sure comfort is the comfort of the Lord, and those ministers of mercy that are His saints. Those resources have nothing to do with the rich man’s wealth, but have everything to do with the resources that only the Lord commands. When a child or dear friend is caught in the grip of sin, wealth is not an answer. But the answer can be found in Jesus Christ, and in His living Word, because only He is the way and the truth and the life, and His love is not for sale, but is freely given. 

But the most intimate and profound humiliation the rich man must glory in if he is a child of God is that his riches are not his own, and he will soon be parted from them, because like the flowering grass, he will pass away. I think about the flowers I plant in my front yard each year. Every spring I am so excited that winter’s over, and I enjoy planting those. Many of you know that I’m a Lakers fan, so I typically try to find purple and gold flowers and plant those. They look really beautiful for a couple of months, but then in July, August, and September when the hot, 100+ degree days come consecutively, those flowers are dead in no time. They’re withered away, and I have to dig them up and plant flowers that are suitable for the summer heat. Every year I go through that, every year I watch that cycle, and I’m lovingly reminded by the Lord of how brief life is, how brief life is for all of us. “For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.” (James 1:11)

The rich man is only a steward of what really belongs to Christ. And all too soon, like the grass of the field, he is dead, and others will be left to steward the wealth which was once his charge. But the glory of his humiliation is that he is parted from his wealth in this life, but is united with Christ for eternity, and that is something to truly glory in. For the rich man who is a child of God, he will receive the same comfort, fellowship, and fullness of joy that the poor man receives. For the rich man and the poor man who love the Lord, for both to live is Christ and to die is gain! The rich man can also glory in the fact that he has been washed, he has been sanctified, he has been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God, just as the poor man was. And his earthly wealth does not compare in any way to his glorious position in Christ.

There may be some of you this morning who this speaks directly to. You understand that you have been made materially wealthy by the Lord. I hope you have been encouraged by what God’s Word has said to you. But many of you may be saying to yourself, “I may not be financially struggling, but I’m not rich!” It may be true that you are not counted among the richest people in the land of the rich. You may not be “Bill Gates rich,” but that does not mean you are not rich. Historically, for thousands of years, those who were wealthy rode horses, and those who were poor walked. The rich have always had the fastest and best means of transportation. In our world today the wealthy drive or fly, and the poor still walk. Are you walking to work and to the market and to the store, or are you driving?

Historically, the wealthy have had homes with multiple rooms and multiple bedrooms, and depending on what time in history you are talking about, sometimes they had bathrooms. And the poor, if they had a house, it was one room where everything was done, from preparing food to sleeping. Today in our world the rich live in homes with multiple rooms and multiple bedrooms, with electricity, and hot and cold running water, with bathrooms, and refrigerators, and gas or electric stoves, and maybe a dishwasher. And today the poor, if they have a house, it is still one room where everything is done. They have no electricity – or if they do it is very unreliable – no indoor plumbing, no gas or electric stoves, no refrigerators. Which description comes closest to describing the home you live in? 

If you go to the website for the World Bank, or the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or Forbes’ list of the richest countries, among them all you will find the United States near the top. We live in a country, and we enjoy a lifestyle, that is among the top 20% of everyone in the world. The other 80% of people, their lifestyle is staggeringly below ours. It’s not even close the way the rest of the world lives. I don’t say that to try to make us feel bad or uncomfortable about all that God has given us, but I want us to be aware of it, and know that that’s the reality of all we’ve been given and blessed with.

If you are not today undergoing a financial trial, you are living the lifestyle of the rich, and James 1:8-9 do apply to you. Here is how: we have been given so much in the way of housing, food, means of transportation, medical attention, entertainment, we have books, movies, television, stereos, video games, smart phones, iPods, iPads, sports teams we love to follow, places we can vacation. We can, if we are not careful, become attached to the things of this world which are not permanent but are temporary, and which are passing away. We can become self-absorbed and live life not for Christ but for our own pleasure.

Before we go to verse 12, I want to read to you a quote from Ligon Duncan. He has a really good summary of verses 9-11. He says: “You see, the poor man could very easily fixate on dissatisfaction with his situation, and he could think that life was going to get better if he only had what he didn’t have. And he doesn’t realize that he’s been made rich in Jesus Christ and that there’s nothing greater that God could give than what He’s already given. And so James tells us here, the relatively poor Christian man could very easily fixate on dissatisfaction with his situation. But wisdom does what? It leads him, instead of being dissatisfied, to glory in his situation, realizing that he may be poor in the sight of this world, but he is rich in Jesus Christ. On the other hand, the rich man could look at his situation and could become so satisfied with the gifts that he has, that he forgets the gift-giver. He could fall so in love with the gifts that he has, that he foregoes the gift of the giver. He could think that these things, these toys, these precious monies and material things, these are the most important things, and though in reality very frivol, he could fall in love with them, instead of those things that are eternal. The rich Christian could easily delight in his riches, rather than realizing that God has surrounded him with things that will ultimately pass away. And so prosperity is a trial. In fact, Spurgeon says there is no trial like prosperity.”

So will you and I, will we focus our hearts on Christ? Will we live for Him, and not be trapped by the things that surround us? Will we find value in the things He values? Loving and honoring the Father, lovingly obeying Him, loving His Word, loving His people, having a heart for the lost and wanting to use our resources to reach them? I so appreciated Lyndon last week talking about how none of us can do everything. We cannot all go to Joni and Friends, or to China, or Uganda, or to Project 61, we cannot all serve as a full-time pastor. But what I want to ask us this morning is, in light of the fact that we cannot do everything, are we doing what we can do? Are we doing the things that the Lord would put on our hearts? Are we hearing Him, and responding to that?

That question is not intended to make anyone feel bad or feel guilty, but it is meant for all of us to take an honest look at how we are spending the resources that God has given us. And are we serving in a way that matches the resources we have been given? And I want to include, when we think about resources, not just material things, but also to think about time. Time is a resource that the wealth of this country has given us. We have far more leisure time than the person who has to work from sun up to sun down and beyond just to make sure that he can eat. We in this country don’t typically have that problem, we have great amounts of extra time, leisure time. My question is: how are we filling that time? Are we filling it with the things that are important to the Lord, the things that He would want us doing with all of that free time? “For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.” (James 1:11)

We come now to the crowning verse of James’ discussion regarding trials. He says, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” James here in this verse has given us a real summation of life and the walk of a believer, and how we will have responded over the totality of our lives. What he is saying in very few words is that blessed or happy is the man who did not turn his back on God, who did not quit the faith or recant his testimony, but held fast to the gospel. That man still believed at the end of his life that his sins had been forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus, and that he had been granted eternal life, and no matter what trials came that man still believed God was good and was worthy to be praised. And all that that man said he believed in had been put to the test in his life, the trials of his life proved the genuineness of his faith. And so it is with you and I.

The more our faith is tested, the more confident we become, and the more confident we become, the more we are tested. That is the way it is until we go home to be with the Lord. But our growing confidence is not in ourselves, but in God who not only gives us our faith but sustains it and perfects it. Is our attitude always right during trials? For myself, not by a long shot. Do we always respond in a way that exemplifies what it means to love Christ? No, not really. But as believers, during trials, after trials, our faith is intact, it remains. Paraphrasing a quote from John MacArthur, “Trials do not destroy faith, they merely reveal it.”

So the faith that God has implanted in us is put on display during our trials, and when we come to the end of our earthly life God stamps us “approved.” We see that reality in the negative in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” The reality is that those who are not truly of the Lord can feign a pretense of belonging to Him for a while, but when the trials and storms of life come, one of two things will happen: either they will completely desert the faith, or they will continue believing a gospel that is not the true gospel at all. James states it here in the positive by saying that those who endure trials, that that is the hallmark of true believers. And when we come to the end of this life, and we have been stamped “approved,” we will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

I studied this for quite a while, and truly I don’t know what a crown of life is. I have never seen one. I don’t know what one would look like. I have read many commentaries with varying opinions. But this is what I can tell you, I can tell you what an earthly crown is: it is an emblem which is usually made of a precious metal (gold or silver) and it is often adorned with precious jewels like diamonds or rubies, etc. The crown sits on the wearer’s head and it is designed to represent the power and authority which the wearer possesses. It can be won in a competition, for example the crown that Miss America wears. It can be inherited, like a prince who inherits the crown from his father who was king before him. Or it can be bestowed; think of the king who realized that he has no sons worthy to inherit his kingdom, so he gives his crown to another. With that in mind, we know that God’s Word tells us that we who believe in Him have been granted eternal life already. 

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. (John 6:47)
He who believes in the Son has eternal life (John 3:36a)

So the crown of life cannot be eternal life itself, because we already have that. But the reality is that even though we have eternal life as sons and daughters of the living God, we have not fully realized what that will mean for us. We still go to funerals of loved ones who have died and one day, if the Lord does not return first, I will die and you will die, and dying as sons and daughters of God, we will step into the full reality of our eternal life, which we have already received by faith. And if the crown of life is a symbol or emblem of that reality, I am looking forward to receiving it with great anticipation. Whatever the crown is, if the Lord has promised it to those who love Him, I want one of those. I want one of those crowns. I want one because God has loved me, He has shown Himself faithful to me, He has shown me so many compassions, so in return I want to be known in this life as someone who loves Him, and in my life in heaven as someone who loves Him. 

It is fitting that James completes his thoughts here about trials with the fact that the crown of life is promised by the Lord to those who love Him. The suffering Savior rewards those who He has kept, who He has shepherded, who He has loved, and in return we love Him. How can we not love Him?