James 1:9-11 NKJV
Proverbs 28:6 NKJV
Proverbs 28:27 NKJV
If anything, James is brutally honest in this passage. His writings are clear and to the point. He did not mince words or sugar-coat the message. In addition to his clarity and honesty the specific theme of poor versus rich became part of his message to the Jews living outside Jerusalem.
James understood all too well that on this earth the rich are revered and held in high esteem, while the poor suffer and struggle daily just to survive. He knew that wasn’t the end of the story.
In this section, James seems to make a ‘jump’ to write about specific words of honesty. Today we might be inclined to say he was ‘chasing a rabbit’, but I would say it’s a good rabbit. It’s a rabbit that the wise King Solomon chased often in Proverbs. In Proverbs 28:6 Solomon wrote, “Better is the poor who walks in his integrity than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich.”
Solomon knew that integrity really was more important than wealth. Solomon knew a bit about truth and being true to oneself.
He understood that a man who lies hurts himself more than anyone else. Solomon knew that having integrity is paramount to a healthy human condition. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles that you refuse to change” (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/integrity).
Still, as wealthy man, Solomon knew with great wealth came great responsibility. A few verses after his declaration about the poor who have integrity, he wrote, “He who gives to the poor will not lack, but he who hides his eyes will have many curses” Proverbs 28:27.
Understandably, Solomon’s perspective weighed heavy on him. Certainly in his time, the poor in Solomon’s kingdom were struggling just to survive.
The problem is that King Solomon didn’t know what hunger felt like. He didn’t know what it was like to hold a hungry child and rock them to sleep without a full belly. His father, King David had suffered great tribulation at the hand of Saul. David spent years living off the land in the wilderness running from His predecessor King Saul.
Solomon knew none of that. He did understand that he had a responsibility to the poor but he didn’t understand what it was like to have nothing.
For first century believers, James painted a different picture of the rich in his writings. It’s almost as if he is saying, ‘being rich is not as wonderful and glamorous as you might think.’
In James 1:9-11, he wrote, “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.”
James painted a picture where the poor needed to know they should be glad they were poor.
He said the rich faced a great humiliation. Humiliation is a matter of respect for oneself. According to James’ explanation of the rich in his time, they were in a position of suffering internal loss even while they had external abundance. James pointed to the fact that while the rich thought they were blessed, it was only temporary.
He compared their wealth ultimately to a flower in the field that soon dies and looses its earthly beauty. He reminded his readers that grass withers in the heat of the sun.
In modern day vernacular we would say, “you can’t take it with you.”
James was right.
I’ve known people who were born wealthy. They didn’t appreciate it or realize how the other half lived. In many ways, they came to rely on the security of their abundance so much that they forgot their need for God. In the end, their earthly resources meant nothing. They knew they needed God and God’s peace, but they didn’t know how to get to a place where they could experience the peace of God. They had not taken time to sit with God long enough to know His peace.
That’s not always the case with the wealthy. A wise wealthy man (woman) knows that reliance on their earthly wealth does not replace having a strong relationship with God.
I’ve also known wealthy people of means who look to God and they take their responsibility to the poor seriously. They do not let their wealth act as a substitute for having a strong relationship with God.
They are truly wise.
When their flower fades they let it go peacefully and they take God’s hand.
As it should be, they knew that what they had was only temporary.
Today’s Spiritual Practice is: Receive God’s Peace
Spend time with God, asking Him for peace. There’s nothing quite like it on earth.
In God, Deborah