TEXT: James 1:9-12

It was the apologist, Francis Schaeffer, who stated that “personal peace and affluence” would be the ultimate downfall of our nation. Hard working Christians had a hard time processing those words, but the apologist’s warning has come to pass. For instance, a teenager in Texas received a reduced sentence for killing four people in a drunk driving accident. The judge in the case said that the young man was the victim of “affluenza.” She noted that his parents gave him everything he wanted, including alcohol and drugs, so that he lost all sense of personal responsibility for his actions. So in her mind, he wasn’t responsible for what happened.

And consider those Christmas commercials that promote “luxury items.” No longer do we receive socks, ties, toasters, and perfume for holiday gifts. No…the advertisers tell ALL OF US that we deserve a new BMW for Christmas. And in our most private thoughts we yearn for the same possessions the rich and famous have, whether we can afford them or not. Yes, even Christians long for the things this world can manufacture. We are all influenced by “affluenza” in one way or another.

Wanting what others have, especially the rich and famous, has been around from the beginning of time. Even the first century Christians found themselves envying people who seemed to be well off in life. That is why James, the half-brother of our Lord, wrote the words contained in our text for this week. A quick review of first-century culture reminds us that the early believers were largely drawn from the lower classes. They carved out a living in any way they could. In many ways, the “have’s” of the culture took advantage of them. They mistreated them and defrauded them of what they deserved. But these “humble” and “poor” Christians (the have not’s) met King Jesus! They heard the gospel and the hope of an eternal Kingdom ruled by God Himself. As followers of the King, they probably assumed that their bounty was about to arrive. But with the ascension of the Lord Jesus, life continued in much the same way that it had been progressing. And so every time a Christian saw a rich person, they had one of two responses. They were bitter towards them, or they wanted what the rich had in terms of material possessions. If we are honest with ourselves, we have these same responses—we want; we envy; we desire material things. 

As you read James 1:9-12, you will want to notice two realities and a principle.
In verses 9-11 James introduces reality #1. The reality is that there is going to be a great reversal one day. And when the reversal comes, the humble (read the “have nots”) will be exalted and the rich will be humiliated. In fact, James goes into great detail as to how that will happen (vv. 10-11).
Then in verse 12 the writer introduces reality #2. James says that those who persevere in trials will receive the crown of life. He does not go into detail as to what this “crown” will be, but the assumption is that it is far superior to the riches of this world. In James 2:5 the writer seems to equate this “crown” with the promised Kingdom and the blessings of faith in Jesus. 

So there are two realities—the reality of reversal and the reality of reward for Christians who persevere. But behind these two realities there something every Christian needs to know. It is a truth you will want to take with you into all of life, especially during the celebration of Christmas. INSTEAD OF ENVYING THE RICH, GOD WANTS US TO EMBRACE OUR SPIRITUAL RICHES. 

This principle automatically evokes some questions. Allow me to cite two. First, why is it that we have so much difficulty holding on to the exhortation to embrace our spiritual riches? Why don’t we spend more time exploring the Scriptures to see what true riches really entail? It’s because the world is noisy—and it’s not just a holiday problem (Luke 8:4-14). A person can meditate on the Word before going to work, but by the time they arrive at the factory or the office, they have heard and read hundreds of messages. Almost all of those messages run counter to the eternal truths of Scripture. Yes, we read about spiritual riches that are ours in Jesus Christ, but we forget them as we go about our days in a busy world.

The second question we need to ask is this, “How can we more effectively embrace our spiritual riches?” And my answer on the authority of Scripture is to “stay tuned”. You have heard those words when a TV program is ready to break for a commercial. The announcer tells you to not change channels or listen to anything other than the upcoming commercial. “Stay tuned” to what is being said. And that is what Scripture constantly encourages us to do with respect to God’s promises. We are to keep coming back, day and night, to the Word of God, and listen to what God is saying (Psalm 119:147). We might live in the reality of great economic inequality, but it won’t always be this way. Jesus invites us to persevere. So instead of envying what others have, keep remembering the riches God promises to those who love Him. This is the will of God for us. And this is our sustaining hope!

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