Our Attitude toward Riches

James 1:10

From Faith, Love & Hope: An Exposition of the Epistle of James, AMG Publishers, 1997.

"But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away" (James 1:10).

In the previous verse, James spoke of the imperative command to the humble to boast in his height in Jesus Christ. The word "boast" with which verse 9 starts is to be understood as the main verb of the first part of verse 10. Let me give this first part of the verse exactly as I think it should be rendered from the Greek: "On the other hand, let the rich boast in his humility."

As we take a look at the primitive Christian Church, we find that it was made up mostly of common, ordinary, poor people, even as it is today. The pattern has not changed. But there were some who could be classified as rich. There were, for instance, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and also Barnabas, born on the Island of Cyprus, the very island on which I had the privilege of being born. You remember the commendable act of Barnabas, as recorded in Acts 4:37, who "having land, sold ilt, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet." 

I believe that James here speaks, not of the rich in general, but of the rich within the family of Christ. The word, "the brother," mentioned in the previous verse, could very well be repeated here. Let the brother, the rich, boast in his humility. It is as if James wants to reaffirm what Jesus Christ said to His disciples: "Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. l9:23). Yes, it is hard, but not impossible, and what great things God can do when a man's riches are placed at His disposal.

The natural thing for the rich man is to be proud of his possessions. But, declares James, the rich Christian brother ought not to boast in the things of the earth, in his possessions, but rather in his position in Christ Jesus, just like the poor brother. Remember that both of you, poor and rich alike, are brothers, and you are to boast only in Him who has made you brothers, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is neither the lack of material things, nor the abundance of them, that makes for happiness in the Christian life. This is exactly the message which the Word of God wants to bring to us, and whether we be poor or rich we shall do well to heed it for our own good.

Have you ever visited an insane asylum? I remember the first one which I visited during my university days with our professor of Abnormal Psychology. The thing that impressed me more than anything else was that in that asylum I could see both poor and rich. Riches can be just as destructive to your peace of mind as poverty. But faith n Jesus Christ pulls the poor up and pulls the rich down, to the place where they meet for wonderful fellowship in the common bond of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the community of the redeemed is the only community where this is possible.

"You are to be more envied than anyone I know," said a young man to a millionaire. "Why so?" responded the millionaire. "I am not aware of any cause for which I should be envied." "What, sir!" the young man exclaimed in surprise. "Why, you are a millionaire! Think of the thousands your income brings in every month!" "Well, what of that?" replied the millionaire. "All I get out of it is my food and clothes, and I can't eat more than one man's allowance, and wear more than one suit of clothes at a time. Even you can do as much as I can, can't you?" Ah, yes, but think of the hundreds of fine houses you own, and the rentals they bring you." "What better am I off for that?" replied the rich man. "I can only live in one house at a time; as for the money I receive for rents, why, I can't eat or wear it; I can only use it to buy other houses for other people to live in; they are the beneficiaries, not I." And then, finally, after a little more discussion, the millionaire turned to the young man and said: "I can tell you that the less you desire in this world, the happier you will be. All my wealth can't buy a single day more of life-cannot buy back my youth, cannot procure me power to keep off the hour of death; and then what will all avail, when in a few short years at most I must lie down in the grave and leave it all forever? Young man, you have no cause to envy me."

The Apostle James is afraid lest the things which God bestows upon us as blessings may become curses and instead of drawing us closer to God may keep us away from Him. The words "in his humility," have reference here both to the action and to the result of the humbling process.

I believe there is a great lesson for us to learn here. God knows the hearts and dispositions of men. He knows how you will behave if He lays on you that great burden of riches. If its action upon you will be to produce a heart that will glorify Him, the Giver of every good and perfect gift, then He will unhesitatingly let you carry some extra luggage. When you are in the process of humbling yourself, the Lord will load you with blessings. God wants you to be like the stalk of wheat that is full of beautiful grains. The more it is loaded, the lower it stoops. Thus, my dear friend, your real riches will be manifested by your humility.

If there is anything to boast about, it is what you are in Christ Jesus, in spite of how little or how much you have. A London newspaper offered a prize for the best definition of money and it was awarded to a young man whose definition was, "Money is an article which may be used as a universal passport to everywhere except heaven and as a universal provider of everything except happiness." Oh, if we could only remember that and heed the words of the Master, that "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15).

Remember, poor brother, you are called upon to forget all your earthly poverty, and you, rich brother, are called upon to forget all your riches. But why? The reason is given in the second part of verse 10 and verse 11: "Because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away." It is evident here that this truth is applicable, not only to the rich, but to all. The rich man, however, in the enjoyment of his abundance, is more likely to forget it.

The word translated "shall pass away," in the original Greek is parelesetai, which is the future of the verb parérchomai, a compound verb made up of the preposition par, which means "by, besides, or past," and the verb érchomai,which means "to come or to go." How wonderful! Here you are, a human saved by the grace of God. You are surrounded by riches which God has entrusted to you. Do not for one moment pride yourself on these riches because they are like the flower of the grass-one day they are with you, and the next they are not.

You are an observer in this life. That which you hold in your hand, riches, slips by. Do not sorrow over it. The main thing is that you are able to stand. Rich people are threatened with a great change. Perhaps the Lord wants you to enjoy something more than riches. Once some rich parents left their children constantly in the care of servants. But, like the flower of the grass, riches passed by, and the parents could not afford servants and had to live with the children. One evening when the father had returned home after a day of anxiety and business worry, his little girl climbed upon his knee and twining her arms around his neck said: "Daddy, don't get rich again. You did not come into the nursery when you were rich, but now we can come around you, and get on your knee and kiss you. Don't get rich again, Daddy."

Spiros Zodhiates (1922-2009) served as president of AMG International for over 40 years, was the founding editor of Pulpit Helps Magazine (Disciple's predecessor), and authored dozens of exegetical books.

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