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James Chapter One verses 9-18

Faithfulness and Blessing

I've always been confused, I guess, with the way the initial section juxtaposes the man in "humble" circumstances and the rich man. The believer in humble circumstances is told he should be proud of his "high position" whereas the rich believer should be proud of his "low position".

Looking at the verses that form a frame around this difficult passage, we see that there is a thread of persecution that runs through it all. Believers are exhorted to remain faithful to the end, though persecution comes and will attempt to dissuade them from that course of action. Now, a believer with very little to actually lose is is a pretty strong position if said persectution confiscates his property. Rich believers are warned in advance that their wealth is transitory and they could lost it all.

Matthew 23:12 similarly says, "whoever humbles himself will be exalted and whoever exalts himself will be humbled". It appears that the believer with the "humble circumstances" has the "moral high ground" [to borrow a well known phrase] in this regard - he who doesn't seek power or position is in a stronger position in the face of persecution as there is less leverage to cause him to fall.

The passage seems to say to me "A brother in humble circumstances (not seeking to exalt himself, gain titles, or power) ought to take pride in his high position and the attainment of the moral high ground because when persecution hits he stands to lose far less and survive with a far greater proportion of his life intact".

The rich believer is warned that his life is like a flower that will wither in the sun. The riches will lose their beauty and die out. He should be prepared to lose everything, to look at his "low position". Take, for example the old, suposedly comforting phrase, "Don't worry, if you've reached rock bottom the only way you can go is up". Maybe the rich believer is in a low position [spiritually] and stands to gain much from the experiences of being brought down.

The passage is immediately followed by the exhotation to be faithful: "blessed is the man who perseveres under trial". Both rich and poor are expected to be ready to face trials though the humbler circumstances of one may make it easier to face losses. Indeed, the rich believer is called to look to something other than his wealth for security when persecution comes as the passage tells him to take pride in his low position; He is called to look to something other than his title or wealth (both of which may be lost).

Faithfulness is the opposite of blaming God. It's the reverse of being bitter and angry at the Lord for the losses that persecution has inflicted upon a believer.

The trials and persecutions of life are the "great leveller" in that they happen to all (cf Ephesians, "No slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Greek") irrespective of who we are, what we are or the titles we own.

Pride in a low position - the knowledge that now matter how tough or nasty things wil get, spiritually a believer is growing and maturing as a Christian and the faithfulness under trial will be noted and rewarded by our loving Heavenly Father. There appears to be a progression in the passage too: Persecution hits a rich believer and he remains faithful. He's reduced to humble circumstances yet retains the "moral high ground" and God counts him as having a "high position" spiritually because of the faith and obedience that have been demonstrated. God's promise is clear: to such a faithful believer there is comfort, in the end he will be exalted by God.

For the rich believer looking at his losses, watching persecution wreck his life, work and title, the promise of God to exalt him later if he's faithful would provide a much needed boost. There's comfort in these words in the midst of painful circumstances.

As believers, we all are called to be faithful when our Lord allows trials to hit us. He gives us the command and expects obedience in return. The bible is clear that "there is no darkness in Him" so he won't play "dirty" and attempt to trip us up when walking such a hard path - He is the giver of good gifts, good things and the means to endure trials. The trials are what open up our soul for examination showing the depth of our own sinful desire: temptation springs from within and not without.

A believer with less to lose in the first place is in a stronger place to resist the tempation to slander God by throwing false accusations at Him. A richer believer who loses more when persecution comes will feel more indignation and a stronger internal urge to lay the blame at God's door.

Desire is conceived, it gestates (as we mull things over, toying with it and entertain wrong ideas) and finally it "gives birth" to action, to sin. We often toy with the thought that maybe God is the one to blame. We entertain the thought until it is fully grown and we act on it, sinning as we do so. The process before the sin is born is not counted as a sin in and of itself though we are warned that it can lead to sinning against God; it's not wrong to have doubts, to wonder if maybe God is to blame, but we're warned that entertaining these ideas may lead us into the trap of actually blaming Him for things.

Sin will grow, if we let it, until it's matured. It's a progressive thing and can be stopped by timely repentance. That is, we should avoid the dangerous initial step of entertaining the notion that God is to blame. We shouldn't play with fire. If we do sin though, we can still turn back through repentance - "if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" [1 John 1:9] The warning is also quite stark: if we refuse to turn back to God, sin will give birth to death and separation from Him.

If we have been blaming God for our state of ruin, at the hands of trial and persecution, we may well have reached the point of rejecting Him. If we do, we shouldnt let it go too far as the hard heart of rejection will cease to beat with spiritual life: we can only go so far before we cease to listen to God's voice calling us to return.


by Paul Hawke