The Great Equalizer
Trials prove that in Christ, wealth is not an advantage, James 1:9-12
I used to be prejudiced against people who were rich. Coming from a blue-collar home, I often looked with envy on those who had more than I did–and most people did. I began to develop attitudes over those who owned high-end homes, classy cars, boats and other expensive toys. I especially struggled over those who traveled to exotic places and enjoyed expensive vacations. My only hope to ever go on that type of trip was to win the showcase showdown on The Price is Right—which was never going to happen.
My prejudice continued, even when my parents dragged me to church. I noticed some churches only had doctors, lawyers, professionals and other high-end business types as their leaders—no teamsters were found on the elder board. Adding to my struggle were the many sarcastic insults thrown at me because I drove a ‘72 exploding Pinto, and wore clothes from K-Mart.
Even after the Lord saved me, the rich/poor tension was present as I witnessed the unique struggles poor students experienced. But soon afterward, even as a low-income Christian, God’s Word began to impact my thinking so that my prejudice against the rich began to radically change. I was not to be a respecter of persons. I was not to evaluate others by their income. I was not to look at a believer’s clothes or wealth or car or house and make judgments.
Then the Lord even allowed me to meet some wealthy believers who were not proud manipulators, or spoiled materialists, or greedy, snobby, self-deserving, above-it-alls. But they were in fact humble givers, generous with their resources, honoring Christ with their wealth. They used their wealth as a tool to serve Christ. They live out 1 Timothy 6:17 to 19, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”
It began to dawn on me–the real issue was not their wealth, nor a lack of money, but the real issue was an individual’s heart before the Lord. Then adding fuel to the truth of God’s Word was meeting some financially poor who were petty, envious, critical, greedy, jealous, manipulative, and self-appointed victims. Money wasn’t the issue–the true problem was their heart before the Lord. Now what is true about wealth is also true about race, education, background, family, and occupation–once in Christ, once born again, once you are truly a member of the family of God, none of those categories defines you. Only Christ does.
It doesn’t matter if you have a lot of resources or little resources. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor. Once you are in Christ, you have a totally new identity. All of us, and each of us are one family with one heavenly Father, one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ–one by the indwelling Holy Spirit and going to one eternal home together forever. Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female [you could add rich nor poor] for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The ground around the cross is level–your wealth gives you no advantage and your lack of wealth gives you no disadvantage. Your income has nothing to do with your salvation. Your position in this life cannot save you. But once you are in Christ, everything changes. Some preachers in the Early Church were slaves who faithfully taught God’s Word each Sunday in church, while their masters sat under their teaching. The Jewish culture in the first century had a hard time understanding this–they thought wealth was a clear indication of the blessing of God–and they assumed that the rich man was given an automatic ticket to Heaven.
You see this with the shock of the disciples when the rich young ruler walked away without salvation. They asked, if Mr. Bucks can’t be saved, then who can be saved? They thought Heaven could be won through their own good works, good standing, large income, and high position in this life. When actual salvation requires absolute total perfection before a holy God, which no one ever can, and ever has, lived up to. Christ must give you His righteousness. Christ must cover you with the white robe of His perfection.
Even the nicest person you know is a sinner, and has offended a holy God. Sin must be judged, so the Father arranged for your sin to fall on Christ and be judged there–and for Christ’s perfect righteousness to cover you, in order for you to be forgiven. Being rich or poor has nothing to do with your salvation. Your worldly advantages or disadvantages make no difference with your eternal salvation. You can be a Roosevelt, a billionaire, have 7 PhDs, marry a fashion model, be massively generous, have twelve children (all of them homeschooled, or all of them ivy league, like USC graduates)–but none of that gives you a relationship with God or eternal life in Heaven. Salvation only comes with submission to Christ as Lord, dependence upon His work on the cross by faith, repentance from sin, resulting in a transformed heart and following Christ.
One of the powerful ways God makes it clear that wealth is not an advantage nor poverty a disadvantage is trials. Like the thieves who beat up the good Samaritan, trials lie in wait, then attack every single one of God’s children, rich or poor. This is why James now brings up the issue of economic standing in the midst of his instruction on trials in James 1:9 to 12. Turn in your Bibles to James 1, and if you would please, follow along in your outlines. Those of you who want to accelerate your growth in Christ, take notes–it’s a fact, you will understand, retain and be more prone to apply the Word when you take notes.
You remember what James has been teaching Christians about trials in verses 2 to 8. James reminds God’s children that their trials are never accidents. Your heavenly Father is sovereign and providentially controls every circumstance and every relationship in order to accomplish His perfect will, which includes trials. Those difficult events that happen on your worst day were designed for you by God.
You know Romans 8:28, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
You already know Philippians 1:29, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
You also know 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
And you know what Joseph said to his brothers who were going to kill him, but then sold him into slavery instead, Genesis 50:20, “’As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.’”
Even evil people are allowed by God to accomplish His purposes in your life. All your trials are intentional. You have a loving heavenly Father who controls every detail of this world and every minute detail of your life. The Lord has a purpose behind every single event and each one of your relationships at home, at work, at school and at random. And God promises every Christian, trials will come into your life.
In James 1:2, the half-brother of Christ does not say “if” trials come, but “when” trials come. The Greek word “trials” is defined by its context, and in verses 1 through 12, the word means difficulties in life—tough stuff, hard issues and complications in your life. What is God’s purpose in trials? That God would be glorified as you trust Him, and that you would either come to Christ or become more like Christ–that you’d mature. Trials produce “endurance.” Then endurance leads the believer into deeper maturity, intimacy and usefulness for Christ. God put young Joseph through thirteen years of testing so He might make a king out of him. Peter spent three years in the school of testing to change him from sand to rock. Paul went through wilderness and rejections to become the planter of Gentile churches.
Last week in verses 5 to 8, James commands Christians who are experiencing trials to go to prayer asking for lifestyle wisdom. James calls the readers to live in dependent faith–to trust the Lord with all their heart and lean not on their own understanding. You and I often do not understand God’s purposes in trials–and in the midst of trials Satan often tempts you to think, “If God allows this kind of pain in my life, He certainly doesn’t care for me. So we whine and ask, “Why me?”
James calls believers to pray, assuring his readers that God wants to give you wisdom in trial and desires for you to endure under those painful trials so you don’t become doubleminded. That would be a phony, so-called Christian who trusts himself over God, or temporarily a weak, immature believer who is looking at himself and not the Lord. They’ll be relying on this world and not God’s Word. They want Christ to stop the trial, but not be transformed by God to live more like Christ because of their trial.
And now in verses 9 to 12 James says, even if you’re poor, or even if you’re rich and have all these resources–you will experience trials. Both rich and poor worshiped in the same assemblies James wrote, so James points out that trials benefit and challenge both poor and rich in verses 9 to 12. Trials remind the poor they are rich in the Lord and therefore can lose nothing. And trials remind the rich they dare not trust in their riches over Christ and salvation. Then in verse 12 James concludes his teaching on trials, reminding his readers that trials are both a motivation for them to grow, and a test to determine whether they love Christ. Therefore endure through them, so God can accomplish His purposes in your life.
So now in verses 9 to 12, James focuses on the great divider of the 1st century church–rich and poor. James will teach you more about wealth and about poverty in the rest of his letter, because in the 1st century church, in this earliest letter in your New Testament, being rich and being poor was a great struggle for Christians. What was happening? Wealthy landowners often exploited the poor, enslaving them by having them work their land, and through fees never allowing them to advance financially.
Wealthy Jews in Palestine treated poor Jewish families the same, and these tensions led to revolts against Rome, allowing the poor to actually kill Rome-friendly, rich Jewish landowners. But this was all far worse for the Jewish Christian. When a Jew became a born again, baptized believer, publicly proclaiming Christ as the one true Messiah, they were shunned by their families, cut off from their inheritance, and thrown off the family land. Becoming a Christ-follower allowed land-owners to take even more advantage of them. These believers lost everything–they lost their income, job, inheritance, security, even their ability to find any work to feed their families in any Jewish community. These scattered and persecuted believers are the very Christians James writes.
So what does the half-brother of our Lord Jesus Christ teach them? Read verses 9 to 12, “But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11For 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. 12Blessed 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 gives two major tests that come from trials–the first is to instruct his readers that trials come to everyone, rich and poor.
#1 Trials are the great EQUALIZER test Verses 9 to 11
James demonstrates that truth two ways.
First The POOR are RICH in Trial Verse 9
“But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position.” True faith in Christ brings the poor man a new importance. You may be living off food stamps, but the moment you come to Christ you became crucial in the church. In the true Church, there are no class distinctions–no second class citizens. The slave might be the elder, and the master might be the new Christian he disciples–think about it.
Which body part do you want to get rid of? If you had to lose one of your organs or limbs, which one would you be willing to part with? Your nose, a baby toe, one kidney, your lips, an eye, a tooth, one tonsil, your gallbladder or your tongue? Personally, I want to keep all my body parts–I need each one in order to function and I value each one of them.
In the same way, each one of you are crucial to the functioning of Christ’s body. And the good news is this–in Christ, in His Church, the social distinctions of the world are obliterated and no one believer matters more than any other believer. Each one of us is valued by Christ and essential to the health of His body, whether we are rich or poor.
The poor Christian also learns he has a purpose in this world. The Bible teaches that every man, rich or poor, has a task to do in this world. Every believer is called to be light and salt to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. And each believer is of use to God, even if he is confined to a bed of pain–for even his prayers can still make a difference on this world filled with lost souls and fallenness. And the poor Christian learns that he matters to God. The Lord chased you down in your rebellion and gave life to your soul so you could be His child, at the greatest cost anyone has ever paid. As one believer said, “Call no man worthless for whom Christ died.”
Some of these scattered Jews James writes in these early churches were poor to begin with, but others were made poor by their commitment to follow Christ, as they lost their homes and lands after having to flee Jewish persecutors. In verse 9, James calls them the brother (and sisters) of humble circumstances–for many of them, poverty is a new thing. Yet in spite of that, James says these destitute disciples of verse 9 are to glory in their high position. The Greek word “glory” is often translated rejoice or boast or brag. This is the main verb of this paragraph–James is speaking of a legitimate form of thankfulness that even the most destitute Christian can have in his high position as a child of God.
All of you Christians, and especially poor believers need to rejoice, even brag, over the countless blessings you enjoy now that you are in Christ. You may be considered scum by the world, but in God’s eyes you’re exalted. If you are poor you may be hungry, but you have the Bread of Life. You may be thirsty, but you have the Water of Life. You may be poor, but you have eternal riches. You may be cast aside by men, but you have been eternally received by the Lord of all. You may have no home on Earth, but you have a glorious abode in Heaven with the King of all kings.
When God, in His wisdom and sovereignty, takes away physical possessions from some of His children, it is for the purpose of making them spiritually mature–a blessing infinitely more valuable than anything they’ve lost, possessed or not owned. The believer who is deprived in this life can accept any temporary and insignificant deprivation, because he has a future, divine inheritance that is awesome, eternal and certain. Next, the other side of the coin–trials also equalize the rich.
Second The RICH are POOR in Trial Verses 10 to 11
Verse 10, “and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.” The rich learn when experiencing trials, that wealth cannot bring happiness. When you lose a daughter, or a husband, or a loved one–wealth is no comfort. When you lose your health, are betrayed by a friend, or are wrongfully accused or maligned–money doesn’t buy peace of mind or decrease your pain. The Beatles sang, “Money can’t buy me love”.
Trials are the great equalizer, moving God’s children to dependence on Christ, regardless of money. Wealth does not bring Christ closer, nor does poverty keep Christ further away. James here teaches the other side. Just as a materially poor believer should rejoice in his spiritual riches, so now the materially rich believer should glory in his humiliation. A believer who is materially well-off, healthy, and financially blessed should rejoice when trials come, for they teach him the transitory nature of his possessions and their inability to give lasting satisfaction or any inner spiritual help.
Salvation in Christ brings the rich person a new sense of humbling, because the danger of riches is they tend to give a believer a false sense of security. You feel safe–you feel you have the resources to cope with anything. Or worst of all, that you are able to buy yourself out of any situation you want to avoid.
So James gets the attention of his wealthy readers with a description from nature that anyone who lived in Israel would understand. At the end of verse 10, both the rich man and his possessions are like the flowering grass which will pass away. Because both saved and unsaved people have a natural tendency to trust in material things, James expands upon the temporariness of physical things and the danger of trusting them, by quoting Isaiah 40 in James 1:11, “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.”
This is not merely a picture of the flowers and grasses in Israel, which flourish in February and dry up by May–but this picture is even more severe. In the desert places if there is a shower of rain, thin green shoots of grass will sprout. But one day’s burning sunshine will make them vanish as if they had never been. Sometimes this southeast wind, called the Simoon, comes straight in from the deserts and bursts on the land of Israel like a blast of hot air when an oven door is opened. In an hour, it wipes out the grass, flowers and almost all other vegetation.
James is being pointed–life is uncertain. You and I are vulnerable. Calamity, disaster and trials can occur any time, and everything in life can change in a moment. Since that’s true, you are a fool to put your trust in possessions, wealth or fame which you may lose in a second. You are only wise to put your hope, love and affections into those things which you cannot lose.
James intends for the loss of material things to drive the rich person to the Lord and to greater spiritual maturity, blessing, and satisfaction. And at that point, the rich and poor are exactly alike. Neither material possessions, nor lack of them, is of consequence. What is significant is a trusting relationship to the Lord, who showers all of His children with spiritual wealth that will never diminish or fail to satisfy. Trials are the great equalizer.
#2 Trials are the great ENDURANCE test Verse 12
James summarizes his teaching on trials with four great truths found in verse 12–see if you can discover them! Verse 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.” There are four results when you endure trials with joy–if you want to remember them, try B-E-R-G–b e r g, like iceberg, Blessing, Exposing, Rewarding, Growing–the order of the text is a little different, but the blessing points are there, BERG. When you respond to trials with joy, seeking God’s wisdom, desiring God’s will, whether you’re rich or poor–here is the application.
First Blessing Verse 12a
“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial”–persevere means endurance, two Greek words, remain and under give us persevere. It’s the weightlifter who remains under the weight until the judge allows him to drop it. Hold it, remain under it, breathe heavily, spray spittle, groan until the green light is given. When you remain under the pressure and the weight of your trial until the Lord ends it, James says you will be blessed.
The Greek word “blessed” means much more than the mere happiness of a carefree life. “Blessed” carries the idea of profound inner joy and satisfaction. “Blessed” is a joy only the Lord Himself can give. “Blessed” is the same word Christ uses in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 as Christ begins the Sermon on the Mount, making verse 12 here in James a beatitude. Stay under the trial until the Lord releases you and you will experience inner joy and internal satisfaction—blessed.
Second Growing Verse 12b
“For once he has been approved”–James promises here that the Christian who faces trials God’s way grows into a mature believer–a man or woman of great worth, a believer who’ll impact others for God’s glory. James says, “once he has been approved.” You could write into your Bibles, once he is tested and proven he’ll be like a metal which is cleansed of all its alloy. Because he has passed the trial with a faith expressing trust and dependence, then all the dross will be melted out of the gold and now this believer is purer. The weaknesses of his character are lessened and he emerges stronger.
Just like the faithful, working out with weights will make you physically stronger, so will the trusting endurance under trials make you spiritually stronger. Perseverance will bring God’s approval, and remaining under will result in God . . .
Third Rewarding Verse 12c
“He will receive the crown of life.” This crown could be the crown of flowers worn at a joyous wedding celebration, or the crown worn by kings and those in authority, or the crown of gray hair which is the mark of honor for the older. But the best view is the crown of victory for athletics. This was the wreath placed on the victor’s head at sporting events, symbolizing persevering triumph. A more literal translation is “the crown, which is life”–that is, eternal life, telling you perseverance gives evidence of eternal life (salvation). In other words, perseverance does not result in salvation and eternal life–but perseverance itself is the result and evidence of salvation and eternal life.
Like other New Testament crowns, this life crown symbolizes salvation and degrees of reward. This crown is life, also describes a new kind of life, an abundant life–so that even in the midst of trials, believers have Christ, who is life, making their everyday living infinitely more splendid than ever it was before. The Christian has a joy that no non-Christian can ever have. Life for a believer is like living at a feast. A true disciple has a royalty other men will never know. Even being poor never diminishes his position as a child of the King.
The believer has a new dignity, always aware of the fact God thought him worthy of the life and death of His own son, Jesus Christ. And every Christ follower has a victory others cannot win, for he meets all of life’s demands in the conquering power and presence of Jesus Christ. Enduring trials with joy brings blessing, exposing, rewarding, growing—BERG . . .
Fourth Exposing Verse 12d
“Which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” The Lord Himself has literally promised the crown of life only to those who love Him. James here is connecting faithful endurance under trial to genuine love for God. Perseverance is one of the strongest evidences of those who love Him. Verse 12 teaches that trials expose who is a genuine Christian and who is a phony Christian–who is a real believer and who is a make-believer.
Get this, Christian–a biblical definition of a genuine believer is a person who truly loves God. The apostle John repeatedly connects love of God with genuine faith. First John 4:8, “The one who does not love, does not know God, for God is love.” First John 4:16, “God is love, and the one who abides in love, abides in God, and God abides in him.” First John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.”
In 1 Peter 1:8 Peter writes, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him.” In 1 Corinthians 16:22 Paul wrote, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.” A genuine Christian is not a person young or old, rich or poor, who at one point in their life made a profession of faith in Christ–that is not a Christian. A real believer is a person who demonstrates true faith through an ongoing love for God–that is not damaged, or destroyed, by trials, troubles or afflictions, no matter how severe or long-lasting. Christians love Christ and it shows. Does it?
Everyone here is rich. The Bible defines the rich as having a roof over their heads, clothes to wear and enough food to eat. You have those three, so biblically, you’re rich. But even if you were poor, trials are meant to transform you. Rich and poor, trials are meant to grow you, strengthen you. Trials are God’s personal and specific gym, the Spirit is His trainer and the Lord Jesus paid all the dues. If you exercise His way, enduring trials with joy, you will experience Blessing, Exposing, Rewarding, and Growing–B.E.R.G. Let’s pray.