Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 May 12, 2019
“True Wealth, True Poverty”
I came of age in the 1980s, as part of the rising “Me Generation”—a self-centered and materialistic generation. Typical songs of the time include Madonna’s “Material Girl,” “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” by the Pet Shop Boys, and Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time.” Status symbols abounded during the decade. Everyone, it seemed, had to have Members Only jackets, Izod shirts and socks, Nike shoes, and designer jeans. At The University of Georgia during my undergraduate days, I saw many a candy apple red BMW 325i moving around Athens—almost always with a metro Atlanta license plate affixed to its rear. This, among other cars, pointed to the status of the driver—or, at least, the driver’s parents. Neighborhoods mattered in the 1980s as well. Just as today, I suppose, the mention of where someone lives points to their status in life—or lack thereof.
The preceding reflects what the world says—a world system, filled with worldly people, estranged from and hostile to God. Here are, among others, some sentences from a worldly worldview: “He who dies with the most toys wins,” “You’re worth it,” “You deserve it,” and, “Do unto others before they do unto you.” God, however, says something else—something entirely different. Let’s hear what God has to say on the matter in this text from His inerrant Word, the Bible.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
James, led by the Spirit of the living God, has two imperatives—or commands—for us today. Here is the first: Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation. The lowly brother (or sister) has low status in this world’s eyes—perhaps due to poverty in this world’s goods. Such a one, perhaps, is discouraged and lacks hope because of his low status. Moreover, this lowly brother is unpretentious in behavior due to low status—and that to near-total degree. Such a one, despised by the world, may boast. He may express both his unusually high confidence in someone and his opinion that something is especially noteworthy. The ground of his boast, and ours, of course is Christ Jesus.
The lowly brother may boast in his exaltation—that is, his high status because of Christ’s infinitely high status. This high status comes to us by virtue of union with Christ, by grace, through faith. Now think for a moment with me of all that union with Christ entails. We have forgiveness of sins and pardon from the death sentence that sin requires. In place of these, we have life abundant and eternal. We are being re-made into the likeness of Jesus Christ Himself. We have assurance of final victory over the evil one, who plagues us so much just now. More than this, all the riches of Christ are ours through faith in Him. Truly our triune God exalts His redeemed in Jesus Christ, His Son. Let us indeed rejoice in, and boast in, our exaltation in Him
Contrast this blessed case with that of the rich in his humiliation. Scholars of this text have wrestled with an important question about the rich man, namely, “Is the rich man, as addressed here, a Christian?” Some think so, and these encourage the rich Christian to consider the ways, amid wealth, that he is made low—such as brevity of life, other trials, the fleeting nature of wealth, and the like. Others—and I’m moving in their direction—think that the rich one addressed here is unsaved. He is not present in the congregation, though James addresses him as if present with the others. Other passages in James support this. The rich, as described by the Holy Spirit through James, oppress the poor (2:6), drag the poor into court (2:6), defraud those working for them (5:4), live in luxury and self-indulgence (5:5), both condemn and murder the righteous person (5:6), and—worst of all—blaspheme the Name by which we are called (2:7). These are not the views and actions of a redeemed person. This rich one is lost—and, unless this lost condition be amended, the consequences are dire indeed.
Such a rich one will pass and fade away. This rich one goes the way of the grass and the flower, in terms evocative of Isaiah 40:6-8. “The grass withers, and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). The rich one, unredeemed and unremedied, withers and fades as the flora. Scripture elsewhere supports this. Consider Psalm 73, where the prosperity of the wicked, compared to the hardships of the righteous, vexes Asaph. Then, in the sanctuary, God leads Asaph to the true estimation of things. The wicked, though prospering, are on slippery ground—and, in the moment of God’s choosing, are swept away. Meanwhile, we are ever with God, enjoying Him and His goodness. Note also Psalm 37, where David, led by the Spirit, entreats his soul and ours not to envy the evildoer, for he soon will be no more. He cannot be found, though you search diligently for him.
Remember Solomon’s Spirit-led words: “The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22). Hence, the possession of wealth itself does not necessarily that one is identified fatally with the rich man in this text. Yet recall that material riches do not constitute true wealth. Union with Christ is true wealth. Having Him, though denied much of this world’s goods and the honors that possession of them brings, we have all. Conversely, apart from union with Christ—though having much, even incalculable, material wealth—we ultimately have nothing. Therefore, let us rejoice in our Savior, Jesus Christ, Who is the Treasure—in Whom we have everything worth having, and in Whom we have them to the full.