By Pastor Glenn Pease
An old business man once spoke at his club and told of how he made an investment which brought him great dividends, but for which he did not have to pay a cent of taxes. One night as he closed his store he found a dirty boy of 12 crouched against the building trying to protect himself from the blowing snow. He took the boy inside and fed him, and he listened to his story. All of his family had recently died of the flu, and he had no relatives. The store owner gave him some clothes and $25.00. He advised him to buy a ticket to go West, and get a rancher to take him on.
Fifteen years passed and he never heard a word. Then one day the young man returned, not as a rider of the range, but as Dr. Fredrick Miller, the man who had made headlines for isolating the flu bug that had left him a orphan. The old man had invested in a lowly person. He was an economic and social nobody, but by investing in him he did more for humanity than if he had given away all his wealth.
Every nobody can become somebody, and that is why everybody is worthy of investment. This is God's view of man, for it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for the ungodly. God is no haphazard and foolish investor. When He gave His Son, and His Son gave His life, they expected that investment to pay off with eternal dividends. They knew that all men, however, lowly, could become sons of God. Every man is a potential child of the King. Every man can be born again into the royal family of the Risen, Reigning, Returning Redeemer. This is the theological foundation for Christian dignity, and a sense of self-respect.
James is very much concerned about his subject of Christian dignity, for if Christians do not have a proper grasp of it, they will be poorly prepared to face life's trials. Verses 9-11 is a troublesome paragraph to most students of the Bible, for it does not appear to have any connection with what goes before and what comes after. James writes in verse 2 of counting it joy when you meet various trials, and then he goes on to refer to the need for wisdom to attain the goal of perfection. In verse 12 he takes up the theme again of enduring trials. Before and after these verses the theme is trials of life. It is obvious that James in these verses we are looking at is dealing with some specific examples of the trials Christians must face, and they are poverty and prosperity.
James, as we have emphasized, is very practical, and he knows that one of the greatest trials Christians will face all through history is the trial that comes with too little or too much money, fame, and prestige. Christians will be on both sides of the track, and both have their dangers. Poor Christians and rich Christians both fail to find happiness and a sense of fulfillment in God's will because they lack a proper understanding of Christian dignity.
The Apostle Paul was a man could abound and be abased, and be content in either state. That is, he could be a happy poor man, or a happy rich man. Externals made no difference to him because the basis for his happiness, well being, and self-respect, was not in external circumstances, but in the internal Christ. For him to live was Christ, and it was Christ in him that was the hope of glory. This is the attitude that James is trying to communicate to all Christians. Let's look at his counsel first of all to-
I. THE LOWLY BROTHER v. 9.
We need to establish in our minds that all Christians are not in the same category. Christians are in many different categories, and here they are divided between the lower class and the upper class; the poor and the rich. The common man and the man of culture are two clear categories. Some Christians eat out at McDonald's, and others eat at the Black Angus. Some Christians always have a struggle to make ends meet, and others have money available at all times. This is one of the facts of life. It has always been true, and always will be true.
This means that not all Christian teaching applies to the same people. What may be of value for the poor Christian will not be of value for the rich Christian. James has two perspectives here, and he deals with the two categories in two different ways. Christians must be dealt with according to their individual status, and not like a herd of cattle. If this is true in the matter of economic and social status, it is true in many other categories as well. A true respect for people's personality and dignity demands that you deal with them as individuals with particular and special needs.
James recognizes that the poor and lowly Christian has a unique trial in life, and that he needs a particular kind of wisdom to gain the victory. What is the trial of the brother of low degree? Most of should know, for most of us, as most Christians through history, fall into this first category. It is hard to be poor and not envy the rich. It is hard to be a nobody and not be jealous of those who are popular. Most Christians feel they are obscure and unknown, and they can easily get depressed about their place in life if they let negative thinking dominate their mind. Most can see themselves in this poem:
Common as the wayside grasses,
Ordinary as the soil.
By the score he daily passes
Going to and from his toil.
Stranger he to wealth and fame-
He is only what's-his-name. Author Unknown
Our names are known only by a few, and most all of them are as equally unknown to the world as we are. Christians can allow their lowly state, and their lack of money and fame, to crush them and leave them feeling worthless. When a Christians feels like he or she is a nobody, and good for nothing, they not only destroy their own joy, but are a hindrance to others. A person who feels like a worthless nobody tends to play the part. They do nothing, for they have no gifts. They try no service, for they are not worthy. The devil has defeated such Christians because they are ignorant of the reality of their Christian dignity. Much that calls itself Christian humility is just a lack of self-respect.
That is why James urges the lowly brother to boast in his exaltation. The Greek word refers to professing boldly something for which you are proud. James is saying that every Christian has something to be proud about. He has a status in Christ that is so lofty that he need not feel inferior to any man. The foolish Christian who lies in the dust like a worthless worm is denying that his life is hid with Christ in God. He is declaring that love has not lifted him and set his feet on the solid rock. He is still psychologically down in the miry clay.
If only Christians could see that it is a denial of their Christian dignity as children of God they would cease forever to pity themselves as if they were worthless orphans. In 2:5 James writes this way according to the Living Bible-"Listen to me, dear brothers: God has chosen poor people to be rich in faith, and the kingdom of heaven is theirs, for that is the gift God has promised to all those who love Him." If you love God, you are an heir of the greatest fortune in the universe. You have the highest status known to man, and even the archangels cannot top it.
American Christians have become so enamoured with the success imagine that they have only multiplied the tensions that Christians normally have anyway. Several years ago a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor wrote what he called an open letter to Jane Ordinary. It was published in Christianity Today. Let me share a portion of that letter.
"I'm writing to help you shake this feeling of uselessness that
has overtaken you. Several times you have said that you don't
see how Christ can possibly use you-you're nobody special. The
church must bear part of the responsibility for making you feel
as you do. I have in mind the success-story mentality of the church.
Our church periodicals tell the story of John J. Moneybags who
uses his influential position to witness for Christ. At the church
youth banquet we have testimony from all-American football
star Ox Kickoffski, who commands the respect of his teammates
when he witnesses for Christ. We've lead you to think that if you
don't have the leverage of stardom or a big position in the business
world, you might as well keep your mouth shut-nobody cares what
Christ has done for you."
People of fame, like movie stars, sportsmen, and scientists were first used by the church to show the world that being a Christian did not hold you back in any way from being the best of what you could be. Christianity was consistent with being brilliant, strong, handsome, talented, and rich. All of this is true, but it has caused Christians themselves to lose their sense of balance. They have forgotten that Jesus is just as concerned about the common person. As a matter of fact, he has an even greater investment in the average man than in the superstars, not only because there so many more of them, but because he has chosen them as the main resource for the building of His church.
Listen to Paul in I Cor. 1:26-28, "For consider your call, brethern; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are." We are deceived is we think that Great Commission of Christ is going to be fulfilled by people of fame and fortune. Just about every organization serving Christ is this world would fold up without the support of the common average Christian.
If the community is influenced in any lasting way for Christ, it will not be because we have famous Christians in our midst. It will only be when the average Christian realizes the dignity Christ has given them, and begins to boast in his exaltation, as James says he should. It is the average Christian that is the hope of the average sinner, for he will only be deeply impressed by what he sees Christ doing in those on his level. Bob Hope can lift him with a laugh for awhile, but only John Doe Christian can point him to a Hope that will lift him to a new life forever. So boast in your exaltation says James. Rejoice that God has given you a position and a power that General Motors executives cannot touch without submission to Christ.
When W. D. Jackson gave his Presidential address to the Baptist Union of Great Britain, he told of how he was in spiritual darkness as he fought in World War I. He stayed in a little village in France where a peasant family took him in. It was a humble home, but a godly home, and when he heard the children pray before they went to bed the flame of faith began to kindle in his heart. He never eve knew their names, and it wouldn't make any difference, for nobody knew them anyway. They were used to change the life of a man who became a national Christian leader. The fact is, almost all men of Christian fame were won to Christ by some lowly brother who had a proper respect for what they were as a child of God.
When a Christian loses respect for himself, and fails to boast in his exaltation, and be proud of what God has done for him, and in him, he will not be a channel for God to do through him what He intended to do. All useful Christians are proud of what they have become in Christ. They are not proud of what they were, nor are they proud of how far short they still are from the ideal, but they rejoice that they are no longer what they were, and are moving toward the ideal. Christians will never gain the victory over the trial of being just average until they face realistically their Christian dignity as children of God. If you go through your daily trivial routines thinking nobody cares what you are or do, and that you have as much effect on this world's values as you have on the weather, you will be a defeated Christian, and think it is normal. You become a double minded Christian, and James has just warned that this will lead you to receive nothing from the Lord. It is the Christian whose mind is set on things above, and who is conscious of his heritage and dignity as a Christian who will live what he sings-
A tent or a cottage, why should I care?
They're building a palace for me over there;
Though exiled from home, yet still I may sing;
All glory to God, I'm a child of the king.
James goes on in chapter two to point out that a poor personal attitude toward one's own dignity will lead to social problems of treating others also according to their earthly treasures, rather than for what they are in Christ. In other words, prejudice and bigotry grow out of false concepts of one's own personal dignity. If you think you are nothing you will tend to treat those with less than you like they are dirt, and you will give an evil preference to those who have wealth. This matter of Christian dignity and a sense of self respect is an important issue personally and socially. The world need, and the church needs, Christians who can, in spite of deficiencies in the material and social realm, boast in their exaltation in Christ.