23 Apr The Rich and the Poor
In a world where wealth and poverty often define an individual’s worth, the Bible presents a starkly contrasting view. It teaches us that earthly riches or poverty do not determine our spiritual standing before God. Instead, we all stand equal at the foot of the cross, where the love and grace of God are freely given to all who believe in Jesus Christ.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote a letter to the early Christians, many of whom were facing persecution and poverty. In his letter, he addressed the rich and the poor in the context of their faith, reminding them of the transitory nature of earthly wealth and the eternal significance of spiritual riches.
Passage: James 1:9-11 (ESV)
9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
The Lowly Brother’s Exaltation (v. 9)
James calls on the lowly or poor brother to rejoice in his exaltation. This may seem like an unusual command, as the poor often face many challenges and hardships in their daily lives. However, James is speaking of a spiritual exaltation, where those who are poor in this world are rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom promised to those who love God (James 2:5).
Jesus himself spoke of the blessings reserved for the poor in spirit, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The apostle Paul echoed this sentiment when he wrote to the Corinthians, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
The Rich Man’s Humiliation (v. 10)
In contrast, James instructs the rich to boast in their humiliation. This statement may seem counterintuitive, as the wealthy often take pride in their material possessions and social standing. However, James is urging the rich to recognize their spiritual poverty and the need for God’s grace, which cannot be bought with earthly wealth.
Jesus warned of the dangers of material riches when he said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). The rich must humble themselves before God, acknowledging that their wealth cannot save them, and that they are just as much in need of God’s grace as anyone else.
The Fleeting Nature of Earthly Wealth (v. 11)
James uses the metaphor of a flower of the grass to illustrate the transient nature of earthly wealth. Just as the sun’s heat withers the grass and its flower falls, so too will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. This vivid imagery serves as a reminder that our earthly possessions and social status are temporary and will not last forever.
The apostle Peter similarly wrote, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25). The writer of Proverbs also warned, “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven” (Proverbs 23:4-5).
The Ground is Level at the Foot of the Cross
The overarching message of James’ words is that our spiritual standing before God is not determined by our earthly wealth or poverty. The ground is level at the foot of the cross, where all are invited to come and find forgiveness, grace, and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
A famous quote by the Protestant Reformer, John Calvin, emphasizes the importance of humility and equality before God: “For there is no one so great, he cannot be humbled by the sight of the cross; and there is no one so lowly, he cannot be lifted up by the same.”
Calvin’s words emphasize the humbling effect of the cross upon those who are great or considered powerful in this world. Regardless of one’s status, achievements, or wealth, the cross serves as a stark reminder of our human frailty and desperate need for a Savior. In the sight of the cross, all human pride and self-sufficiency are stripped away, as we recognize that our salvation is not something we can earn or attain by our own merits. Instead, we are wholly dependent on the sacrificial love and grace of Jesus Christ, who bore our sins on the cross and paid the penalty for our transgressions. We’re all standing on the same dirt.
Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, underscores the humbling nature of the cross by describing the self-emptying of Jesus: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). When confronted with the depths of Christ’s humility and sacrifice, even the greatest among us cannot help but be humbled and recognize our need for God’s grace.
The Exalting Power of the Cross
Conversely, Calvin’s quote also highlights the exalting power of the cross for those who are lowly or marginalized in society. The cross is a symbol of hope and redemption for all who believe, regardless of their social standing, wealth, or circumstances. Through faith in Jesus Christ and his work on the cross, even the most downtrodden and oppressed can be lifted up and given a new identity as children of God, co-heirs with Christ, and citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
This exalting power of the cross is beautifully illustrated in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he writes: “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, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). The cross levels the playing field, ensuring that all who come to Christ in faith are exalted and granted equal access to the blessings and promises of God.
Scripture References and Cross References
Throughout the Bible, we find numerous passages that emphasize the equal standing of rich and poor before God and the importance of spiritual riches over earthly wealth:
- I Samuel 2:7 (ESV) – “The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.”
- Luke 6:20-21 (ESV) – “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.'”
- Luke 12:15 (ESV) – “And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.'”
- 1 Timothy 6:17-19 (ESV) – “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
In our pursuit of spiritual growth and maturity, it is vital to remember that our earthly wealth or poverty does not determine our worth or standing before God. Instead, we must recognize that the ground is level at the foot of the cross, where all are invited to come and find salvation, grace, and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
The cross is the great equalizer, a place where all who come to Christ in faith and humility can find forgiveness, redemption, and a new life in him. As believers, we must continually strive to embrace the humility and equality that the cross represents, bearing one another’s burdens and building each other up in love as we journey together toward our heavenly home.
As we live in a world that often values material possessions over spiritual riches, let us be reminded of the words of James, the wisdom of John Calvin, and the teachings of Jesus, so that we may seek first the kingdom of God and store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth.
Sermon & Sandwiches
Having discussions about the sermon afterward helps reinforce the key messages and lessons from the sermon, promoting better understanding and retention. Additionally, discussing the sermon together fosters spiritual growth and deepens the bond between individuals as they explore how the teachings apply to their lives, share personal insights, and encourage each other in their faith journey. Such conversations can also lead to practical action steps and help create a sense of accountability and support in living out the principles shared in the sermon. Here are a few conversation starters to prime the pump.
- “How do you think our lives would change if we shifted our focus from material wealth to spiritual riches? Are there any specific areas where we can work on this together?”
- “In light of the blog post, how can we encourage one another to be more humble and recognize our need for God’s grace in our daily lives?”
- “Considering the passage from James, what are some practical ways we can help each other maintain a proper perspective on earthly possessions and remember the fleeting nature of wealth?”
- “How can we remind ourselves and each other of the equal standing we all have at the foot of the cross, regardless of our social status, achievements, or financial situation?”
- “What are some ways we can use our resources, time, and talents to invest in our spiritual growth and the kingdom of God, rather than solely focusing on our earthly comfort and security?”
The Daily Devotion
Read Matthew 5:1-12, focusing on the Beatitudes. Reflect on the blessings Jesus mentions for the poor in spirit and consider how this applies to your life. Write down three ways you can cultivate a humble and spiritually dependent attitude.
Study the parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21. Contemplate the dangers of placing too much importance on material possessions. Write a short paragraph about the key message of the parable and how it relates to Sunday’s sermon, and what you’ve read here.
Read 1 Timothy 6:6-19 and focus on the instructions given to the rich. Identify the responsibilities and attitudes that believers should have towards wealth. List three actions you can take to prioritize spiritual riches over material wealth in your life.
Dive into Philippians 2:1-11, where Paul describes the humility of Jesus. Reflect on the example that Christ set for us and how this ties into the message of the blog post. Write a short prayer asking God to help you develop a Christ-like attitude of humility and selflessness.
Review the entire passage of James 1:1-27 to get a broader context of the verses discussed in the blog post. Analyze the overarching theme of trials, temptations, and how believers should respond to these challenges. Journal about any insights or personal applications you’ve gained from your study this week.
Teaching children the essential truths from James 1:9-11 is important because it helps them understand the value of spiritual riches and humility over material possessions, and that everyone stands equal before God.
Begin by explaining to your children that the Bible teaches us that being rich or poor in this world does not define how valuable we are to God. We are all equal in God’s eyes, and He loves us no matter what.
Activity: Riches and Humility
- Ask your children to think of a time when they felt proud of something they had, like a toy or a skill. Then, ask them to think of a time when they felt like they needed help or were not as good at something as others. Discuss how both of these feelings are normal but that we should remember that God values our hearts and not our possessions or abilities.
- What does it mean to be rich in faith?
- Why do you think it is important to be humble?
- How can we focus more on spiritual riches instead of material things?
Activity: The Flower and the Grass
- Read James 1:9-11 with your children, focusing on the metaphor of the flower and the grass. Take a walk outside and observe the flowers and the grass. Talk about how they grow and eventually wither, just like the riches of this world. Explain that our hearts and relationship with God are more important than having lots of toys or money.
- What do you think it means that the rich man will fade away like the flower of the grass?
- How can we make sure our hearts are focused on God and not on things that won’t last?
Activity: Level Ground at the Cross
- Using simple materials like paper or clay, create a small cross together with your children. Place the cross in a central location in your home as a reminder that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. Discuss how Jesus loves everyone the same, no matter who they are or what they have.
- What does it mean that the ground is level at the foot of the cross?
- How can we treat others with love and kindness, remembering that we are all equal in God’s eyes?
End the discussion by reminding your children that God loves us all equally, and it’s important to focus on our spiritual growth and relationship with Him rather than our earthly possessions. Encourage your children to think about ways they can practice humility and share God’s love with others.