(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

These verses about the rich and poor brother must be considered in the context in which they were written. James is writing about the proper response to trials of many kinds. They are sent to bring us to spiritual maturity and as such must be overcome. In order to triumph over adversity the Christian can ask God for wisdom and it will be given to him. James sees both poverty and wealth as a test. He recommends one outlook for the rich Christian and a different outlook for the poor Christian.

(B) The poor brother's outlook. The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. v9.

It is a trial to be poor. Resentment, envy, self-pity and low self esteem clamour at the door. I read this morning the obituary of Bernard Levin the newspaper columnist and critic. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease. I noted that during his final distressing years he had been cared for by a lady friend. I am afraid that my first thought was: if I ever succumb to senile dementia there will be no lady friend to care for me.

There are many kinds of poverty. I am not poor materially but I am poor in relationships. Sometimes it gets to me. One sunny afternoon I went to one of my favourite places - Ramsholt quay on the Deben estuary. There were lots of people there - elderly couples walking, friends drinking in the sunshine outside the pub and family groups messing about in boats. I was the only one alone and amidst all the happiness I felt sad. I didn't stay but drove home. As I sped along the A14 towards Bury St Edmunds I sang to cheer myself up:

            Now none but Christ can satisfy
            No other name for me;
            There's light and life and lasting joy
            Lord Jesus found in Thee.

James advises the poor Christian to take pride in his or her value. The Christian matters:

    (1) To God.
    The New Testament leaves us in no doubt that we matter to God. Jesus said: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Mt10v29to31. I can just imagine the disciples saying to one of their number when he was down, "Come on - remember, you are worth more than many sparrows."

    Many individuals have drawn strength from God's attention to detail in nature. Mungo Park, the 19th century African explorer, was in a bad way in the Upper Niger region of West Africa. He had been robbed of everything he possessed except his boots, shirt, trousers and top hat. Thoroughly demoralised he lay down ready to die when the extraordinary beauty of a small moss in fructification irresistibly caught his eye. Mungo Park was suddenly convinced that the being who planted and watered a brought to perfection such a thing was unlikely to be unconcerned with the suffering of a creature made in his own image. So he took heart and eventually extricated himself from his predicament.

    We do matter to God and nature is not the best evidence for it. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John3v16. Paul wrote to the Romans: He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things. Rom8v32.

    (2) To the church.
    One of Paul's most significant teachings is that the church is like a body and Christians are members of it. Paul writes to the fractious Corinthian church: The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. 1Cor12v21to23.

    Several years ago I greatly enjoyed a book by Dr Paul Brand and Philip Yancy entitled, 'Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.' Dr Brand was a surgeon who specialised in leprosy and was able to write with special insight about the church as a body. He comments on the passage quoted above like this:

    Paul's point is clear: Christ chose each member to make a unique contribution to His Body. Without that contribution, the Body could malfunction severely. Paul underscores that the less visible members (I think organs like the pancreas, kidney, liver, and spleen) are perhaps the most valuable of all. Although I seldom feel consciously grateful for them, they perform daily functions that keep me alive.

    The inspiring teaching of Paul is that just as every part of the body counts so every Christian is crucial for the well being of the church. Dr Brand concludes his chapter on the worth of the individual Christian with these remarks:

    Our little church at Carville includes one devout Christian named Lou, a Hawaiian by birth, who is marked with visible deformities caused by leprosy. With eyebrows and eyelashes missing, his face has a naked, unbalanced appearance, and paralysed eyelids cause tears to overflow as if he is crying. He has become almost totally blind because of the failure of a few nerve cells on the surface of his eyes.

    Lou struggles constantly with his growing sense of isolation from the world. His sense of touch has faded now, and that, combined with his near-blindness, makes him afraid and withdrawn. He most fears that his sense of hearing may also leave him, for Lou's main love in life is music. He can contribute only one "gift" to our church, other than his physical presence: singing hymns to God while he accompanies himself on an autoharp. Our therapists designed a glove that permits Lou to continue playing his autoharp without damaging his insensitive hand.

    But here is the truth about the Body of Christ: not one person in Carvillle contributes more to the spiritual life of our church than Lou playing his autoharp. He has as much impact on us as does any member there by offering as praise to God the limited, frail tribute of his music. When Lou leaves, he will create a void in our church that no one else can fill - not even a professional harpist with nimble fingers and a degree from the Julliard School of Music.

    Every Christian has a contribution to make to the life of the church - however small. Take that contribution away and the church is diminuished.

    (3) To the World.
    It is possible to look upon the poor as a drag, as a drain upon the countries' resources and as a depressing reminder of the grimness of life. There are even those who believe that the world would be a better place without the handicapped, the sick and the old.

    Some years ago I read Christie Brown's inspirational autobiography. Christie was born with severe cerebral palsy. When he was five he couldn't speak or sit up without support. He was convulsed with wild, stiff, snake like movements that never left him - even in sleep. His head lolled and sagged sideways. He was a queer, crooked little fellow.

    In his early teens Christie Brown went to Lourdes hoping for a cure but there was no cure. Some days after returning from Lourdes and feeling very depressed he had an unexpected visit from a Dr Collis who said he thought Christie could be helped by a new treatment for cerebral palsy. This is what he wrote in his autobiography:

    It may have been mere chance, mere coincidence, but to me, and because of all it meant and brought to me later, it then seemed, and has seemed since, nothing less than a miracle - a beautiful little miracle, not because of all the good it brought me, but because it created faith where before there had been only bitterness and disillusion. It showed me that in the great Plan of Life we all matter, even the least of us, because we are all a part of it, and even the small unknown ones are very important because they help to hold the big ones together lest they tumble. I saw in that first flash of understanding that I too had a part to play, no matter how small it was.

    The poor do have their part to play. I know this from experience. In the last 10 years of his life my father was poor. Parkinson's disease robbed him of so much. He was unable to preach or even pray in public. In the end I had to do everything for him. But my father contributed positively to my life. During the years I looked after him I learned to type and began to write. My prayer life was deepened. I also acquired sympathy for the old and sick. It means now that I am not afraid to visit them or to take them out. I am able to comfort the dying. My father paid a high price for making these contributions to his son's life. I need to remember it with tears of gratitude.

(C) The rich brother's outlook.But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. v10.

It is a trial to be rich. Rich and successful people are tempted to be arrogant, unsympathetic and presumptuous. I read in the Daily Telegraph on July 20th 2004 that Sharon Stone is to make Basic Instinct II. Her contract stipulates that she is to have armed bodyguards around the clock, costing 1944 a week, maid service at a more modest 111 a week, and hotel accommodation that 'must be a presidential suite with two bedrooms.'

A 'first class' car had to be provided, with a 'non-smoking driver to be approved by Sharon', for travel between airports and sets, with a second sedan for her personal us..... . Then there are the three nannies, two assistants, cell phones, chef and the de-lux motor home with air conditioning, heating, bed, private bathroom, shower, television, VCR, refrigerator, telephone, stove, couch, stereo and cellular fax machine.

Even more important are the credits. Her name, she says, must be in first position, 'and should be at least 100% of the size of the title', both on screen and in adverts. And so on and so on.... .

I think it would do Sharon Stone a lot of good to suffer some severe setbacks. Humiliations are good for the rich because they can:

    (1) Teach humility and submission.
    My first six years teaching in a boy's grammar school were very successful. I was young, enthusiastic and good at sport. Exam results were very good and I was popular with the boys and respected by the staff. I was rich! At the end of the sixth year I got my one and only promotion to Head of Geography at the one of the new comprehensive schools in Bury St Edmunds. For the next sixteen years I suffered one humiliation after another. I found out what it was like to fail. It did me good! I lost some of my arrogance and became humbler. I discovered the hard way to be poorer in spirit.

    When C.S. Lewis first started attending church after his conversion to Christianity he found the hymn singing humiliating. He considered the hymns little better than fifth rate poems set to sixth rate music. This is what he goes on to say: I realized that the hymns were nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-sided boots in the opposite pew, and then you realise that you aren't fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.

    It does a rich man good to realise that there are some things money cannot buy - love, artistic flair, holiness, credit with God or immortality. Wealth of all sorts is a very real hindrance to finding the narrow door that leads to life. Jesus said it was harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

    (2) Kindle sympathy and a fellow feeling for others.
    Those who have never fallen into the slough of despond usually have very little sympathy for those that do. There are some resilient, hard-working, successful men who are scathing about stress. The Brockley Cricket Club fixer, Mouser, was off work for months with stress and got an awful lot of ribbing from his fellow cricketers. He didn't get any teasing from me. I had a taste of stress after a very punishing schedule at school and in the church. I began to have dizzy turns, pains in the neck and breathing problems. Fortunately I caught it early and reduced my work rate. I sympathise with those who succumb to stess.

    I shall never forget my last severe asthma attack. It was at the annual dinner of the Brockley Cricket Club. I argued with my brother during the meal about the existence of God. It left me upset and contributed to the asthma attack as did the heat and humidity of the room. I was due to make a speech to mark the retirement of my old friend, Len Pawsey. The asthma was so bad I had to cut it short. I could hardly walk the few yards to his table to present him with the silver tankard to commemorate his many wonderful years of in swing bowling. It is very humiliating to be so struck down. I had to go outside where I leaned against a wall gasping for breath. The sweat poured down the side of my face. Now several well-meaning people came fussing round anxiously wondering if there was any thing they could do. All I wanted was to be left alone to concentrate on where the next breath was coming from. Anyone who has had a bad attack of asthma will know that the last thing the sufferer wants to do is answer lots of questions! You need to have been humiliated by the disease yourself to understand.

    I have the greatest sympathy with those who have worked all their lives in a church with little success. There are many successful pastors and evangelists who are rather contemptuous of those who have done little more than keep the doors of their church open. You won't find me among them. I know what it is like to serve God to the best of my ability and over many years without seeing much happen.

    The writer to the Hebrews tells us: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Heb4v15. It always comforts me to remember that Jesus was not wildly successful during his earthly ministry. He was despised and rejected of men. He said in anguish: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Luke13v34.

    (3) Dispel presumptiousness.
    It is easy for a wealthy man to feel secure. He may believe that what he has he will keep and that there will be no change in his fortunes. That was the failing of the rich farmer who said "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." Lk12v19.

    In Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress Christian comes across three men fast asleep with fetters on their heels. The name of the one was Simple, of another Sloth, and of the third Presumption. Christian woke the three beauties up and offered to help them off with their irons and warned them of the danger that they were in. With that they looked upon him, and began to reply in this sort: Simple said, "I see no danger." Sloth said, "Yet a little more sleep!" And Presumption said, "Every barrel must stand upon its own bottom." Presumption's quaint reply means that everyone is master of their own destiny.

    James reminds the wealthy that they most certainly are not masters of their own destiny. The rich man will pass away like a wild flower - even while he goes about his business.

    This is the same lesson that Jesus teaches in the Parable of the Rich Fool. The successful farmer believed he was secure and comfortable for many years. But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"

    This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.

    It can be humiliating for the rich to be reminded of what they owe. On September 8th 1860 the Lady Elgin sank near Evanston on Lake Michigan. A Mr Edward Spencer rescued 17 persons from the bitterly cold water. In doing so he permanently damaged his health even to the extent that he could no longer enter the ministry. One of his great regrets was that not one of the 17 he saved from perishing ever came to thank him.

    It is impossible to be a Christian without acknowledging what you owe. When I was a boy the Rev George Bird, much loved pastor of Bethesda, Ipswich, preached at our small chapel in Brockley. I have never forgotten one illustration he used. It made a lasting impression although of doubtful veracity. George knew a highly successful shopkeeper who kept a rusty old nail in his till. Whenever the tradesman was asked what the nail was doing in the till he always replied, "It reminds me what I owe."

    Jesus Christ expects his followers to eat bread and drink wine to proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. We are not masters of our own destiny. We are not all right as we are. Sinners depend for their future well being wholly upon the saving work of another. To remember that keeps us humble.

(D) Conclusion.

When Paul Brand was a boy of seven living with his missionary parents in India three strange men approached their mountain home for treatment. The men had mottled skin, swollen foreheads and ears and bloodstained, bandaged feet. The appearance of these men struck fear in the hearts of Mr and Mrs Brand. But Mr Brand went out to them and said, "There's not much I can do but wait where you are - I'll do what I can." He washed the bleeding feet, applied ointment and changed their bandages. It was Paul Brand's first encounter with lepers.

We see in this story the contribution of those three anonymous lepers to the well being of others. That childhood incident played its part in making Paul Brand the expert in leprosy that he became.

We see, too, the humiliation of the rich man. There was nothing Paul Brand's father could do about leprosy. It was beyond him. It is of vital necessity for all men to realise that there is nothing that they can do about their fallen nature. There is an essential humbling that leads to life. Sinful men must trust to the saving, sacrificial work of Jesus.

            I'm redeemed, yes I am,
            by the blood of the Lamb,
            Jesus Christ has done it all for me.
            I am His, and He is mine,
            I'm part of the royal vine,
            all my sins were washed away at Calvary.

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