James 1-low and high

Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away.

Believe it or not, that’s not a threat. It’s actually a promise. And I don’t mean that in the way that a parent tells their child, “I’m not threatening, I’m promising!” usually that deals with exercising authority. I don’t think that’s the case here. It’s just reality–men fade away, even the rich. James ends up talking about favoritism in chapter 2, about how people in the church are not to fancy those with nicer things, clothing, jewelry, etc. 

I think the heart of what James is getting at here is having an eternal perspective. For the poor (lowly) man, he can rejoice in his exaltation through the gospel–that he is worth more than what he has, and that he is not confined or defined by that. That God doesn’t reserve any favor because of his social standing. He understands he has a treasure in heaven, and that’s worth rejoicing over.

On the other hand, the rich has achieved a status by one thing: either by hard work or by his name. Either he spent years building a fortune or else he inherited it from his family, as money tends to go. 

That said, I think the important thing here is to balance perspective. As a rich person, humiliation is important because you begin to realize that:

Mercy isn’t something we are entitled to. It cost Jesus everything to live on a ball of dirt and resist temptation all of His life, to live perfectly, and to die at the hands of unjust men. Understanding what it cost Jesus is humbling and overwhelming.

On the other hand:

Mercy isn’t something you have to work for! You can work all you want, but it’s not helping you get any extra mercy, and it doesn’t earn you righteousness. Being willing to slow down and rest is extremely humbling.

The interesting thing about Christianity is that everyone has a past. What’s easy for one person to reconcile in their mind takes someone else years. a “poor” person may never struggle with feeling entitled, while a “rich” person may never struggle with feeling like a second class citizen. But the gospel makes everyone in Christ equal, and makes Jesus great. take that for what it’s worth.

James 1-what’s a trial?

A little while back (I think last year, maybe the year before) I started blogging through what I was studying, which was Romans chapters 6, 7, and 8. I decided I was going to start studying the book of James, and I wanted to repeat the same process.

The funny thing about James is that it involves a lot less theology and a lot more straight up practicality. Even so, it can require a little thinking, so I want to share my thoughts and ideas with anyone who reads this to hopefully encourage and challenge you while being encouraged and challenged myself!

Every chapter of the Bible seems to have that one passage or verse or two that you’ve heard all your life. James kicks off with it:

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.

That is familiar enough, but there’s more:

knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

My first question was this: what exactly is a trial? See, to me there are different kinds of trials. Sometimes the word “trial” sounds like something extreme, like a family member passing, or being in an accident, losing a child, etc. You get it–something really extreme that makes you ask God, “why?”

But the word “trial” also just means “temptation.” In this sense, it makes a lot of sense to me that trials happen on everyday basis.

And let me just say this: sometimes the term “temptation” can be too narrow. We can be “tempted” to steal, or “tempted” to look at pornography, or “tempted” to lie or manipulate. In other words, something pretty serious or drastic. But let me tell on myself as an example of what I believe a trial really is.

Every morning at work, I get to do prep work from 5A-5:30AM, and then we open the doors and the drive thru and start serving customers. We get our third person at 5:45, and then nobody else until 6:30 or 6:45. We usually try to get a few things done before we get busy for the morning, such as cleaning the rails that we keep syrups on, drains, changing inclusions, etc.

There are a couple of things that can make me really frustrated or annoyed.

First, if someone orders a drink with an extra shot than it usually gets, because this takes an extra 18-25 seconds.

Second, if someone just so happens to order while I’m right in the middle of doing something on our cleaning list.

Third, if more than one car comes through at the same time.

Fourth, when I wait for my third in to make a drink and I keep thinking to myself that I would make it faster.

For some reason, any of these things can get me really agitated and set the tone for me until someone relieves me of my drive thru duties. Should they? No. And do they always? No. Some days I’m in a better mood, but the reality is that none of these things should ever bother me to the extent they do. To address each one in order:

it’s what they wanted, and it’s what they’re paying for. Not the end of the world.

serving is my primary job, cleaning comes second.

WHO CARES?! It’s good for business and, again, serving is my job.

I’m absolutely kidding myself. That’s ridiculous. It won’t hurt me to wait for a second, and it’s my job to try to make conversation with any customer at the window, not stand there awkwardly.

See, that’s a trial. It’s a temptation to make a choice that goes against the grain of what’s right–honoring God by doing my job the way I need to. So what do I do then?

James’ next statement is this:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God.

He goes on to explain that you must ask in faith, or else you shouldn’t expect to receive wisdom, etc.

It’s funny, because I was undergoing this very process without even realizing it.

I’m tempted to react in frustration and aggravation, and then at some point I hope for a quick moment where I can go to the back room and say, “God, I need some grace. I don’t want to be frustrated. I want to be an example of Jesus to people, and frustration isn’t helping. Give me the grace to be more pleasant to people and to react better.”

“wisdom” roughly translates to know-how. So what James is saying is to count it all joy, to embrace a trial or a temptation, and if you don’t know how to get through it, to ask God. It’s simple. It’s life, this kind of thing happens everyday.

Things like this don’t seem to fit the sometimes-narrow definition of “trial,” and it doesn’t test your faith in any intellectual way, which used to be the way I read this. I used to think we’d have to come to some sort of academic reconciliation, but when you’re talking about faith as practically as James is (I believe Jesus is who He said He is, I believe He did what the Bible says He did, I believe He’s living in me, and I believe I am to live as an example of Jesus to the world around me) then this becomes very reasonable. Your faith is very much proven by the way you behave. In my case, frustration is contrary to my faith, because what I believe about Jesus is that He loves people and loves them through me. So in making a decision to be either frustrated or to roll with the flow of work no matter how it affects my “to-do list,” my faith is being tested. Seems too simple, because it is! you don’t have to experience tragic loss or other kinds of events to have your faith tested, because I don’t believe inellectual faith is being discussed here. I think it’s very practical.

Lord, thanks for Your grace. Thank You that when we are tempted to react in a certain way to certain things, we can ask You for the wisdom, or the know-how to get through a certain situation in a way that brings honor to You and strengthens and tests our faith. Let us be a people that honors You and lives out a faith about who Jesus is and how much He loves the world around us. In His name, amen.