Thirty Days in James 1, Day 16: The Rich and the Poor

“Like a flower of the grass, he will pass away.”

(Note: I have revised this lesson. If you are receiving your lessons via email, the one you received on November 16 should be discarded and replaced by this one. It is longer and more detailed, but should also make more sense. If you find this lesson confusing, it’s my fault, not yours. Do the best you can and don’t worry.)

James doesn’t waste any time getting to the subject of trials in his letter. He identifies himself as the writer, he identifies scattered Jews as the recipients of his letter, he offers a quick greeting, and then jumps straight in with, “Count it all joy when you meet various trials.” Apparently, he felt this was an important issue to address with his readers.

But then he rather abruptly changes the subject.

Or does he? How do the rich and the poor relate to his discussion of trials and our response to them?

Assignment: Pray, giving thanks for God’s Word, and asking Him to continue teaching you.

  • Then read all of James 1, recalling what you have learned as you read.
  • When you have finished reading, spend some time reflecting on verses 9-11. Why has James suddenly inserted these instructions to the poor and the rich? He’s been talking about wisdom and enduring trials, and again, after these three verses about the rich and poor, he returns to the same subject.

In what ways could these words to the “lowly brother” and the rich be ones of counsel as they both face their unique variety of trials?

It’s not too hard to imagine — and relate to — the trials that the poor man experiences. He doesn’t have enough money to buy what he needs to care for his family. He doesn’t have enough food. He can’t afford medical care when someone is sick. But what about the rich man? What trials might he face? James’ advice to him gives us some clues. He’s to boast — or glory –in his humiliation. If he’s being told to glory in being humbled, what might he be tempted to do instead of being humble?

  • Let’s look at some cross-references to help us think more about these verses. Cross-references are other verses in the Bible that relate to and expand on the topics of a particular verse. They help us better understand statements made in the Bible, and they help us avoid wrong conclusions and interpretations of a passage. Looking at cross-references might shed some light on why the rich should “boast in his humiliation.”  
  • Open Blue Letter Bible and search on James 1:9, and then, instead of clicking “Interlinear” in the tools menu, click “Cross-Refs.” This will open a listing of verses that all relate to the idea of the poor boasting in his exaltation.
  • When we look at this listing, we see the text for James 1:9 at the top of the screen. Two phrases in that text are in red type. Clicking on these will take us to verses related to that portion of James 1:9. We’re going to look specifically at the verses that are tied to “the brother of low degree.” 
  • Click the brother to go to those verses.
  • In your notebook, divide a page into two columns and label one “Rich” and the other “Poor.”
  • Now read the verses listed in the cross references, thinking about the unique temptations of both the poor and the rich. As you read, record in the appropriate column, the sorts of trials both face.

For instance, James 2:6 says, “But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?”

  • This gets a bit tricky, because we really should read this verse in its context to understand what it is saying. So we can click the verse reference (James 2:6) to open the entire chapter of James 2. Read verses 1-7. This will help verse 6 make more sense to us. James is speaking to Christians, and this passage is describing the way Christians were favoring the rich over the poor in their gatherings. What can we see about the trials and temptations of the rich and poor in these verses?

The poor are often dishonored by others. (Record this in the “Poor” column of your chart.)

The rich oppress others. (We could summarize this “trial” of the rich under the “Rich” column by writing, “Is tempted, in pride, to oppress others.”)

The rich, with their financial and social advantage, drag people into court. Again, their temptation is to oppress or bully others, which can be recorded in our chart.

Verse 7 also tells us more about the rich. James says they “blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called.” Who is James talking to in this verse? He’s addressing Christians. He is saying that the rich blaspheme Christ’s name. They are tempted to proudly mock Jesus and His followers. We can record this in our “Rich” column.

Can you see how the cross-reference helped us gain this information? First it led us directly to James 2:6. That led us to read verse 6 in context, and in the course of doing that, we learned quite a bit about both the poor and the rich. The cross-reference is a path to other verses related to our subject in James 1.

  • Use your browser’s back arrow to return to the listing of cross-references and read the next verse, Deuteronomy 15:7. What does this verse say about how the poor are often treated?

Again, it will help to read this verse in its context, especially since the next cross-reference listed is Deuteronomy 15:9. So we click the reference for Deut. 5:7 to open the chapter. Then we can read verses 7-9 together. What is being described is the people’s unwillingness to give or lend to the poor, especially as the seventh year, the Jewish year of release from debts, approaches. If people lend money, it may never be repaid.

The rich are being described as unkind, hard-hearted, and stingy. This can go in the “Rich” column of our chart.

The poor, we can also see, are left without a way to even borrow money or goods. They are being mistreated. People are hard-hearted and ungenerous with them. We can record this under “Poor” in our chart.

  • Return to the cross-reference list and continue reading each verse, learning what you can about the trials and temptations of the rich and poor, and recording in your chart what you find. Look at verses in their context when you need more information to understand what you’re reading.
  • When you have finished reading these cross-references, write down any other trials that you think the rich and poor might experience, based on your own life experience and observations.

Look over your lists. Both the rich and the poor (and the healthy and the sick, the employed and the jobless, etc.) need wisdom to properly respond to the testing of their faith. The poor must endure, believing that God loves them and will care for them. They must not grow bitter toward those who mistreat them. They must not envy those who are rich.

The rich are tempted to trust in their own power and wealth rather than in God. They are apt to consider themselves better than those who have less than they do, and may become proud and unkind. It takes godly wisdom to handle the unique trials of riches.

Success and wealth really are testings, just as poverty is. Both reveal where we have placed our faith.

The poor can boast in his exaltation as God’s child and in the future exaltation he will one day experience — that crown of life that is promised in verse 11 for those who remain steadfast.

The rich can glory in his humiliation that took him, unable to save himself, to the cross.

  • Meditate on what we have read. What does God want to teach you in these verses? Are your testings closer to those of the poor or of the rich? In what ways is God calling you to change?

For your children:

Read James 1:9-11 aloud.

If you have a flower available, pick it (or remove it from a vase) and leave it out on a counter for the day. Then come back to it and discuss what happened.

Discuss how the dying flower pictures the rich man. Talk about how he might invest all his energies in making money and enjoying all he can buy, and then suddenly lose it all — through death or through circumstances in his life.

Then read Psalm 103:15-18 and discuss how brief life is compared to eternity. Compare our brief lives to God, who will show His mercy and faithfulness to the righteous and his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren, etc. The rich man needs to remember that he cannot save himself, and he can’t control how long his life is. He needs wisdom to live as God calls him to live while enjoying the blessing of riches.

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