Content in Christ: Devotional commentary for May 10-16
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
9But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position;
10and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.
11For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
So far, James has acquainted us with persecution, trials, lack of patience, lack of wisdom, lack of faith, and double-mindedness as troubling conditions that negatively impact our lives as believers. Now probing even deeper into our lives, he turns his attention to specific attitudes that continue to distort our understanding of the stature of our worthiness in Christ. These attitudes make us feel demeaned or puffed up as the case may be.
James speaks of two kinds of Christians: Christians of low self-esteem and those who exalt themselves with pride. That is, the poor and the down-and-out, and those who are consumed by the impressive value of their net worth. To both, he says to refrain from viewing themselves contrary to who they are in Christ. They are both one in Christ, redeemed by His Blood. They are both sinners saved by Grace, exalted to glory in Christ.
Believers whose conscience is invaded by a self-demeaning attitude due to economic poverty and social insignificance should actually rejoice in that they are exalted in Christ to a glorious position. They are God's redeemed children. While such individuals might be economically poor and socially despised, they should be consciously aware that the supreme significance of their position in Christ effectively abrogates any derogatory assessment ascribed to their earthly status. Their meagre possession might be scanty at best, but their position in Christ is supreme.
Then James turns his attention to those whose ego is inflated by the enormity of their earthly riches. He tells them to rejoice more in their position with Christ than in the passing glamor of worldly goods. Their riches is like a flower which flourishes in the morning sun and shrivels at dusk. So would be those whose identity is signified by perishing affluence. So James exhorts both the self-demeaning poor and the haughty mogul to bask in the joy of their redemption. Let the lowly rejoice in being uplifted and the high-and-mighty in being humbled.
1:12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
The text before us makes a great declaration. James tells us that believers who persist in their love for God and persevere to the end are indeed blessed. God has prepared the crown of life for them. That is, for those who love Him more than wealth and for those who love Him still in spite of derogation.
We must exercise extreme caution here, lest we consider that such persons might have earned the crown of life. No one can earn God’s gift. A gift from God is exactly that, a gift.
As God's children, we are blessed because we have joy, patience, faith, wisdom, focus, and commitment. Our confidence and sense of worth come from who we are in Jesus Christ. The crown of life awaits us at the end of our journey when Christ Himself welcomes us in person into His Kingdom. Therefore, we are neither lowly nor haughty. We are content in Christ. We love Him because He first loved us. We persevere to the end because we have been set free by the Truth.
13Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.
14But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.
15Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
James acknowledges that Christians continue to struggle with the reality of a persistent sin-nature at work in the flesh. But the sin-nature should not be given the power to prevail over the New Man. Taking ease to sin is not an option for the Christian.
God does not employ our natural inclinations to allow us to excel in sin. God does not subject anyone to sin's dominance. God is neither tempted nor temps anyone with sin.
The blame for the Christian's inability to cope with trials and with sin's corrupt influence does not fall on God. God has given in Jesus Christ the resources necessary to overcome sin's influence: the indwelling Holy Spirit, the living Word, a life of prayer, a journey of faith, and a community of believers. But evil temptations ensnare believers from within. Temptations come upon believers when the struggling believer subjects one's desires to sinful influences. In other words, Christians are tempted when one's will favors the old nature at the expense of the new man’s loving obedience to our Redeemer.
James explains further that when desire succeeds at committing the will to sin’s allurements, it subjects the heart to disobedience. Such behavioral corruption nurtures sin and continues to spawn more corruption in the believer's life. James warns Christians that if sin remains unchecked and its evil ways are left unconfronted, it will blossom into serious consequences leading to a debilitating spiritual anguish—from lust to sin to death. Therefore, let the struggling Christian pray for wisdom and deal with sin by the Power of God's living Word. The Truth shal set the sinner free.
The passage before us focuses on yet another aspect of the Christian pilgrimage that is equally treacherous to the faith journey, as trials, lack of wisdom, and double-mindedness. He firmly warns us of the pitfalls of our own sin-nature, which continues to war with the New Man in us born in Jesus Christ.
When we favorably accommodate the sinful ways of the sin-nature, our behavior contradicts the godly precepts written in our redeemed hearts. For all intents and purposes, we either disremember or perhaps disregard that we are given a New Life in Christ, have our transgressions forgiven, and have been ushered into God's Kingdom. We confuse our new identity in Christ, viewing ourselves with low self-esteem or with prideful contempt. We slip into denial and feel too low to rejoice in our redemption or too good to have the need for redemption.
When we find ourselves in a quandary that grips the fervor of our human nature, we often accuse God for allegedly failing to guide us, or to remove the temptation from us, or even to keep us from being tested or tried altogether. However, James sternly reminds us that our troubles are conceived in the corrupt desires of our own sinful passion, propelling our blossoming sinful behavior to a festering chronic spiritual ulcer. Christians who live on the treacherous edge of the fence between the new and the natural, shall certainly suffer anguish and failure at every turn, because every occasion of a sinful accommodation of our lustful drive is actually a contemptuous resistance against the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our redeemed hearts.
James urges us to reject such a carnal existence and turn to God Who continues to work in us with His all-sufficient Grace. We heed His living Word, listen to the voice of His Spirit, receive wisdom, and live in His peace and rest. The word of God is the only Sword of Truth by which we can effectively ward off evil. That is what Jesus did when He faced satan the tempter. That is what we ought to do as His Followers. Wisdom from God through the Word of God.