The Book of James, Part 8:
Accept a Lower Place

Review:

Last week we identified that James has three "A" instructions for us in the early part of the first chapter of James.

  1. Ask God For Wisdom              (1:5-8)
  2. Accept a Lower Place             (1:9-10)
  3. Appreciate What Really Lasts   (1:11)
We identified that all three of these are aspects of how we should lean (rely) on God, although that is the opposite of what most of us want to do.   We want to rely on ourselves, and if that fails, give up and ask God for help.   Contrary to what Ted Turner says, we are not our savior, Jesus is.

We got a good start on:

 1. Ask God For Wisdom (1:5-8)

We found that what James was really saying was, "You know as well as I do that not a single one of you has wisdom, so ask God."

Then we contrasted knowledge and wisdom.   The world has a lot more knowledge today than in the past, but it has not led to wisdom.   Wisdom comes only from God.   Based on the Proverbs verses we looked at and the definition of the Hebrew word translated as wisdom, I suggested that wisdom is the practical application of God's Word to daily living.  Wisdom is knowing how to lead your life like God wants you to live it.  If we had that wisdom, things would go a lot smoother.

Bud raised the issue from Proverbs 1:7 where knowledge is referenced.

The Hebrew word here is da'ath which means knowledge.   So that does not get us around the discussion last week of the difference between knowledge and wisdom.  However, if you look at this verse in context, you will see that the topic is wisdom, not knowledge. I think the writer is saying that the beginning of wise knowledge is acknowledging God.   So I don't think it undercuts our discussion about wisdom is the secret, not factual knowledge.

In Today's Lesson:   James continues with the Ask God instruction with:

Ask -- The Greek word here is aiteo and can be translated ask, request, [even] beg.  This word reminds us of God's authority.  When we come to God, we ask. We don't demand; we don't insist.

What are some positive results of praying ("asking God") in our lives?

Prayer is an unnatural activity. From birth we have been learning the rules of self-reliance as we strain and struggle to achieve self-sufficiency.  Prayer flies in the face of those deep-seated values.  It is an assault on human autonomy, an indictment of independent living.  To people in the fast lane, determined to make it on their own, prayer is an embarrassing interruption.  Prayer is alien to our proud human nature.

James continues:

Where do you go for wisdom for living this life?  That's a great question.   Where do most people go? James tells us that we need to develop the habit of going to God.  Two practical ways we can do this are: "...who gives generously ... will be given -- These phrases really emphasize the grace of God.  Wisdom is not earned by us, it's given by God.

Then James throws a ringer at us.


What do you think doubt is?

It's interesting that every Gospel includes warnings by Jesus related to doubting Him:

Here's what I think James is saying here:   You must firmly believe that God and God alone is the one reliable source of wisdom.  We must be convinced of this in order to follow through with our commitment to do everything God tells us to do in His Word. Doubt paralyzes us. Doubt causes us to be tossed back and forth. We're not sure what to do or what to believe.

James wants us to understand how important faith is to daily living. The words "faith" and "believe" are used 19 times in the Book of James.

When James talks about faith here, he's talking about faith in the fundamental character of God. Back in v.5, we're given a promise that God answers prayers and answers them generously. James tells us here that we need to be confident, not doubting the goodness or generosity of God.

So the first "A" instruction from James is to Ask God.  The second "A" instruction is to:

 2. Accept A Lower Place   (1:9-10)

So another way we can rely on the Lord is by accepting our place in life. How many people do you think have a measure of disappointment with some aspect of their life? 

A common experience is to feel that we don't have enough, financially.

How many of us feel like our lives would be better if we only had more money?

We think, "If I had more money I'd be happier; if I had more money I'd be better able to provide better for my family; if I had more money I'd be able to do more for the God."  But God doesn't need our money. He will always provide all that we need, by His grace. Notice that I said need, not want.

James introduces a subject here that he will focus on in more detail in Chapter 2 -- the economic diversity among Christians. When James wrote this letter in about 47 A.D., there were rich and poor Christians in the same churches - just like today.

It's important for us to notice that both here and in chapter 2, James never suggests that God's plan is for all Christians to be on the same plane financially. He never suggests that poverty is the consequence of some spiritual failing or lack of faith (as some "Christian" speakers suggest today), or that wealth is a sign of great faith.

Have you ever considered that economic diversity among believers serves the purposes of God?   God's plan is to "scatter" His people throughout the world:

One of the most effective ways that God can "scatter" us is financially. Think about how finances determine where we live and what we do. If you have Christians who are all over the financial spectrum, top to bottom, then you'll have Christians living in neighborhoods all over the city. What do you think James means by what he says in this verse?

Our tendency is to define ourselves by our finances.  Our culture tends to esteem wealthy people and ignore the poor.  But James gives us wonderful news - that even the poorest of the poor have a "high position" in God's eyes, if they belong to Him.  Believers may be desperately poor in this life but all of us are immeasurably rich in eternity!

 Years ago I worked in the Bellamah Corporation. For 30 or so years, Bellamah built thousands of small houses in many different cities, but most of them were "starter houses", for the first time homebuyer. Dale Bellamah was quoted as saying, God surely loves poor people, because he made so many of them.

A theme throughout the New Testament is that the servant is greater than the master. Jesus came to serve. We are also told that wealth can be a great obstacle to a relationship with God.

You can take several messages from these verses.
  1. Wealth cannot get you to heaven, only God can. That is the easy message.
  2. Wealth is likely to impede a relationship with God, because it is a distraction and can lead to self-sufficiency.   But, God can overcome that also.
Meanwhile back to the verse at hand.

A great passage on our "high position" in Christ is in Ephesians 1.  Scattered in verses 3 through 18 you find:

What a comfort to know that, no matter what happens in this life, we have the wonderful hope of all of this in eternity!   Now that is a high position. I think James is emphasizing, by contrast, the brevity of wealth in this life. True wealth, stored in heaven is eternal but the material possessions and wealth of this life are brief and fleeting. C. S. Lewis wrote, "One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realize your need for God.  If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God."

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Next week, we will deal with James' third "A" instruction, to Appreciate What Really Lasts