Wendy Anne Clark
In reading James, chapter one, I am struck by verses 9-11, which seem out of place with the rest of the chapter. In the first part of the chapter, James teaches that we should have joy as we experience trials of many kinds (vs 2) because those trials test our faith and produce perseverance (vs 3), which then produces spiritual maturity.
If we need wisdom in order to face those trials, we should ask God and believe that He will give us wisdom because He promises to give wisdom generously to all who ask without finding fault with us for asking (vs 5).
If we ask tentatively, not sure that God will come through, He won’t honor that request. God won’t give anything to the person who lives sort of walking by sight and sort of walking by faith (vs 7-8; II Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:6). We must dive into the spiritual realm and trust God.
Then, in verses 9-11, James addresses those who have little financial wealth or material possessions and then those who have much. And in verse 12, he goes back to discussing perseverance in the face of trials, so what are verses 9-11 doing in the middle of this discussion?
Perhaps the amount of money and possessions a person has, whether small or great, causes different types of trials. We ought not put too much weight in what we don’t have or in what we do have in the face of our trials. We all have what we need if we walk in the Spirit.
We must persevere in faith whether we have little or much. We must not ask for wisdom to deal with trials and then doubt because we (1) don’t have much money or possessions and think we can’t possibly manage, or, (2) because we have a lot of money and possessions and think that we can manage on our own. Both positions are not relying on God through our trials, which is the kind of perseverance that produces spiritual maturity.
In a wealthy society, such as the United States of America, both unhealthy attitudes towards wealth are prevalent in the church. Those who compare themselves with others who have more wealth, can fall into a poverty mindset, where they think they don’t have enough to do what God would have them to do, but God has already given us everything that we need (II Peter 1:3).
Those who compare themselves with others who have less wealth, can fall into a attitude of self-sufficiency, where they think that within themselves–their own money, possessions, talents, and skills–they have all that they need to face trials in their own strength.
Both of these positions are incorrect.
James tells the poor to recognize how much they really have (vs 9) and the rich to recognize the limitations of what they have (vs 10)—for both to see the truth of their circumstances. Then in verse 12 he tells us that whatever the trials are that we face, we are blessed if we will persevere in faith and continue to walk with and love God.
Keep the focus where it needs to be—on God. He’s the one who provides all that we need (Philippians 4:19). How much we have or don’t have does not determine the size or scope of what God intends to do.
When we begin to really grab hold of this principle, we will see God move in God-sized ways, not the people-sized things that we are so used to seeing in the American church.