James described both the poor and the comfortable encountering economic trials. Although details of their challenges differ, nonetheless both situations test one’s mettle. Furthermore, both trials go to the heart of the matter.
Fortunately, James offers us a practical path foward filled with uncommon wisdom. He turns our financial perspectives upside down. His counsel reorients us by calling us to reframe how we think about ourselves.
To those who may look down on themselves because they lack resources, he commanded them to reframe their self-perception. “Let the brother of humble means take pride in his high position” (James 1:9). What? How do impoverished Christians occupy an exalted position in Christ?
We gain an inkling of his thinking later in the letter. “Did not God choose the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5).
This focus upon the value of faith echoes and sums up some of Paul’s and Peter’s statements. Paul underscored how the disadvantaged know they are dependent upon God. They set their hope upon God crying out daily for help (1 Timothy 5:5). Peter asserted that our faith is more valuable than gold (1 Peter 1:7).
James’ counsel involves centering our hearts, not upon what we do not possess on earth, but upon who we are before God. As impoverished Christians we realize our profound dependence upon God’s gracious mercy to provide. We live our lives before God in faith.
Likewise James commanded those who are comfortable to reframe how they see themselves. Possessing resources can tempt us to feel secure because we possess enough for today and the future. Why do we need to look to God for our next meal?
James goes to the heart of the matter by directing the comfortable to remember who they are. As humans, we are temporary and life is uncertain. Echoing the withering grass imagery of Isaiah 40:6-8, James commands the comfortable to remember who they are (James 1:10-11). As humans made of dust, they are temporary in spite of how they might feel because of their wealth.
Paul guided Timothy to teach the same message. “Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).
Penetrating to what lies within the heart, he directed the poor to focus upon the value of their high position. He instructed the rich to focus upon their transitory nature; feelings of earthly based security need to be replaced by an awareness of our dependency upon God.
Economics can challenge and tempt all of our hearts to misstep. Temptations might differ. James’ solution is the same. Reframe how you think in order to align your perspective with God’s values.