Life is unpredictable. The job offer gets rescinded. Your portfolio underperforms. Your marriage breaks apart. Addictions you thought you had licked, come back with a vengeance.
In these twists and turns, ups and downs, the gospel gives us the power to be people of stability and dependability amidst that sea of unpredictability.
In James 1:9-11 Jesus’ younger brother gives us insight on how to use the gospel in this way. He writes,
“Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits”
First James addresses the Christian brother in lowly circumstances. This is for those of us who have put our faith in Jesus and yet we are lonely and alone. He is talking to people who are suffering with broken relationships, physical sickness, unemployment, under-employment, loneliness, addiction, wayward children, hopelessness or depression.
James tells us to “Boast in our exaltation.” What does that mean?
It means we do not descend to wallowing in self-pity. Instead, we turn our eyes to the good news of the Gospel and comfort ourselves with it. There is so much good news for us to turn to.
If you are struggling, consider this amazing truth in Ephesians 2
“…God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus," Ephesians 2:4-6
You have been raised up and seated at God's table in God’s house as God's son or God's daughter.
Notice, it does not say “one day you will be seated with him” it says you already have been seated with him. Right now in the midst of your suffering and depression you are seated with Christ in the heavenly places and God looks on you with a loving smile.
And that is not all. The Gospel tells us also that:
• You are made in the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:27)
• You have been adopted by God
• “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption” Galatians 4:4-5 (see also Ezekiel 16:1-14)
• Your sins have been forgiven
• “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” Acts 10:43 (see also 1 John 2:12)
• You have been reconciled
• “He has now reconciled us in his body of flesh, by his death, in order to present you holy in his sight and blameless and above reproach before him.” Colossians 1:22
• You have been raised with Christ
• “For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6)
• Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit
• “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
• You have the spousal love of Christ
• "As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." (Isaiah 62:5)
• “Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her…” (Ephesians 5:25)
• You have been freed
• “Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us” (Romans 3:24)
• You have been saved by grace and not by works
• “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8)
• “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)
In the hit movie V for Vendetta Natalie Portman stars as a lonely heroine. At one point in the movie she is thrown in prison and forced to face torture and solitary confinement. While she is there she discovers a secret note left by a previous prisoner. It is in reading this note, and the autobiographical story of the other prisoner’s life, that she finds hope and courage.
The Bible is like that note.
In our despondency it reminds us that we are not alone and that there is hope. The story of Scripture, is not a list of do’s and don'ts. It is God's autobiography displaying his character and his care for us.
Even though we sometimes feel lonely and alone, when we read these great truths above, we find they give us hope.
If you are in humble circumstances, take comfort in your exalted position.
Let the good news of the gospel give you hope and courage to abandon your self-pity and endure.
In my life that means that I have to start each morning with one of these verses in front of my eyes. I have to prioritize reminding myself of this truth over helping my kids get ready for school, reading the news or checking email. This news is actually the most important news of the day and when I put it first, I find it frames how I experience my whole day.
Which of these truths is the most valuable to you right now?
In the next post I will look at the other side of this coin and talk about what James means when he tells the rich person to boast in their humiliation.