The Richest Man On Earth

Bible Book: James  1 : 9-11
Subject: Christian Living; Money; Possessions; Stewardship

We have the possibility and opportunity of great riches if we will just take advantage of plugging in to the One who develops inside of us the greatest riches of all. Today I want to celebrate the fact that God is a God of paradox. It seems that as we are weak, we can become strong. As we may be poor, we can become rich. As we look at the richest man on earth, I want you to understand that this person has his or her debt paid. This person can be a person who not only has earthly, worldly accumulation, but who has the greatest accumulate of all; and that is what God gives to His children.

I recently read an edition of The Wall Street Journal declaring the richest man on earth. What if ... just what if ... I had a Wall Street Journal in hand and it was not dated today; but it was dated a year from this day! And just suppose as I read through it this day that I suddenly realized that it's tomorrow's newspaper, as we've seen in days past on that television series called Early Edition. It's tomorrow's newspaper today! I loved that program and I don't know why they took it off prime time, but they did. I look for it often as I see it on cable. Just imagine with me now if you had next year's stock market portfolio! Yes! You would say, "I'm going to make a killing on this thing! I know what's down today and what will be up next year and I'm going to do all I can and take all I have and put it into the right fund. And this year, buddy, I'm going to get all of my debts paid! I'm going to have it all together!" But then   as you glance through that newspaper, not only do you see the market trend, but also you notice suddenly a picture that arrests your soul. It's your picture! You begin to read and you discover that the day before this newspaper was printed, your death occurred through an automobile accident! It's   your obituary! Your heart sinks! You thought you had a shortcut to make your riches and to be the richest man or person on this earth. Suddenly you realize that your time is very, very limited. Suddenly you shift your values from what you can accumulate to what you can do while your time remains.

Through the book of James we are invited by God to examine "the richest man on earth." Who in the world could it be? Well it could indeed be you if you will discover some of the truths that come from James 1:9-11. You will see how God can take your debt and pay it, and how you can help to pay the debt that others have accumulated. "The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat withers the plans; its blossoms fall and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business" (James 1:9-11).

Whether we are rich or whether we are poor, none of us are immune to that which will come before every life; and that is the challenge of moving through troubled times. We're there now as a nation. We are there as people of God. We are there as individual families. Every one of us has something through which we are trying to get better. Whether you are rich or whether you are poor, the scripture addresses you and these circumstances of today can bring encouragement to our lives.

I. The Poor Have Position (v.9)

Let's look first of all at the life of the poor. The poor have something, but what is it? Well the poor, according to the scripture in verse 9, have position. They have position and that's a good thing to be in. You see, in all sports, position is critical. Whether you're on the basketball court or you're on the football field, or whatever athletic contest wherever you are, position is important. It's important in the business world. It's important in the classroom. Position, ranking, gives opportunity. The Bible teaches us here that the poor have position. What position do they hold? Examine it a little bit closer with me.

A. As A Brother (Position In Christ)

You'll discover the first position they hold is that as a "brother." The way James wrote this passage, he addressed them, and as he did, in verse 9, he said, "the brother in humble circumstances." Now brother does not mean related only through blood or only through kinship on this earth. Brother refers directly and specifically to someone who has trusted Christ as his or her personal Savior. In other words, it's speaking to those who are believers in Christ, believers in Him, believers in His death for your sin and His resurrection to bring you new life.

Now the question addressed to those who were there, but also to each of us, is whether or not we too are a brother. Now ladies understand that the word brother is a generic term and it speaks to you as well. Anyone who becomes a part of God's family under the Fatherhood of   the Almighty becomes a part of His family and we are brothers and sisters in His life. The question is, are you a brother? It's a matter of being positioned in Christ. Some of us, though, this day are outside of Christ. We've been examining Him, we've been longing to be more like Him, we're wanting to       be a partner with Him, but we just don't know how. We're not willing to make that commitment.

Today, friend, no matter what your socio-economic stability and status may be, you can be positioned in Christ. You can be a brother. You can be a part of His family and God invites you to do that. You see, the poor have position in that way so their relationship will never be tarnished. The beauty of that is that it cannot be taken away. Once you're in the family of God, the Bible teaches that nothing and no one can snatch you out of the hand of God. That's good news, folks! It's good news to all of us who wonder whether or not we are loved by our earthly family, because we will never be turned away from our heavenly Father. He loved you enough to give His life for you and to pay your debts for you in every single way.

B. With The Basics (Position In Circumstances)

The poor have position, first, as a brother; but the poor also have position with the basics. Now you know I look around today and I don't see anybody who's been too long without a meal. Probably in an auditorium with hundreds of people, everybody has had the opportunity to eat breakfast, whether they chose to eat it or not. You've got the basics. You've got 24 hours a day. You've got 7 days in a week. You've got 365 days in the year. We've got the basics. We've got clothes, we've got housing.

Most of us have good health. We've got the basics. You see what the scripture teaches here is that they were of humble circumstances. It means that they had what they need and they could use it to glorify God. Their position in circumstances is that of the basics. It's a no frills Christianity. Nothing high tech, nothing lavish. They're humble in their status. And if they're humble in their status, I've noticed that at that point they are closely related to being humble in their spirit as well.

How are you today? Are you humble in spirit as well as status? The words humble and circumstances linked together literally mean those who walk in a weaker or a more lowly position, those who are looking toward God and God alone, to those who are seeking better ways that they can reach out and touch the hearts of those who are hurting.

C. To Serve Better (Position Of Honor)

In fact their position as a brother and their position as one who is better because of their desire to give, puts them at the point and the position to be able to serve better. That position of service becomes an opportunity for you and me to examine our own lives. Could it be that we've gotten so busy accumulating our stuff in life and looking for better ways that we can get more in debt and pay off the debts of the past that we have forgotten the basics of what God has put us here to do and to become, and that is to serve Him? Could it be that we have failed to see that the position of honor is not the one who has the most accumulations, but the one who does something with what he or she has? The scripture teaches very clearly here that those who are of humble position should rejoice and glory or take pride in the fact that God lifts them up. To what? To new dignity and value and worth. Maybe you've lived at that point where you had very little and that was the happiest time of your life.

I think back during seminary days at Fort Worth, Texas, and remember literally counting the pennies and the nickels and occasionally the dimes that had been thrown on top of the chest of drawers. My wife and I would count them together. We'd come back from church where I was serving and we would count out the money and to see whether or not we could afford to buy the tacos at the taco shack on the street. Now you have to understand that these tacos were a deal; I mean a big deal!

You could get four, and sometimes on special days you could get six, tacos for a dollar! Now you weren't really sure what was in those tacos but you know that's pretty cheap for lettuce and a sprinkling of horsemeat or goat or whatever it might have been that was in there. However, we counted the pennies and we looked forward to seeing whether or not we could splurge and maybe get two dollars’ worth. Now I'm not trying to belittle tough times. I'm just trying to tell you that those were some of the happiest days of our lives, when we were absolutely, totally dependent upon the Lord.

We'd resigned our position at a church of affluence in Atlanta and gone out there with nothing. We loaded the U-Haul and discovered that God was speaking in volumes, loudly. During those four years we didn't go without. I don't want to paint the wrong picture. It's just that when we became more dependent upon Him, that we found ourselves in humble circumstances. Has it been that way in your life at some point and time? Could it be that in some of our marriages and some of our lives we've looked back and said, "You know before we had everything, we had more!" I don't know what God may be saying to you about that, but I do know that the poor have the advantage of position, to be able to serve better because they listen better to what God's trying to say.

II. The Rich Have Possessions (vv.10-11)

I want you to see not only the poor, but I want you to examine what the text says as it speaks about the rich. If the poor have position, then the rich obviously have possessions. You've got your stuff.    We've got our stuff. We've got so much stuff. I had a builder friend over recently and was trying to point out to him what I had visualized in creating a new storage area in my house. I said, "You know we could just put a wall down here and we could put some doors in here that would save room and wouldn't swing out in the main place and I could just put my stuff back in there." And he looked at me and said (as a friend you understand), "John I think I've got a better solution than your idea." And I said, "What is it?" He said, "You need to have a yard sale." You see the thing is that we accumulate our stuff, we stuff it into our attics, we stuff it into our garages, we stuff it under the beds; and the whole problem is that we've got so much stuff that many of us don't really need.

The rich have possessions, but don't get the picture wrong here. It's not a matter of saying that those who are poor are believers and those who are rich are not. In the context and the influence of the way this is written, it's speaking to those who are rich who are also believers. They are also brothers in Christ. It's not a condemnation of those who have a lot in the way of possessions; it's a warning from James and from God to those of us who have been blessed with much that we do much with it as well.

The Internet will expose a lot of things if you just look at it long enough. Here's what I discovered on it recently. I discovered the world's richest men. Do you know who they are? You know the first one, at least, is Bill Gates; but did you know he's worth 54 billion dollars! Boy, that's a lot of money! That's a lot of money. Now he was worth more than that before September 11 and when the stock market opened up a week later. He didn't lose thousands or millions, he lost billions on that day! The second richest person in the world has 30.2 billion dollars. He's followed by Paul Allen with 28.2 billion; and the fourth richest person in the world is Lawrence Ellison with 21 billion dollars. Folks that's a lot of cash, a lot of money, a lot of assets. But you know what? If I asked any one of these four richest in all of the world, "Do you have enough?" Do you know what they would say? "No, I've got to have more, I need a little bit more, gotta be able to have more so that I can do more with it."

A. Humiliation Hurts

I want to share with you that even though they may be the richest in bank account, they could very well be the poorest in spirit. You see the rich have possessions, there's no doubt about that and we don't need to debate that, but those who are at the top many times are deliberately God-driven to the bottom so that they can gain a gift that only God can give. What is it? It's humiliation. Friend, humiliation hurts. It does.

For some of us our hearts sunk not only because we saw the fiery Towers in New York burning under the attack of terrorists; but our hearts sunk also because we knew economically what an impact it would have on retirement accounts, on existing income, on the possibility and probability of losing jobs. Our hearts sunk. Our nation was affected. Our world was affected. The scripture says to let the rich man glory or take pride in his humiliation.

How can you do that? Because when God brings you down, it's for a purpose so that you can begin then to look up at Him. What in the world has happened in our nation? We've been devastated. We've been knocked off our prideful high horse. And I don't say at all that what happened was the will of God. But I can say, declaringly, that what has happened through the midst of this crises has been used by God to bring us to a point of humility.

The word humble or humility literally means to be lowered, to lower the pride, to disgrace us, to shame us so that we might be able to, according to the text, come to a position of being stronger. When you are high, instead of humble, and you tumble from the top, it hurts. The writer of Proverbs said that the wealth of the rich is their fortified city. Imagine it as an unscalable wall. I wonder if you have built around yourself such a fortressed strong city of your own possessions and your own financial status to the point where you think nothing and no one can scale that wall and the enemy can't get in? Well, wake up to the fact that humiliation does come at some point and time in life and when it comes God can use it for His own glory.

B. Flowers Fade (Isaiah 40:6-8)

I'm reminded of a second feature of the rich and their possessions, and it is that the flowers fade. Flowers often fade because of winter weather that has wilted them or because of the scorching sun with no rain, or sometimes they have just been neglected too long. But the reminder is simple. It's that life is short and our lives are like a plant, at one time growing, vibrant, alive, attractive with all that we need. But the scripture says that life is so short it's like a breath, it's like a vapor, and it comes and goes so quickly. If we are so rich and we have so much in our possession, we must think of the plant and realize that some day, physically and financially, we too will wither up. A direct draw from Isaiah 40:6-8 reads, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall.... but (listen to this) the word of our God stands forever." God and His word will not fade. The Living Word of Jesus Christ in you will not wither and die.

C. Only Christ Counts

The last feature for the rich to consider is that only Christ counts. You can count your money, you can count your accumulations; but what really counts in your life is Jesus Christ alone. I'm reminded that as we think of our money as features of security and success, we too will be like a plant someday.

We can't take it with us. We can only pass it on in some kind of inheritance. But what better way could we have than if we take what we have today and invest it in a kingdom-building church, desirous of God's very best in all that we have. You know friend, money does talk, doesn't it! It says a lot of things. It speaks a lot of languages. But you know I've noticed in the talk that money has, a lot of it is lies. A  lot of talk that money has is, "I am your superiority, I am your success, I am your position," and all the while that's nothing more than a lie. Money alone, as an investment for today, is a bad investment because tomorrow it will go away. Money, as invested in the future alone, is not a good investment because after you are dead and gone it will be gone away from you.

III. Both Can Have Power

Think with me about the poor and their position and the rich and their possessions; and now let's look and examine both of them. What do both of them have? Both the rich and the poor, according to the scriptures, have power. Oh, friend, you can have power today! The beautiful thing about it is that God can give believers in the same church, rich or poor, the same gift. It's the gift of power. Being rich isn't all about money folks. It's a state of mind. It's a spiritual condition. There's a wealth that leaves   us poverty-stricken and there's a poverty that makes us fabulously rich; and both of them can give us power.

A. To Glory In God

Power for what? Well I think, first of all, to glory in God. Did you note that truth in verse 9? The brother in humble circumstances ought to pride or glory in his high position; and the one who's rich should glory or take pride in his low position. The whole purpose of our possessions is to bring us power; and the whole purpose behind power is that of being humble before God and of glorify Him alone.

B. To Give Without Greed

The second understanding of having power is knowing that when we give we should give without greed. Greedy giving says, "Let me figure this thing out... let's see now, 10% of my income... if I cut it just a little bit short...." Greedy giving thinks of what you can hold on to; and what we hold on to, rather than being a channel of blessing, can become nothing more than a reservoir of stench. As you know, a pond that has no flow through it will simply become stagnant and lose its life and will no longer be vibrant and useable. None of us would drink water from a stagnant pond; but any one of us would drink living, cool, fresh water that has continually run down and been purified through the actions therein. So what do we do when we give? We don't give with greed; we give for God. You see when we give with greed, we lose our passion for God. But when we give for God's glory and honor, we give with joy and abundant hearts, knowing that everything we have comes from Him.

C. To Die With Dignity

I think the bottom line is that the power God gives to us is during the time that we have on earth and it is to ultimately determine that we can die with dignity. As I refer back again to a plant that has withered away from the weather, it doesn't look very dignified does it? It may look like it has lost all of its possessions and all of its potential; but the fact of the matter is that the root system is still very much alive. I could plant it again and I could prune it back; and next year it would be twice as big as what it was this year.

To die with do you die with dignity? It's what happens in the "dash time" of life. Here's what I'm talking about. If I pick up a newspaper and see my picture and my obituary in it, perhaps it would read this way: John Bryan born May 11, 1953 dash - . I don't know what the date would be; only God knows when He'll take me home. But it's during the dash days - those in between days of 20, 30, 40, 50, 80, 100 years - that we have on this earth that allow us the opportunity to use what we have to glorify and honor God. That's what God is calling us to do and that can make you the richest person on earth, dying with dignity because you're living for Christ today.


I have three questions.

1. First, I wonder... what is your position?

I mean where do you stand with God? Are you in Christ or are you outside of Christ? What's your position in Him? Would you say with me, "John I know my position on earth, I'm rich."? Some would say, "I'm poor." What is your position? Are you humble or are you haughty? Are you in Christ or are you outside of Christ? Jesus said these words in Matthew 6:24, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

"And then He put it where it belongs as he said, "You cannot serve God and Money." It's one or the other.

2. The second question is what are you doing with your possessions?

What are you doing with them? Are you helping others or are you hoarding them? Are you giving or are you grabbing for more? Are you being a minister or are you being a miser with your money? What are we doing with the possessions that we have?

3. The third and final question is simple. It speaks to what all of us must have in our life, and it's simply a matter of power. I'm asking if you have lasting power.

Do you have power that will last, or is it like a battery that wears out and you feel like you are right at the end? The New Testament word for power is the word dynamos, the word from which we get the word dynamite. I believe God wants to explode His churches in a powerful way to touch our world and our communities for Christ. I believe He wants to do this in your lives as well. But you see, you can't have power unless you first plug in.

If you're outside of Christ today, He's inviting you now to come and meet Him as your personal Savior. If you've wandered away from Him and your batteries are low and it’s time to become recharged and revised again, spend a few moments with Him now just praying and asking Him to help you discover His great power that can help you to serve Him without hesitation. Whatever background you have, rich or poor, wherever you might be, come to Christ now and you can be the wealthiest person in all of the world.