How often do we look at the rich when we are suffering and think that they have no troubles! We see ourselves as suffering and the rich being completely untouched by suffering and trials. I think this point of view is one reason why the “health and wealth” preaching that takes place today is successful. People think if they have riches they will not have troubles. We even have a song in our songbooks called Farther Along which echoes these very sentiments.
Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder; Why it should be thus all the day long; While there are others living about us, Never molested, though in the wrong.
When death has taken our loved ones, Leaving our home so lone and so drear; Then do we wonder why others prosper, Living so wicked year after year.
Here is a verse from Farther Along that is not in our songbook:
Tempted and tried, how often we question, Why we must suffer year after year; Being accused by those of our loved ones, E’en though we’ve walked in God’s holy fear.
The first chapter of the book of James is about trials and suffering. Verses 9-11 should not be lifted from its context as if James is talking about a new point. Verse 12 continues the discussion of trials, revealing to us that the topics discussed between verse 4 and verse 12 are in the context of trials. In James 1:9-11 the author is not giving a random teaching about the poor and the rich. Rather, James is dealing with the problem we face in trials. We observe the worldly rich doing well in life while we suffer trials. How can we have steadfastness in trials when we see the wicked prospering year after year? James is going to address this issue.
Let the Lowly Brother Boast In His Exaltation (1:9)
The lowly brother appears to be a reference to the Christian who is being crushed by trials. He is weak and in despair from the suffering he is presently enduring. Further, James is contrasting wealth. In verse 10 he speaks of the rich. Therefore, the “lowly brother” is not simply lowly because of life’s circumstances but also has less in material wealth. Thus, many translations rightly read, “humble circumstances” to try to capture that James is not only referring to material possession, but also weak and insignificant life circumstances.
James instructs the Christian of humble circumstances to boast in his exaltation. We must not think that James is saying Christians must brag about their exaltation. Bragging is the negative force of this word. But there is a positive force to this word. The good sense would mean to take delight in our exaltation, to rejoice in our exaltation, or as the NASB reads, to glory in our exalting. The Christian is crushed by trials but should take delight in his exaltation.
What exaltation can James be referring? Where is the exaltation in the midst of trials? James is pointing back to the message we learned in the first lesson in verses 2-4. Have the mindset of rejoicing when we face trials because when we are steadfast and prevail, we will become perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James is reiterating this point in verse 9. The suffering, crushed Christian must take delight in his exaltation. The exaltation is that Christians are becoming what God wants them to be. They are being refined by being steadfast in trials with the result that they will lack nothing. In James 2:5 we will see James make a similar point.
Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? (James 2:5 ESV)
The Christian can rejoice and take delight even in times of suffering because his hope is not bound in the pleasures and emotions of this world. Christians do not place their hope in the things of this world. Christians have their hope in God who is giving wisdom during trials. Christians have hope in the knowledge that through steadfastness in suffering Christians are being made complete and lacking nothing.
This picture fits what James taught in verses 5-8 about the double-minded person. The double-minded have their hope in riches and not in God. This person’s loyalties are divided rather than fully dependent on God. What we see is that God likes to use paradoxes. The scriptures frequently teach the weak are strong, the empty are full, the slaves are free, the cursed are blessed, and death brings life. God teaches that the lowly are exalted and the rich are humiliated.
The Rich In His Humiliation (1:10)
James now uses a bit of sarcasm and irony to declare that the rich should boast in his humiliation. Before we can move forward we need to determine who the rich are. There is a 50/50 split among scholars if this is the worldly rich or the rich Christian. Essentially, James spoke of the “lowly brother” in verse 9. When James says, “the rich” in verse 10, does James imply “rich brother” or not? While both sides have very strong arguments and many scholars ride the fence, I am persuaded that James refers to the worldly rich and not Christians are who are wealthy. The reason is found in verse 10 and verse 11. In verse 10 James says, “He will pass away.” James does not say that the riches pass away, but the rich person will pass away. Notice that James makes the same point in verse 11. “The rich man will fade away in the midst of his pursuits.” James does not say that riches will fade away in his pursuits. It would not be accurate to say that Christians who have wealth are going to pass away and be burned up. But this would be an accurate statement concerning the unbelievers who are rich. So this is why I think James is contrasting the Christian who is suffering in trials with the wealthy who seem to have it all.
James, therefore, is offering consolation to the Christians in humble circumstances. The rich are well off and perhaps their wealth causes them to avoid some of the suffering and trials that other must endure. But they will receive their humiliation. The Christian must not look at the worldly rich longingly and think that they are better off. Unless you would like to take delight in humiliation then go ahead and go down the road of riches and wealth. Go ahead and be the double-minded person whose loyalties are divided between God and riches. But know this: the rich person will pass away like a flower of the grass. Again, please understand that James does not say that riches pass away like the flower of the grass. That is also true and is a point made in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. James’ point is that the rich person will pass away like the flower of the grass. It is not going to go well for the rich person. Just as the grass withers, the flower falls, and its beauty perishes under the scorching heat of the sun, so also will the rich person wither and fall in the midst of his pursuits. The rich are engaged in their schedules and activities, completely neglecting God. They fail to realize that they will be brought low in judgment. They will stay busy in this life and the end will come suddenly upon them and they will not be prepared. Do not think the rich are in a better position than you, Christian. They will be brought low in humiliation while you are being exalted in your lowliness.
Remain Steadfast Under Trial (1:12)
This leads to James’ concluding remark to those who look to worldly riches as the answer. Remain steadfast under trial. Endure trials and prevail. James returns to the opening topic and has never strayed away from discussing trials. Be steadfast under trials, dear Christian, for God has made a promise. When we stand the test we will receive the crown of life. The Christian has a promise from God to hold on to as an anchor through trials. You will be victorious. “James uses the term to describe the enviable state of the man who does not give up when confronted with trying circumstances but remains strong in faith and devotion to God” (EBC).
The Greek word translated, “stood the test” was used to describe the successful testing of precious metals and coins. It referred to the process of testing and the subsequent approval of the tested object as genuine. Steadfastness under trial results in approval, and approval results in the crown of life (EBC).
- The grass is not greener on the other side. Better to be the lowly and of humble circumstances now and exalted later than rich now and humiliated by God.
- Take delight in the knowledge that we are being made into complete Christians lacking nothing.
- Remain steadfast under trials. God has promised a reward for your endurance.