Boast! James 1:9-11

James 1:9-11

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 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.

James continues to give his readers encouragement and instruction in their suffering. We have seen the joy that we can, and will have in trial. We have seen the warning concerning doubt in suffering and have been reminded about the wisdom of God.

James now encourages and challenges the believers with truth about the temporal nature of our lives and riches here on earth and turns our focus to the eternal work that God has done in us.

James speaks to two different kinds of people; the lowly and the rich. He tells each of them to do the same thing; to BOAST – but in different directions; the lowly in his EXALTATION and the rich in his HUMILIATION.

What is James getting at here? What does he mean by telling the lowly to boast in their exaltation and the rich to boast in their humiliation? Doesn’t Scripture tell us that we are only supposed to boast in Christ?

as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor. 1:31

I think the answer is found in asking another question.

WHO has exalted the lowly, and WHO has humiliated the rich?

Answer: God.

I find it interesting that James doesn’t use the word “poor” here in contrast to the rich but he uses the word “lowly” which makes me think James isn’t just talking about material riches or poverty (although I think he is making a point about those things as well). He is getting at something deeper.

As believers, and James is speaking to believers, God reaches down and takes us where we are at, lowly or proud, poor or rich; poor and proud, rich and proud, rich and depressed, poor and happy, rich and happy, poor and depressed; wherever we find ourselves, and appropriately brings our hearts and spirits to a place that can and does understand and trust the gospel.

God takes the lowly, the poor, the depressed, the self-hating, and he shows them the gospel, and the gospel gives them an identity, an adoption, and an inheritance that lifts them out of their lowliness (whether material or in spirit), and gives them worth in Christ and promises them spiritual wealth this side of heaven and spiritual and material wealth in eternity. This is how God exalts the lowly and the lowly can boast in how God has exalted their position in Christ.

James also tells the rich to boast, but not in their exaltation rather in their humiliation. James here contrasts the rich with the lowly which I think warrants the interpretation that James isn’t just speaking about those with material wealth, he is speaking about those who think they can make it in this life and the next depending on their own resources, intellect, money, wit, fame, or power- riches of many kinds. The concept is one of self-dependence, pride, and an inflated view of ones own worth, (whether financial or any other way) apart from God. So… lest you think, “I’m not rich… this verse is not about me,” think again, it might be.

Physical riches are relative. I don’t consider myself a rich person, and most people who live in the United States would NOT come to my house or look at my bank account balance and say, “wow she is rich.” At the same time there are MANY around the world who WOULD walk into my house and be blown away by the riches and comforts they see, and there are many around the world who could live for years, in their country, with what I have in my bank account. So my point is, riches are relative and you don’t have to consider yourself rich in order to find your heart wrapped up in your earthly possessions, pursuits, life goals, intellect, or experiences. If you are self-dependent and trusting in your own resources (whatever those resources are), you fall into the “rich” category no matter how big or small your account or house.

So when God saves the rich (or the rich at heart/rich in spirit/ self-dependent in spirit) he takes their inflated and proud view of their riches and self-dependence and he makes them see their utter worthlessness apart from Christ. He humiliates the rich and self-dependent so that they can see the gospel and know their desperate need for a Savior. So… the rich are to BOAST in their humiliation because it has led to their salvation in Christ.

To sum up, the testimony of the rich is that they needed Christ… and the testimony of the lowly, is that they too needed Christ. And God has brought both of their hearts to where they needed to be in order to show them the glory of Christ and the glory of the gospel so that they could each BOAST in what God has done for them.

Jeremiah 9:23-24

23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

What James says next confirms this idea that both the lowly and the rich need the same thing. James gives a singular reason that the lowly and the rich are to boast in what God has done in their lives: What’s the reason? “because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.”

Both the lowly and the rich need Christ because both, will pass away like the grass. James is turning our attention to the temporary nature of our lives here on earth and calling both the rich and the lowly to boast in the eternal work that God has done, whether a lifting up or a merciful humbling (and for most people both), because our lives here on earth are temporary.

The lowly need not wallow in self-pity, the rich need not perish in their arrogance because the state of both: the state of having nothing in this world and the state of having everything in this world is temporary because this world, this life, our lives in this world are temporary…like the grass.

The Temporal and Eternal in the Context of Suffering

Just for a second here I want to take a step back and look at these two verses in the context of suffering. We can’t forget these verses are sandwhiched in the middle of James speaking about trial and suffering. Two verses down (vs. 12) James is going to speak again directly about suffering and point us directly to eternal rewards for our persevering through trial.

So how does this passage help a believer going through suffering and trial?

James is emphasizing the temporal nature of our earthly lives. No doubt many of these scattered believers had lost their material and temporal riches and James is skillfully bringing their attention back to the riches they have in their salvation. He is saying, “look at what God has done, look at how he has saved you, exalted you from a lowly position, humbled you from your self-exalted position and brought you into life eternal….boast in that!”

We boast in what we value and we boast in what we are sure of, and in the midst of suffering, and change, and trial, the thing we as believers are the most sure of and should bring our full attention to, is what God has done for us in Christ. Our salvation (who is Christ) is our solid rock in changing times, that is our hope in painful suffering…that is our boast; Christ.

Back to Verse 11

James continues with his analogy illustrating the temporary nature of our lives and this time he directly compares it to the rich man fading away in the midst of his pursuits.

Verse 11 :

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.\

In verses 9 and 10 James speaks to both the lowly and the rich and says both will pass away. Now he turns his gaze more directly to the rich man and his pursuits. James doesn’t rebuke the rich man for being rich, he simply, once again points to the temporary nature of earthly PURSUITS for riches. This has more of an emphasis on the direction of the heart rather than a counting of ones possession to see if one might be considered “rich.”

Again, the question isn’t, “am I rich?” or “should I feel guilty for my possessions?” or “should I quit my job so I don’t get richer?” the question is, “is my heart wrapped up in pursuits of temporary riches and am I dependent upon those pursuits and riches for my life, my salvation, my comfort, my meaning, my purpose, my joy?” Or…. do I understand that whatever earthly comfort I have will fade away along with my own life here on earth and do I then, out of that belief, place my heart and its dependence solidly upon the Lord and the eternal riches that HE offers.

I think we might tend to see this passage as simply a rebuke to the rich for being rich!

I think this passage can and does serve as a rebuke for those wrapped up in earthly temporary pursuits. But I think this passage is more than a rebuke but also serves as a comfort and reminder for those brothers and sisters whose riches may have been stripped from them for the sake of Christ.

Imagine if you were a rich believer in the days of the early church and you were being persecuted and scattered, and in all that persecution your riches, and maybe even your livelihood, were stripped from you. To that person, this passage is no rebuke, but a gentle comforting reminder to focus on and boast in the eternal things God has done in them, as well as a reminder that all they had worked for materially was going to fade away in the end anyways (So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.) They have really lost nothing, and have gained everything! What a comforting reminder that would be!

So whatever boat you find yourself in today, lowly or rich or somewhere in between, BOAST in CHRIST! Boast in how he has humiliated you. Boast in how he has exalted you. If you are a child of the King, he has done BOTH for you!

Let the Redeemed of the Lord say so! Psalm 107

I want to end with Psalm 107

In Psalm 107 the author describes different kinds of people coming from different places whom God has gathered together from all direction- from the east, west, north and south- to be his people.

The author opens the Psalm with a command for those who have been redeemed to declare their story of redemption. To BOAST! To boast in what God has done for them.

The writer tells 4 of their stories. He tell how God brought them from places of lowly despair, of haughty rebellion, of foolish ignorance, of pursuing business and riches, and brought each of them to the same place- crying to Lord in their trouble. And for each of them God does the same thing, he delivers them from their distress, because of his steadfast love; He redeems them.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
they fell down, with none to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
and burst their bonds apart.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron.

17 Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits’ end.[
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
29 He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters[
c] were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

33 He turns rivers into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
34 a fruitful land into a salty waste,
because of the evil of its inhabitants.
35 He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water.
36 And there he lets the hungry dwell,
and they establish a city to live in;
37 they sow fields and plant vineyards
and get a fruitful yield.
38 By his blessing they multiply greatly,
and he does not let their livestock diminish.

39 When they are diminished and brought low
through oppression, evil, and sorrow,
40 he pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
41 but he raises up the needy out of affliction
and makes their families like flocks.
42 The upright see it and are glad,
and all wickedness shuts its mouth.

43 Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.


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