Count It All Joy: Support for Suffering Saints part 5


Let the poor 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. (James 1:9-11) 

The focus of these verses is boasting. ‘Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich boast in his humiliation.’ This word could be translated rejoice, or glory or exult, as it is in Romans 5:2. ‘…we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’

These verses flow naturally from the warning of double-mindedness. The one who is whole-heartedly devoted to God will boast in what God boasts in. If you love God with all that you are, you cannot help but love what God loves. The double-minded is prone to boast in the things of this world. Our boast becomes the test of our spiritual sincerity.

James addresses two Christians; The poor brother and the rich brother[1].

In the eyes of the world the poor are of little significance. They are nothing. This is because they are evaluated in terms of money, power or status, of which they have very little.

James tells them not to evaluate life like the world does. Don’t boast in the things the world regards as important. You are Christians. You are heirs of the kingdom of God. You have God as your Father. You have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You have eternal life. These are things infinitely more valuable than worldly treasures. These things are your exaltation. Boast in them. In the words of the Apostle Paul, ‘rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.’

Rich Christians have their positions of exultation and humiliation too. Their wealth and status give them a position of exultation in the world’s view of things, whereas their identification with Christ is regarded as very low. James tells them to boast in their humiliation. That is, join the poor brother in boasting in all that it means to be a Christian.

James backs up his exhortation to the rich with an argument. Our present life is transitory. Think about the flowers of the grass. The sun comes up with its heat and the flowers wither and die. That is you rich man. Your present life is fleeting and you will fade away in the midst of your pursuits. And when you do, everything you boast in will be gone, if you are boasting in the things of the world. So don’t boast in what will perish, that is foolish. Boast in what is everlasting.

Christians are double-minded when they boast in the things of the world. Their claim to believe in God is contradicted by hearts set on other things.

These other things aren’t necessary merely money or status. They could be anything that isn’t God; beauty, family, retirement plans, a job, a ministry, health or a thousand other things. These things aren’t necessarily bad, but they become bad for us when they replace God as our boast.

With this in mind, it becomes obvious why James describes double-minded people as being ‘like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind’ or as ‘unstable in all [their] ways.’ Just think about it. When you boast in the things of the world, you are boasting in the very things that are threatened by trials. And so when the trial comes and takes away your boast, your joy is gone. You have no solid ground to stand on. You have no stability. You are a wave, dictated by the winds of life.

If your joy is bound up in God, you are anchored into a firm foundation that will hold you fast through the storm. Trials cannot take God away. They cannot affect your eternal inheritance. They cannot separate you from God’s love. In fact, as we have seen, they prepare you for these things. Yes, there is still grief and pain, and yes it’s hard. But you will be solid, and you will know joy in the midst of your sorrows. This was Horatio Spafford’s secret. Listen to these words from his hymn.

But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

What are you boasting in?

[1] There’s a lot of debate about whether the rich person in this verse is a Christian or not. The most natural way to read the verse takes ‘brother’ as a reference to both the rich and the poor. ‘Let the poor brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich [brother] in his humiliation.’

Support for Suffering Saints
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

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