"9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like the 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 will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits."
James knows that his readers are struggling in the midst of various trials. He
is reaching out to them in this letter to help them turn to God and count on
Him in their difficulties. James begins his letter by encouraging his readers
to "Count it all joy ... when you meet various trials..." James is
not telling his readers to pretend that what they are going through is actually
a joyful experience. I do not even believe he is saying that we cannot or should
not be sad over our trials. To count it all joy is not an automatic, flippant
response we are to have to our own or the trials of others. To come to a place
where we can count it joy is a wrestling itself. We see this in the Apostle
Paul as well as in Jesus’ life. Certainly, we will wrestle in prayer,
maybe often, to choose to trust God's character and presence in the midst of
all that we face.
James knows it is a wrestling. He calls it "the testing of our faith." We
are choosing to trust God in a situation that does not automatically lead us
to that response. The way James feeds his readers faith is that he first reminds
them of the end point, the goal, as seen from God's point of view. James tells
them, and us, that our circumstances are not the final word. We do not see
specifically what God will do, but we are reminded that when we let God work,
when we count on Him and hand over all that we have, He will use these difficult
or even dreadful circumstances to bring us to be "perfect and complete,
lacking in nothing." So we are counting on this God to be the final word
in the middle of the process. We look forward to it all “adding up” to
this goal, aim, end.
James further feeds his readers’ faith by reminding them of the character
of God. This is the God we are counting on. He is ready to enable us to be
wise in our circumstances. Again, we will no doubt wrestle at times, and repeatedly
to find rest in God. Gary was once asked if God didn’t intend us to enjoy
life. Gary thought this over and replied that it is not so much that God will
have us always enjoy life, but more that we will enjoy Him in the midst of
life. This, however, never becomes automatic.
Every day we need to turn it over to Him again and find that "The steadfast
love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new
every morning..."(Lam. 3:22 &23)
In our struggles with God, we need to turn over everything, even our struggles
and doubts over to Him. If we are "in two minds" about God--if we
are all the time still actually counting on ourselves, we make it impossible
for ourselves, at that moment to receive anything from Him. It is very hard
to receive His gift when our hands are still closed tightly around whatever
else we are counting on to give us life. This is going to be a struggle
We would often much rather count on ourselves and our own abilities in the
end to make it all right. So James has to remind them of the character of their
Heavenly Father to help them (and us) see how trustworthy and good He is and
how what we are holding onto will not take us through this trial in a way that
we can count as joy.
In telling them of God's character, James is telling them that God is not
double-minded about us. We can give up our double-mindedness in the face of
seeing that God is all one-way with us. He gives generously to all, not sometimes
to some. James will go back to this idea later in his letter
Now James speaks of those who are poor and those who are rich. When we are
in trials, it is tempting to look around at others and to compare our trials
with theirs. We are tempted to believe that some people don't have any trials,
that their lives are so easy. This is especially true when dealing with rich
and poor; which is why James talks about them. The poor look at those who are
rich and believe that they are getting off easy. But James tells the lowly
brother to "boast in his exaltation." That is interesting. I wonder
if the poor man thought he had nothing to boast in. What exaltation is James
talking about? In the context, it would seem that he is referring back to being "perfect
and complete, lacking in nothing." Some day the one who lacks so much
now will be brought up, exalted, to a place of completion and fullness. The
lowly brother then looks forward to the future, he does not boast in the present,
but in what God is going to do.
James spends the rest of this paragraph on the rich person. He says the rich
brother should boast in his humiliation, because "like the flower of the
grass he will pass away." The rich appear to have no difficulties in this
life. James is saying that actually they certainly do have trials as well.
The trials James is speaking of here are those related to riches. These are
the trials of being tempted to trust in one's wealth and believe that they
are some kind of sign of one's eternal place or status. James assures the readers
that riches will fade away, they will be temporary. Riches actually do not
help one to receive what God has to offer, in fact, they may very well be a
barrier to it. And, this is what becomes more and more painfully clear in a
rich person's life.
So notice, James says it is actually the rich man himself that fades away.
He himself is changed from pride in his possessions to humility in recognizing
his own spiritual poverty before God. So, for the rich believer, his boasting
is in the triumph of God over his delusion about his own true condition. He
was fooled into believing that his material riches gave him a reason to think
that he was spiritually self sufficient, spiritually rich. However, in the
end, through his trials, it will become clear that God is the real and only
life-giver, not riches.
We all have trials that God allows us to go through. We live in a very broken
world and trials are inevitable. It will not help us to compare ourselves to
others. It is tempting to believe that our trials are so much worse or really
not that bad. Either way, we end up not focusing on our Father's faithful and
gracious presence and work in the midst of our real and current situations
and therefore do not receive His peace and joy for our help today. James wants
to help his readers not get distracted into comparing themselves with those
I appreciate this word because I know that I struggle with comparisons. I
can dwell on being envious of others that I think do not suffer as I do. I
am tempted to grumble that God is focusing unwelcome attention on me. Or, I
can see someone who is going through a horrible time and I fear that I may
end up there or am mainly relieved that "at least I am not dealing with..." The
good news that James wants us to grasp is that God can be God to all of us
in the middle of whatever. There is no pit lower than God's presence can reach.
He does not allow us to go through anything that He cannot redeem and heal
and use to bring us to a fullness in Him that is currently beyond our imagining.
I don't need to compare because in each trial, big or small, we all need to
grow, by God's grace, to trust Him 100%.
The dynamics are all the same for everyone. Is God good even here? Does He
hear me? Does He care? Can He redeem this? Does He give to all generously and
without reproach? And the answer to all these is the same in all our trials--YES!
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