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James 1:9-11 – Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. (NKJV)

In this day and age when “image is everything” and status is the name of the game, there is hardly a more relevant topic than God’s view of wealth and status.

It is the common lifestyle today to live well beyond our means, not only to satisfy impulsive leisure, but also to give the appearance of being more financially successful than we really are. It is an accepted fact of Western life to live in debt to maintain the appearance of growing wealth.

It is especially important for Christians to understand God’s view about money and status. I am not a “let’s all be poor” advocate or a money basher. The amount of money we have is irrelevant. It is our attitude toward money and how we use it to fulfill God’s will that is important. You can be an extremely wealthy and faithful Christian. You can be dirt poor and be a faithful Christian. On the flip side, a billionaire and a bomb can be equally heathen. This is not a series on what the Bible says about money, although it is one of the most talked about topics in Scripture for obvious reasons.  Money is an everyday part of our life. If you would like to know more about this topic, read my book “Life without Debt”. In this lesson we are going discuss our attitudes toward the rich and the poor.

James 1:9-11 – Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. (NKJV)

Let the Lowly Glory

What in the world does James mean when he says to let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation? The phrasing and vocabulary are completely foreign to our current way of thinking. We would never hear of a seminar or workshop on the glory of being lowly, in this case meaning to be poor. So what is James teaching us?

It actually begins in verses 2 to 7, which I will cover at the end of this series. In those verses, James speaks of how trials come to us all. It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or whether you are poor, your life is going to be filled with repeated trials. Keeping that in mind, we come to verse 11, where we find “let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation.” Suffering and trials are the great equalizers of mankind. While money may help you alleviate some suffering, it can never keep you from it. It simply means that it may take a greater trial because you will receive the same distress that a poor person might receive from a lesser trial. Of course suffering is relevant, and it really doesn’t matter what causes it. If suffering could be measured on a scale of one to ten, and I am suffering a five because someone at work is persecuting me for my faith, that is not greater suffering than someone who feels the same intensity (a five on the suffering scale) over a trial I would consider insignificant. It’s all a matter of life experience.

Suffering affects both the rich and the poor, and so we find James telling us that the lowly brother glories in his exaltation. This has three meanings. First, it means that the lowly or poor person takes comfort in the knowledge that he is just like everyone else. (He “glories” in this knowledge.) He sees that the rich suffer also, and that we are all equal in that regard. Thus he is exalted and realizes that his poverty does not make him less than other people. Secondly, the poor person sees that suffering is used by God to keep the rich and the poor from being too enamored with this world. Trials keep us from being preoccupied with the cares of this life and the pursuit of material treasure. In this way the lowly person is elevated to the same status as the wealthy person.

Finally, the lowly person sees that God is no respecter or of persons. God is not being hard on the poor while the rich get a pass. Rich or poor, we all suffer the trials of this sin-cursed life, and the lowly person glories, takes comfort, in seeing that his poverty does not make him less in the eyes of God.

Understanding that, it’s easy to grasp the next portion of the verse, “but the rich in his humiliation because as a flower of the field he will pass away.” Through trials the rich realize that wealth does not make them immune to the curse, nor does it make them any better than the poor. Our suffering reminds us that our money does not elevate us in the eyes of God. Hard times bring a concrete reminder that our happiness and contentment are not found in the riches of this world, but only in God’s rich grace.

Wealth Is Fleeting

At the end of verse 10 and continuing on through verse 11, we see the truth about our material possessions and achievements. James points this out to us vividly so that we will not depend on or have pride in our earthly success. We are reminded of how fleeting and temporary all of this is. Like a flower that blooms in the morning and is wilted and burned up by the blistering midday sun, the beautiful appearance of our accumulated wealth quickly fades. In the same manner, our pursuit of achievement, status and worldly success will wither and disappear–like the brown and burned grass on a scorching summer day in Oklahoma.

One of the basic principles of the Christian life is to realize neither wealth nor poverty gives us special status in God’s eyes. Neither the millionaire nor the homeless person can escape the curse of sin. Therefore, it is a foundational principle for Christians to have the same view as God about wealth and poverty. Do not let either determine how you view other people or how you treat them. We’ll talk more in another lesson about favoritism, but it is a common human tendency to treat people differently according to their material status. What’s even worse is we actually view them as having more or less human value based on their success.

A Christian should never be guilty of this. So the first lesson I want you to learn about the basic Christian life is that wealth and status have no bearing on our value to each other or to God. We are to avoid any personal pride in either wealth or poverty, We are also to avoid assigning any greater or lesser value to other people based on their bank account.

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