James 1:9-12 – Riches and Poverty

The “Lowly Brother” and the “Rich Brother” (James 1:9-11)

We need to remember that James’ readers are Jewish Christians who have been scattered due to persecution. Most of them were poor. For example, in Acts 11:28-29, we read about a severe famine that extended throughout the Roman world, so much so that some needed help and financial support from other believers. As we study this passage, let us remember that this is addressed to believing Christians.

“Let the Lowly Brother Boast in His Exaltation” (James 1:9)

This verse refers to all under-privileged or poor believers.

    • Rev 2:9 – “ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)”
    • Luke 6:20,21: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied”

James is saying that there is a future exaltation coming to poor or underprivileged (lowly) believers, so they have no real disadvantage in the end. Why is this? Because this life is not all there is. There is an eternal glorious future awaiting all these believers.

    • Phil 3:20 – “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”
    • Eph 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”
    • Eph 2:5- “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”

“And Let the Rich [Brother Boast] in His Humiliation” (James 1:10)

Just as James points out that lowly believers have no real disadvantage in the big picture, he also says that rich and powerful believers have no real advantage in the end. Why is this? James says it is because humiliation is coming for them. This humiliation can happen voluntarily, or will happen involuntarily at the final judgment.

The point James is making about the rich believer is, that a true believer will not glory in his or her riches, but will glory in using it to help relieve the suffering of those believers who are not so privileged. That is a true reflection of God’s glory. However, if a believer does not do that, there could be one of two reasons. Either they are not true believers, and will face Jesus as Judge one day, or they are believers who are not yet mature enough to show love in this way. In the latter case, their salvation will be “as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15).

Involuntary Humiliation at the Final Judgment

The Bible says that we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10). Part of this examination would be to evaluate the way we used the resources and privileges we had. Jesus made this point in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.

      • Luke 6:24-25: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry”
      • Rev 3:17: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked”

Voluntary Humiliation

There is a different and much more fulfilling humiliation that rich and powerful believers can experience. This is in their identification with Jesus, by choosing to step into the suffering and humiliation of others in order to share their burdens. Jesus though He was rich yet He became poor to make us rich through His poverty (2 Cor 8:9). He chose to step down from His glory and humbled himself to serve like a slave, even to the point of death (Phil 2:8). When rich and powerful believers step alongside suffering believers to relieve their suffering and share their burdens, they are acting like their Lord. This is the kind of humiliation that God desires of those of us who are rich and powerful.

Riches are Temporary (James 1:11)

  1. James explains one of the reasons why a rich believer does not have an advantage over a lowly believer. Riches are very temporary. Here is what James says about people who put their trust in wealth, “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 1:10-11). This echoes the words of Isaiah in (reference to Isa 40:6-8, referring to how we fade away like grass and flowers in the field.
  2. James next reason is that God has a heart for the poor, downtrodden and vulnerable
    • Psa 68:5 “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows”
    • Psa 146:7-9 – “The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners”
    • Luke 1:52-53: “he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty”

Thus, for both rich and poor, the sole basis of our confidence is our position in Christ. James is pointing out here, that both lowly and rich believers face unique temptations regarding their station in life. The former are tempted to be discontented, and the latter are tempted to feel self-sufficient. Both of these are dangerous, and James tells us how we need to have the right attitude in all our situations.

“Blessed is the Man who Remains Steadfastness Under Trial” (James 1:12)

James now returns to his theme of verses 2-4, encouraging us to count it all joy when we encounter various trials.

  • James had said earlier that “the testing of our faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:3).
  • This is also what the apostle Paul said in Rom 5:3 :”We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope”
  • 1 Peter 1:6-7 – “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Crown of Life

The final motivation to remain steadfast in all kinds of trials is Rev 2:10 – “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life”. A life of steadfastness in our faith in Jesus, will be rewarded by Him with a “crown of life” – that is, eternal life in His glorious presence!

Is it OK to Look Forward to Rewards as a Christian?

This leads us to an important question that may be at the back of our minds. Is it OK to be motivated by rewards, or is it self-centered? The answer to this question is yes, it is OK. This is the reason why there are so many promises of rewards in Scripture. One of the major reasons James has told us to be patient and joyful even, in the midst of our trials is the hope of future redemption and reward. This is a God-given motivation for us to remember when we suffer.

C. S. Lewis in his famous sermon “The Weight of Glory” says that the greatest glory of a believer that will fuel his or her joy throughout eternity, is that commendation from Jesus that each of us long to hear – “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:23).

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