Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements. James 1:9-11
Have you ever been tempted to brag about something? Maybe your new car, a promotion at work, the house you’re building, your child’s straight A report card, or your exercise routine at CrossFit? I think we’ve all been tempted to brag about something.
But, have you ever been tempted to brag that God has humbled you? Being humbled probably isn’t among the top things people are tempted to brag out. Yet, James tells us if wealthy believers have anything to boast in, it’s not in their money, possessions, or achievements; it’s that God has humbled them.
All of our wealth, earthly treasures, and achievements will fade away as the grass under a hot sun or the flower whose beauty has passed. It is silly to boast in fading things.
But, why should wealthy Christians boast in being humbled?
First of all, no one can come to God without first realizing their need. The wealthy are as spiritually destitute and needy as the poor. Money and earthly achievements do not add one thing to our merit before God (Mark 2:17).
To have our eyes opened to our sinfulness and our inability to do anything about it, and to come to understand our need for a Savior is humbling, and this humbling is a gift from God because it is the prerequisite to faith.
Poor Christians, on the other hand, having very few earthly treasures and maybe few notable achievements can boast that they have been exalted by God. In Christ, their place before the throne of heaven is no different than that of the greatest king.
If wealth cannot earn any merit with God, then poverty cannot detract from any promise of God. Man may look on the outside, the world may recognize wealth over poverty, but God sees our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7).
He is not impressed with our new cars, fancy homes, perfect grades, or gym memberships. When he looks at us, He sees us as we are: wretched sinners (Romans 3:23). His holy righteousness is justly kindled against us and our sinfulness (Romans 1:18).
But, loving us even while we were His enemies, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place and take our punishment upon Himself (Romans 5:8), and then rising from the grave, to defeat sin and death forever for those who place their faith in Him (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).
Jesus’ finished work on our behalf humbles those of us who have much in this life because it requires us to recognize that all our wealth and achievements can do nothing to solve our greatest need, and it exalts those of us who have little because it makes us children of the Most High God and invites us into the full inheritance won us by our Savior.
There are no rich or poor in heaven. There are only humble saints who were wretched sinners, and being saved by grace, are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.
Secondly, it may be that through the trials and troubles of this life, the rich are humbled by being made poor: a job is lost, an illness diagnosed, a spouse abandoned, or the economy blows up. Earthly treasures and achievements can be ours one moment and gone the next.
It is humbling to lose one’s earthly status and material security, but if troubles and trials are to be received with joy because of the spiritual endurance they produce in us, then even the trial of earthly poverty gives us reason to boast in God.
When the faith of Job was tried, he lost his children and all his wealth and possessions. When word of the devastating losses came to Job, he fell to the ground in grief and in worship with these words:
I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord! Job 1:21
The sorrow was heavy on him, he was humbled before all the earth, yet, he boasted in God. Why was he able to do this? He was able to boast in God because in wealth or in poverty, Job’s hope was in the Lord. God was Job’s greatest treasure.
There is nothing sinful in being wealthy. Many faithful Christians have been blessed with wealth and prosperity, but wealth and prosperity are fading things. We will leave our riches, earthly treasures, and accomplishments behind one way or another. They can be lost in troubles and trials, but even if not, they will be lost to us in death.
As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. Ecclesiastes 5:15
There is only way thing to boast in regardless of our financial status or earthly position: God. This truth frees us from the love of money which is the root of all kinds of evil (and has led many away from the faith) and enables our generosity (1 Timothy 6:10).
It also anchors our hearts to God as opposed to our circumstances so that in whatever state we find ourselves we have reason to praise Him. God is my greatest treasure; if I lose everything else in this life, I have not lost Him.
Imagine I owned the world’s largest, most perfect diamond and had it safely stored in a secret location. Now, imagine that one day while I was away someone broke into my house and stole all other of my earthly possessions. The loss and the injustice would be real, but the fact that my greatest treasure remained secure would be a huge comfort to me.
When friends and family gathered around in support, I would point them to the fact that although I had lost much, I still had my diamond. The most important possession was safe. While I was grieving what was lost, I’d have a reason to rejoice and to invite others to rejoice with me.
It is the same for those of us in Christ. This world and anything it can afford us is mere withering grass and fading flowers compared to the riches that are ours in Jesus (Ephesians 1:11). What Christ has won for us is secure in Him.
Whether I have much in this life or little, I have a reason to boast: my sins are forgiven (1 John 2:2), the God of heaven and earth is my Father (Romans 8:15), and my Savior is preparing a place for me in His presence the glory of which I cannot begin to fathom (John 14:3).
Therefore, we must not envy Christians who have more than us. That is not to say that we shouldn’t try to improve our situation if we find ourselves in hard times, but hard work and contentment aren’t mutually exclusive.
And we must not look down on Christians who have less than us for they have been exalted in Christ and are heirs of God. It may be that what these believers lack in material wealth they make up for in richness of faith (James 2:5).
Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13
Let the grass and flowers of our lives grow thick and lush or let them fade away in the sun, in times of wealth or in times of lack, the greatest treasure of the Christian is God. If we boast in anything, may we boast in Him.
(Next week we’ll be looking at James 1:12.)