"But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away." (James 1:9-11)In speaking of the humble, James is not referring to those who are humble in the attitudes or spirit but rather those who are of low estate in life; those who have been oppressed and humiliated by their station and circumstances of life. However, even in their low degree, they can still find reason to glory.
In the early church, the Christian gospel did more to unify men and women of all stations of life than any other religion past or present. During their gatherings, and in their Love Feasts, slaves and masters, rich and paupers, fellowshiped together around a common table rejoicing in their common salvation and their common hope of eternal life. They were no longer divided along class distinctions, nor along economic lines, rather they were all one in unison in the Body of Christ.
For the lowly, they were elevated to a place of importance; importance with God and with their brothers and sisters. They were given precious gifts that the world could not receive and they partook of a table of blessing reserved only for the children of God. Their lives were lifted from the ordinary to being kings and priests before God. Though they were poor in this life, and in what the world had to offer, God gave them consolation, benefits far beyond what the world could offer. Later, James will remind us, "did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" (James 2:5) The poor may be poor in this life, yet he is the inheriter of eternal riches both now and in the age to come.
For the exalted, James reminds them not to exalt in their present circumstances. This world is fading away along with their riches and pursuits. Those who glory in this life are glorying in that which is already condemned and is passing away. Paul reminds us that, "those who use the world, [should be] as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away." (1 Corinthians 7:31) There is a deception that overtakes those who are exalted in this life. "Their inner thought is that their houses are forever and their dwelling places to all generations; they have called their lands after their own names. But man in his pomp will not endure; he is like the beasts that perish." (Psalm 49:11-12) The exalted man should glory that he has been delivered from this deception; that he has inherited a new life that does not consist of the things of this world. His glory is not that he has been made low but rather that he has been freed from being high. He is lo longer the slave of his position and possessions. He is now free to pursue a life of holiness, temperance, and generosity. He is no longer the prisoner of his wealth but its master. Finally, in his "humiliation" he is brought into relationship with other believers great and small; he has become part of a family that loves one another and is loved by their Father in heaven. What wealth could not provide him, he has found in the gospel.
The gospel should be that which unites us regardless of our standing in life. The gospel unifies us as one body, one family, and one nation before God. Paul tells us, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:27-29) Let us learn to live united before God.