STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“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.”
By nature, none of us consider humiliation a good thing. When people say, “I feel so humiliated,” they don’t say it with a cheerful ring to their voice. In fact, the very definition of humiliate means “to cause a painful loss of pride.” And our sinful flesh will claw and bite and fight if the pain we experience has anything to do with our sinful pride. And so, by nature, humiliation is something that we fear and avoid. But James explains that it is in that painful, unpleasant humiliation that we can find our glory.
James first addresses those Christians who are at the bottom of the social and economic ladder; the ones working hard every single day to put food on the table, with very few leftovers. “Dirt poor,” some would say. For those people at the absolute bottom in life, fears and concerns abound. Along with those fears comes the incredible temptation to get more, fast—by stealing, gambling, or cheating. Such hardship can cause people to become bitter and resentful toward those with greater means. And sadly, it can lead some people to absolute despair.
Instead, James tells the lowly brother, “Glory in your exaltation.” In doing so, James is pointing the lowly brother to Jesus, the One who was humiliated in the highest degree so that humble sinners might be exalted. No matter how poor or humiliated the Christian may become, he remains eternally wealthy through faith in Jesus. This is why Job could still praise God even after losing everything. It’s why Paul and Silas could sing hymns of praise while chained in prison. It’s why the early Christians could boldly walk into the Colosseum where lions were waiting to tear them to pieces. Yes, it’s in those life moments in which everything is stripped away and things are darkest that we are able to see the riches we have in Jesus most clearly, most completely, most brilliantly.
James continues by addressing the wealthy Christian. The great and constant danger for the wealthy Christian is to think that his glory is tied to the size of his bank account. When the bank account is overflowing, there is the temptation for the rich man to think he can have anything, do anything, be anything he wants. Instead, James tells the rich Christian, “Glory in your humiliation.”
It’s a glorious thing to be told that we all pass away like the flower of the field because it reminds us of our mortality. It reminds us that we are not to live for this life only. It reminds us that since everything in life is passing away, we need to look someplace else for salvation. It reminds us that we need a Savior.
Whether a person is rich or poor does not matter. What matters is poverty of spirit. What matters is having a broken heart over sins. What matters is seeing how naked we stand before the judgment seat of God. And that ability to see one’s own nakedness and poverty and brokenness is a necessary and glorious gift from God. For when He opens our eyes to see that our hands are completely empty, He then is able to place into those empty hands the full atonement and complete righteousness of Jesus.
Let us then glory in the necessary pain of the loss of pride, for in that glorious humiliation we are best able to see Jesus. And in Jesus, we have been given the greatest wealth imaginable: eternal redemption.
Chad Seybt is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming.