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Boasting In Our Humiliation

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There is a fascinating statement in James 1:10 that has stumped a lot of Christians. James has just told “the lowly brother,” that is, the brother who suffers from material poverty, to “boast in his exultation” (James 1:9). He follows this by telling “the rich” to boast “in his humiliation” (James 1:10). What does this mean? Continue reading . . .

There is a fascinating statement in James 1:10 that has stumped a lot of Christians. James has just told “the lowly brother,” that is, the brother who suffers from material poverty, to “boast in his exultation” (James 1:9). He follows this by telling “the rich” to boast “in his humiliation” (James 1:10). What does this mean?

I don’t think he’s talking about the literal loss of financial wealth that comes as a result of his conversion to Christ. Of course, that may well happen, as it did for those described in Hebrews 10. There we see people who were persecuted and imprisoned for their faith and suffered great material loss as a result: “For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb. 10:34).

But that’s not what James is describing. I think the “humiliation” in which the rich man should boast is as spiritual in nature as the “exaltation” in which the poor man should boast. James is referring to his discovery that worldly distinctions based on wealth and influence and power are ultimately meaningless. It is his discovery that he who is great in the eyes of men is small in the presence of Christ. We are quickly coming to realize here in the U.S. what Christians worldwide have always known, namely, that to be identified with Jesus is considered a reproach by the power-brokers in our society; it is a reason to be humiliated so far as the non-Christian world is concerned.

Or again, it’s much the same perspective that Paul embraced following his conversion. In terms of worldly stature, success, and influence, Paul had achieved much. But when he came to Christ his evaluation of what mattered most drastically changed:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8).

To “boast” in your “humiliation” means that you happily embrace what Jesus said in John 15:18-19 –

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18 that the word of the cross which we loudly proclaim is regarded as “folly” by the unbelieving world. Again, says Paul, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). Thus, our “humiliation” is our willingness to be thought of by others as proclaiming a message of “foolishness” and “weakness”.

We boast in our “humiliation” when we “share in suffering for the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:8). We gladly celebrate our “humiliation” when, as Jesus says, we “deny” ourselves and take up our “cross” and “follow” him (Matt. 16:24). Again, Paul tells us what it means to “boast” in our “humiliation” when he says in Galatians 6:14 – “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

It can all easily be summed up in the words of the author of Hebrews, when he said: “Therefore let us go to him [that is, to Christ] outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (Heb. 13:13).

In summary: If you are poor, don’t let your financial deprivation blind you to your heavenly inheritance. If you are rich, remember that this life and all your wealth and status are transient, temporary, no more durable than the grass of the field that so easily is scorched and withers away (James 1:10b-11). He whose thoughts, desires, motives, and ambitions are tied up with the wealth of this world is like the glory of the grass: here today, scorched by the hot wind tomorrow.

So, whether you are rich or poor, powerful or lacking influence, look to your spiritual identity in Christ as the measure of your significance and the value of your life. If you are poor, you are probably tempted to feel insignificant and of no effect because the world only places value on what you accomplish or how much you earn. James says, rejoice and boast in your exalted status as one who sits enthroned in the heavenlies with Jesus Christ!

If you are rich, you are probably tempted to think too highly of yourself because the world thinks highly of you. James says, remember that everything you now own will one day wither and pass away like the flowers of the field. So embrace your identity as one who is a follower and lover of him whom the world despised and rejected. Jesus was lowly and despised by the wealthy and wise of this world. Happily suffer the same humiliation that he did.

1 Comment

Pastor Sam,

This was timely. I'm currently attempting to memorize James. I'm finding that studying the text is a helpful way to commit it to memory. Verse 10 has indeed been a sticking point. This post is clear, illuminating, and compelling.

Thanks for writing!

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