Summary: Learning how to assess our importance in a manner that pleases God.
RICH MAN, POOR MAN1e 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.”
The Word of God is countercultural and counterintuitive. Though modern theological thought stresses the need for individuals to endeavour to be acceptable in the sight of social mavens, God’s Word presents the sorrowful observation that the whole of human existence is contaminated by sin. Consequently, we are easily swayed by a person’s social standing or their financial worth. If we are impressed by anyone, it should be that the person knows God, or rather is known by God.
James addresses this issue early in his letter to the dispersed Jewish Christians of the First Century. The issue is of such significance that he will address the tendency of Christians to exalt people on the basis of social standing or on the basis of net worth. James will constantly remind his readers that we are to avoid favouritism toward people, instead esteeming godliness and righteousness. In order to introduce this vital topic and to explore the issues involved, join me in study of the text for this day.
BOASTING THAT IS ENCOURAGED — “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation.” Two people are in view as James begins this portion of his letter. He speaks in generalities as he identifies a brother Christian, and a wealthy outsider. It is important to keep in mind that James is speaking of Christians. When he speaks of “the lowly brother,” do not overlook the fact that he identifies him as a “brother.” Christians are identified as belonging to “the brotherhood” [1 PETER 2:17], because it is composed of brothers in Christ. Ladies, because we live in a world that has never learned the English tongue, the concept is inclusive, embracing even distaff members of the community of faith.
Generally, boasting is seen in a negative light in the New Testament. We could multiply examples, but a few verses should demonstrate the veracity of that statement. Paul cautions Jewish believers that their boasting exposes them to serious consequences. “You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law” [ROMANS 2:23]. Later, in the same letter, he stresses the need for faith and the exclusion of boasting when he writes, “What becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith” [ROMANS 3:27].
Writing the Corinthians, Paul is adamant that “no human being [can] boast in the presence of God [1 CORINTHIANS 1:29]. In fact, he will ask these same proud Christians, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it” [1 CORINTHIANS 4:7]? He concludes, “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump” [1 CORINTHIANS 5:6]?
Defending himself against accusations that he is not a “real” apostle like those whom he refers to as “super-apostles,” Paul tells the Corinthians, “We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart” [2 CORINTHIANS 5:12].
Echoing a statement made to the Romans [cf. ROMANS 2:23], Paul warns the Galatians, “Even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh” [GALATIANS 6:13]. In the encyclical we have received as the Book of Ephesians, one of the best known passages tell us that salvation is the gift of God through faith. Then, clarifying what is meant, the Apostle informs readers that salvation is “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” [EPHESIANS 2:8, 9].
From this brief review of cautionary statements concerning boasting, I learn that we must not boast of self. Our merits and our worth are transient at best and unworthy of boasting. Boasting in individual accomplishments or personal position excludes grace, assuming pride for something over which we ultimately have no control. Though we may work hard, preparing ourselves for success, it is God who blesses us with quick minds and capable bodies to accomplish all that we do and to achieve whatever position we occupy. Our responsibility is to glorify Him in all that we have and do.
Neither should we boast against others. To despise others, as men identified with the world do, is a sign that we have forgotten who made the difference. The apostle rebukes such people: “Why do you judge your brother [ROMANS 14:10, NET BIBLE]?” Tertullian translates this verse, “Why do you nothing him?” He who makes others nothing forgets that God is all in all to himself. Grace is totally different: “We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray and slaves to various passions and pleasures” [TITUS 3:2, 3]. Think of what you are in such a way that you do not forget what you were before grace made the difference.