Have you ever stopped to consider what it is that you boast in? It’s not often something we think about, yet our answer to the question is crucial. People boast in the things they perceive as valuable. In other words, one’s boasting is an “affections barometer,” continually exposing those things that are truly valuable in a person’s life.
Often we think of boasting in a negative sense. But, in James 1:9-11, we see believers encouraged to boast in a particular way. These verses are unique in that they appear immediately following James’ encouragement to remain steadfast under trial (James 1:2-4). At first glance, they seem to come out of nowhere. He writes:
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him." (James 1:2-5)
Spiritual perfection — which is the goal of trials — will only be achieved if we have wisdom from God. Without wisdom, we will never have the perception needed to face trials with steadfastness. When you and I encounter trials, we need the ability to see what God is doing, to see that our trials are not wasted. However, we not only need the wisdom to face trials which is promised in verse 5; we also need a different perspective. We need to see things from God’s point of view. This is the purpose of verses 9-11. James explains how we are to boast when trials come into our life — he tells us what we are to perceive as valuable.
"Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the 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." (James 1:9-11)
Perhaps these verses seem a little odd to you. You might wonder what they have to do with trials. But James is doing something incredible here. He is giving us an eternal perspective through which we can view our circumstances. Notice that to both the rich and poor, he offers the same perspective with unique applications.
To The Poor
To the poor, he says: “Don’t make your identity about what you do not have. Instead, boast (or take pride) in the fact that you are exalted in Christ.” James says boast in your exaltation. Boast in that fact that, in Christ, you have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). This life is about more than the monetary blessing. And believers have received the greatest blessings of all.
To The Rich
James gives a similar command to those who are wealthy. He says: “Boast in your humiliation.” In other words, don’t boast in the things that you have. Boast in the fact that, as a Christian, you have the chance to identify with Jesus.
"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." Luke 9:23
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:5-8)
To be a Christian means that we embrace suffering and humble ourselves as Jesus did. If we want to be like Jesus and if we’re going to follow Jesus, it means that we will be willing to embrace shame and humility. The riches of this world come and go – they are passing away.
James tells both the rich and the poor, not to focus on the wealth of this world but to focus on who they are in Jesus and what they have in Him. When trials come, and we lose things that are valuable to us, we need this eternal perspective to endure trials well.