James 1:9-11 on Being Rich and Poor

It has become clear in only 11 verses that James is interested in demonstrating just how much the Christian’s perspective should be different from the world’s.  Having encouraged his readers to find joy in the midst of trials he moves on to encourage them to rethink their attitude towards both poverty and riches.  The poor brother is to glory in his high position while the rich brother is to glory in his humiliation.  What is this high position that the poor brother is to glory in? 


The Christian is to have a different perspective on wealth and social status.  The poor man is not to evaluate himself by the same standards as the world.  While in the world’s eyes he may be of little or no importance he is to remember that in Christ he is an adopted son of God the Father. He has an inheritance awaiting him in heaven that will not fade away.  This inheritance is secure as opposed to the wealth of the world which passes away like a flower scorched by the wind.


The rich brother, on the other hand, is to glory in his humiliation. Though he may be tempted to glory in his wealth, power and status he too must live according by a different standard.  While no less assured of a secure inheritance in heaven the rich brother should keep in mind that he has been made a bond-servant of the one who although He existed in the form of God made Himself a bond-servant.


If you’re like me you’re probably tempted to think, “I sure hope I get to be glorying in my humiliation and not in my high position.”  In spite of the fact that the bible is filled with warnings about the love of money we still persist in thinking that it is preferable to be wealthy.  For some reason we just assume that the best life is the life of ease and abundance.  Why do I think it’s better to be rich?  I sat down this morning and listed a few reasons:


  • Life will be easier with money than without.
  • There will be less to worry about.
  • I’ll get more respect.

But just a moment of reflection leads to plenty of biblical reasons why these assumptions aren’t necessarily true. Psalm 73 tells me that those who appear to live at ease are set on slippery places. Is it true that there will be less to worry about?  A quick scan of the financial page tells me that those with money have plenty to worry about these days. And according to Philippians 4:6 I shouldn’t be anxious when I don’t have money anyway. Finally, how can I have the same attitude that was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) if I’m seeking the respect of men?


Let me close by saying that I don’t believe James is teaching that one should remain poor just for the sake of being poor. Nor do I believe that James is prescribing poverty as the necessary state of the believer.  I do believe that James is teaching us to be more concerned with eternal riches than we are with earthly wealth.

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