Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:
But the rich, in that he is made low; because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away
For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
~ James 1:9-11, KJV ~
My father was a Vietnam Vet and served 2 years in the Navy. He spent 16 years in the Army. He also grew up from the school of hard knocks. Overcoming alcoholism and doing his best to provide for his family. He worked hard – despite any pain and suffering. As I grew older – he’d say to me: Son, you are going to leave this house the same way you came into this world. Bare ass naked and broke. Of course, I shrugged it off and chuckled at the thought. Never occurred to me the ring of truth of what he said in that statement. I now realized that I had left naked and broke many occasion.
Everyone is born without riches, glory, prestige. Our life begins with nakedness and lacking any adequate means to care for our own needs. As we age, we become dependent on others to care for our own needs. In life, we are born naked and broke. In death, we’re buried naked and broke. How we live our lives determines our eternal destination and legacy.
Our Nakedness in Birth, Life, and Death
When you think of nakedness it is of the image where a person has no clothes. Yet, naked refers to something uncovered, lacking means of support, without protection. It also refers to something that is without additions, ornaments, disguises, or embellishments. Something that is plain or stark. Our birth is without any addition, ornaments, disguises or embellishments. We are uncovered, lack any means of support, and without protection. Nakedness of birth, life, and death is our mere vulnerability to those adversities that come our way.
Leaving the protection of the family home – I am left vulnerable to the world. Without the protection of my parents hard work to keep food on the table, roof over head, and providing transportation to scouts, camping and fishing trips, family vacations. I left bare and lacking any means to stand on my own two feet. It was a real struggle for me.
Yet, God does not leave us naked. He does not leave us without means of support. Our Loving Heavenly Father does not leave us vulnerable to the cares and whims of the world. He knows we are going to face our challenges. And this is what I believe James is sharing with us today.
The previous verses focused on facing our times of adversity with joy. Finding purpose and meaning in storms that come our way and not be of double-mind. It seems that when we get to verses 9-11, James takes a detour. This is not the case. For James is keeping up with how everyone experiences their seasons of difficulty. James warns us of the problems associated with the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10) compared to being in a position of humility. Here, James is contrasting the difference between being exalted in our poverty compared to being prideful and fallen because of our love for prestige and prosperity.
There is something unique about being brought low. Something about being brought to one’s knees in humility. We are stripped naked of our pride and ego in order to surrender over to God who created us.Tweet
James is illustrating that regardless of our status in life – we all stand naked before God as broken vessels. We stand naked in life before God because He sees us for what we have become and how we have lived our lives. We either live with envy and jealousy of those who have attained some level of affluence; or, we live with pride and ego where we oppress those who are in poverty. Either way, our nakedness is revealed. Our brokenness is exposed. And the best way for this to happen is for us to experience adversity.
Adversity Exposes Us to the Reality of God’s Plan of Salvation
Our Heavenly Father’s desire is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of each and every one of us. He already laid forth this plan prior to creation.
He also knew we are going to face difficult times during this mortal life. Before us is the choice to faithfully seek Him during those seasons we experience adversity. Or we merely seek our own ways to manage and deal with adversity. The right way leads us to a life that is fulfilling, strengthening of our faith, and spiritual growth. Unfortunately, the other path leads to suffering, destruction, and despair.
Adam and Eve had the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden. They also had the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Both stood in opposition to one another. Had they not partaken of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would not have experienced any adversity. A state of innocence with no growth. No faith. All needs are met. Yet, they fell in disobedience and were exposed to their own nakedness and awareness of their vulnerability. They were stripped of any divine vestige.
Today, we experience the same. Adversity strips us of any vestige of pride and self-righteousness. Strips us of our envying and covetousness toward others. Whether rich or poor, adversity strips us of all but our realization of God’s divine plan and purpose for us. If we are poor, we boast in our poverty as a means to exalt ourselves. If we are rich, we boast in our own glory and confidence.
James uses the imagery of the Sun and how it causes the grass and the flowers to wither of their grace and beauty. The same happens to those who are wealthy. Their life fades away. The beauty, the grace, and the fashioned trends that once adorned a person no longer has any affect. They are brought low to the dust of earth. And to the one who is impoverish, God alone exalts and to which we have reason to boast.
Whether in Poverty or Wealth – Humility is the Virtue of Rich Faith
As we experience adversity in our lives, we stand in sheer reverence of God’s sovereign grace. Andrew Murray says this:
The call to humility has been too little regarded in the Church, because its true nature and importance has been too little apprehended. It is not a something which we bring to God, or he bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness, which comes when we see how truly God is all, and in which we make way for God to be all.Humility and Absolute Surrender – Christian Classics – Andrew Murray
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“The condition of God’s blessing is absolute surrender of all into His hands. If our hearts are willing for that, there is no end to what God will do for us, and to the blessings God will bestow.”
–from Absolute Surrender
Greatly concerned for the spiritual guidance of new converts, and for spiritual growth in long-time Christians, Murray penned some of the most enduring devotional classics of Christian literature. The two beloved works in this volume reflect Murray’s longing for a deeper life in Christ and his prayer that others would long for and experience that life as well.
Genuine faith stems from genuine humility. Our humility and faith is shaped from those trials we face in our lives. We are richly blessed beyond measure. The challenge is to keep ourselves humble regardless of how blessed we are. I also want to add that humility is the means in which we shore up treasures in heaven and not here on earth (see Matthew 6:19-20). It is not one of many Christian Virtues. It is the root of all Christian virtues. Humility is the root of genuine faith in God.
How do we find strength in our own sufferings? How do we boast and be exalted? Let us turn to Paul’s example when he wrote to the Corinthian Church (see, 2 Corinthians 11:16-33). He boasts of his sufferings and infirmities. Clifford M. Yeary says this:
For Paul, his sufferings, which he calls weaknesses, are boast-worthy precisely because they leave so much room for God’s strength to be revealed in Paul’s life. Three times he had asked God for release from a particular (but not explicitly named) affliction, only to be told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). For that reason, Paul goes on to say, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10).
Through humility, and the adversity we experience that shapes our faith in God, we glory and are lifted up in our weaknesses and poverty. Our very own nakedness is clothed with the righteousness of Christ in that we are favored of God. Through our faith, we do not wither away. Nor do we perish. Our faith does not cause us to fade away.
Words of Truth Redefined
It used to be that when I reflected on what my dad said about how I’d leave the family home had typically resulted in deep rooted bitterness and resentment. It was not until Heavenly Father had opened my heart and mind to the reality of truth hidden in those words. For me, God had redefined my father’s words to fully understand the truth.
I had left the home naked and broke. I have left many places naked and broke. Each time, it was God bringing me to a place of humility. Through my despair, hopelessness, and even nakedness was I receptive to His grace and truth. And when I pass from this life to the next – it will be through nakedness and without riches of the world. I will, like many who have and will, leave this world bare ass naked and broke.
Today, there is a choice before you and I. We either choose to spend our lives chasing after those things that we believe will bring our own sense of peace and happiness, found our own means and ways to manage through difficult times. Or, we choose to humble ourselves before God and seek His will for our lives. He has a plan and a purpose. We just need to be humble. Our wealth or poverty is short lived. The love and glory of God’s grace and salvation is enduring.