James 1:9-11 9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: 10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. 11 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. – KJV
James 1:9-11 9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. – NIV
James 1:9-11 9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 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. – ESV
Greek Transliteration of James 1:10 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
ho  the (article or indefinite pronoun) de  and, but, now… (conjunction) plousios  wealthy, rich en  preposition denoting place: such as in, at, of, through… ho  the (article or indefinite pronoun) tapeinosis  depression (in rank or feeling), made low, low estate, vile, humiliation autos  her, his, it, them (possessive 3rd person pronoun) hoti  that, which… (conjunction) hos  while, even as, as soon as, since, so that… (adv) anthos  flower, blossom chortos  court or garden of vegetation parerchomai  come near, approach, pass by or away; fig: perish, neglect, avert, past, transgress
1.10.0 Introduction to James 1:10
Verse 10 establishes the contrast by introducing the rich man. It offers the rich man hope by instructing him how to come to the same joy as the poor man and why he needs to do so. In the study of this verse we shall examine the nature of riches, pride, and passing away.
1.10.1 How do you define wealth?
Col 2:2-3 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Paul was writing to folks he knew of behalf of other believers who hadn’t actually met him face to face. Paul wanted to share with them the very most important thing he could share. Paul was a very wealthy man in the spirit. Though he certainly had the means to live comfortably in the world, he counted understanding and wisdom of God as more valuable than anything worldly. These treasures he sought to share, and no matter your opinion of Paul, he wrote more words which are today accepted as part of the NT than any other single NT author, and nearly all of them are letters to distant believers with whom he desperately desired to share from the riches of his trove of wisdom poured out to him from the Spirit.
Prov 10:22 The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.  ( alternate: and toil adds nothing to it) I included the sub-note with this verse because it would sound more logical in English this way. For those of you who prefer KJV or NIV, they read like ESV here also, so it isn’t just my translation. The note doesn’t explain the reason for the alternate translation, either. I find the variation is important, however, for the sake of understanding the nature of true Godly wealth. Eph 2:8-9 proclaims grace comes by faith and not by works. This verse from Proverbs explains that the blessings of the Lord not only make us rich, but (using the alternate interpretation) no works we can do will change His blessing of richness. To me this confirms yet again that Jesus never changes, his words are a constant, and that salvation has always been available through unearned grace, requiring faith.
1.10.2 Does God care if you have material wealth?
Mt 19:16-26 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Here Jesus is saying it is hard, but then he says it is possible. The problem isn’t the person having the possession. The problem is possessions having the person.
Looking for examples from scripture to help answer this question, Job is the first person I would look at. Job 1:2-3 says There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. Job started out with great material wealth. Job cared for God and for his children. So much so he daily gave offerings on behalf of his children because his heart so yearned that they love God as he did (Job 1:5). God cared about Job, not his things. That’s why he allowed Satan to take everything from Job, short of his life. In the end Job remained faithful to God. He wasn’t perfect, and God did straighten Job out about a few things, but when the test was complete Job was given far more than he’d started with (Job 42:10-17). Through all the ups and downs, Job and God cared more about each other than things or words of other men. Regardless of what rewards might be available to us in this life, if our heart is constantly yearning for and seeking God such that we obey Him in our love, then our ultimate reward will far greater than anything we could hope for in this life.
There are many more examples like this, such as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, even Jonah. People who sought God through various trials and went through ups and downs, but whether they were enjoying a period of earthly prosperity or loss, they kept their eyes on the Lord who saw them through it all.
So to answer the question, I really don’t think God cares how “well we do” in terms of material wealth if we keep our attention on Him. Whatever wealth we have (or don’t have) serves His purpose. We fool ourselves to think our purpose is our own, so we should just simply accept His purpose and embrace it.
1.10.3 What should you do with material wealth?
Mk 10:21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Jesus did one thing consistently, and that was to confront people with whatever lie they believed. He always told them what the lie was, and that they must forsake that lie and align themselves with Truth, which is to say accepting the fact Jesus is Lord and submitting accordingly. In this case, Jesus confronted the rich young man with his false god, his wealth. If the man would have turned from his false god (wealth) and accepted the Lordship of Jesus, he would have been happy. Instead, he went away sad. The man might have known Proverbs 10:15 and simply misunderstood it. Or perhaps he felt the money brought him happiness and Jesus wasn’t offering what he thought was better. That’s the flaw discussed in the third reference today (below).
Prov 10:15 A rich man’s wealth is his strong city; the poverty of the poor is their ruin. Most people would read this and think God is saying we need to accumulate wealth in this life as best we can to protect our families and avoid ruin. I confess, I thought the same thing myself when I first read it. Then, with prayer, God revealed something more to me. There are at least two other ways of looking at this passage. First, the spiritual wealth of the Holy Spirit places you in the company of fellow believers, a part of the Body of Christ. There is strength in numbers, and the New Jerusalem is surely going to be a fine city. The poverty of the poor, in contrast, speaks to the spiritually poor who will face ruin in that day. Second: Yet another revelation about this verse can be drawn from the “golden rule.” If you share your wealth, you build a stronger community. Share your material wealth with your fellow believers who are less fortunate and your whole group benefits. It tears down strife and envy and you fulfill what James calls a good religion (Jas 1:27). The poor, and more specifically those who see themselves as having very little, thus are unwilling to share what little they do have and are ruined by their hardened hearts. They are truly ruined.
Rev 3:15-18 I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. In this passage the Lord is speaking to the Church of Laodicea. This passage could be the subject of weeks of study, but I’m going to get to what I think applies to the question at hand. The Lord is telling these people they don’t realize how wretched they are, wallowing in their wealth instead of helping those who really need it. These are people who are well to do and think they’ve gotten what the Lord has to give them. They don’t see they’ve been deceived. Their wealth is a lie, distracting them from true obedience to the Lord’s highest command – to love one another. If they loved one another, they would serve each other while serving the Lord. In fact, they would serve those in need because in doing so, they are serving the Lord. If they would see themselves as God sees them, they would realize the need to zealously help those less fortunate and would step into the mission field right before their eyes. You don’t have to travel 5000 miles to be a missionary. Sometimes 5 feet will be far enough. By repenting (changing their thinking to align themselves to God), they would through their obedience by buying the gold of true wealth, the white robes which cover our shame, and the anointing which allows us to see clearly what is now so dim.
1.10.4 What do you think about these situations (Straw Man Exercise):
1. If a man steals a million dollars from a bank, should he tithe it?
2. If you represented the church receiving money from a criminal, would you have any problems accepting the money once you found out where it came from?
3. Now replace “steals” with “wins”, replace “bank” with “casino”, and replace “criminal” with “winner”. Would it make any difference? Why or why not?
Ex 20:15 You shall not steal. This makes the thief a sinner. We know that through the merciful Grace of Jesus that any sin may be forgiven. Forgiveness of sin and erasure of earthly consequences are not the same thing. God doesn’t want to receive the stolen goods (Mal 1:13). It’s a felony. Legally it would be your responsibility to turn in the thief, no matter their intended use for the ill-gotten gain.
Ex 20:17 You shall not covet… I read numerous well written arguments concerning gambling and concluded that gambling violates the tenth commandment. The purpose of gambling is to acquire money through no honest work, and to quickly accumulate that wealth. It is the desire for wealth that drives gambling, circumventing God’s intended methods accumulating wealth.
Isaiah 65:11-12 refers to people who set a table for Fortune and cups of mixed wine for Destiny. Fortune and Destiny were both ancient far east gods representing what amounts to gambling. In that passage the Lord goes on to say death awaits them because they forget the Lord, delighting in evil.
2 Ki 18:23 is part of a passage that speaks of a wager offered by the King of Assyria to King Hezekiah. In context this would seem to support a position against gambling, but it isn’t explicit.
Searching for the subject of casting lots I found more than 20 entries. In most cases those casting lots were determining God’s will. Some examples include Aaron, Joshua, Saul, David, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah etc. That seems to run counter to our notions about gambling. Pr 16:33 puts these events in context by explaining why the people of God would gamble for their decisions: The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.
Where the casting of lots may be a tool God can use for decision making, casting lots to gamble money is entirely different matter, falling clearly into the purview of Isaiah 65. It is from casting lots that we get our modern term lottery.
Straw Man Summary
The bottom line is the money from theft or from a get-rich scheme such as gambling is tainted and unacceptable to the Lord. To receive such would be like the priests described by Malachi (see 1.10.5). You have civil responsibilities if the money was obtained illegally and a responsibility to God even if it wasn’t illegal. It makes no difference what charity the money goes to, anonymous or otherwise. Until the sinner is reconciled to God the money given would only be an anchor around his neck. Nothing that man can do can repay his sin (Eph 2:8-9). Only grace can preserve life eternally. Of course God can use the money anyway, if He chooses, and since His ways are not our ways it isn’t my place to judge if and how he could turn the tainted into the pure since he certainly has that authority. Beware, dear pastors and church reps, that if you knowingly accept such money, you are as guilty as the sinner who brought it to you.
1.10.5 Does God care how you obtain material wealth?
Malachi 1:13 But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. (For complete context read the whole chapter.) The Lord says stolen goods or money will not be accepted by Him, whether the priests accepted on His behalf them or not. God wants your best, from what is honest and true and pure, whether it is a material offering or an offering of the heart.
1.10.6 How does material wealth affect your faith?
Mk 10:22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. The rich young man’s wealth stood between him and what he really needed to believe in. Jesus confronted him with the purest and most stark choice, and he chose to believe in his earthly wealth instead of Jesus. After seeing this example and seeing what kinds of true wealth is available with genuine faith, would you make the same choice as the young man?
Prov 11:28 Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. This scripture stands in stark contrast with Prov 10:15, proving it must mean something other than what it seems to say on the surface. Prov 11:28 explains that earthly riches are temporary, but Godly riches (in the form of righteousness) are eternal.
Rev 3:17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. The rich man, like most people, trusts what he knows. He knows what money can do. Giving up what you know, particularly when you know that thing (wealth) brings you a sense of physical security and comfort, is extremely difficult for most people.
1.10.7 Are you rich?
The Greek word plousios appears 28 times in scripture and every time is translated as the word rich. The literal definition is wealthy, abounding in material resources. It metaphorically means abounding or abundantly supplied, as with Christian virtues or eternal possessions.
Mt 14:16-20 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over.
How much “stuff” do you have? Stuff can include money, time, skills, information, trust, or anything else of value. Are you doing what you should with that stuff? Do you have stuff another person needs? How about the eternal stuff? Do you have enough of that stuff? The great thing about eternal stuff is the more you give away, the more you have left. This is an important aspect of Jesus feeding the 5000. If it is from God, and you obey God and give away what came from God, He – being the creator that He is – will see to it you have more left than you started with. Do you have your mustard seed?
1.10.8 What advice is given to the rich?
1 Tim 6:17-19 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. This passage speaks for itself.
1.10.9 Where is your treasure?
Heb 11:24-27 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. Moses chose the reproach of Christ over all the wealth of Egypt. His example of treasure is humbling.
1.10.10 Why does James talk about riches in the context of an overall discussion about temptation and trials?
The consistent theme of James as a book is one of determining the substance of faith in the form of action, which is to say how we live our lives. James begins his letter by cutting straight to the issue of testing faith through trials and temptations. Material wealth is certainly a temptation to many. Remember what the temptation of money did to Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). Finance is one of the most popular topics in the whole of the bible, touched on to one degree or another by nearly every biblical author. Given the nature of James’ letter, it’s a wonder he didn’t write more on the subject of materialism.
1.10.11 What does James mean by humiliation (ESV), low position (NIV) or made low (KJV)?
The Greek word used is tapeinosis. It appears 4 times in scripture. This is a form of the same Greek word used in James 1:9 to characterize the status of the brother as lowly. (Tapeinos, the form of the word used in James 1:9 was covered by question 1.9.1.) After expanding my research, I learned KJV always translates tapeinosis as some form of the word low. NASB, however, renders tapeinosis as either humiliation or humble state each time it is used in scripture. Grammatically, humiliation or low position is an adjective which modifies the rich man via the preposition translated “in.”
In context, its seems obvious the abundant resources of the rich man are at best a strike against him. From lessons learned through earlier questions we know the rich man will have more difficulty laying hold of salvation than a man of humble means (Luke 18:25). The more of anything a person has, the more God will expect of that person regarding what they’ve been given. This is true of all gifts from wisdom and knowledge (James 3:1) to money (1 Tim 6:17-19), just as Jesus taught in the Parable of the Talents (Mt 24:14-30).
To actually answer the study question, though, the humiliation or low state the rich man is brought to could be metaphorical just as easily as physical. Each person is unique and special, so to each person God may uniquely apply this wisdom, I think. Certainly the best thing is when the heart is humbled and the attitude of the rich man is brought into alignment with the Will of God. When a man’s material wealth is taken, a humbling before God may be the result. I think the Lord would be more pleased, though, if we humble ourselves first and submit to give God what is His first.
1.10.12 Why do people desire material things?
1 Pe 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. The key word is passion, and it all goes back to the fall of Adam. We cannot know for sure, but it seems likely neither Adam nor Eve even contemplated disobeying God’s instructions about the trees or anything else until the deceiver came. Satan was able to create a desire in Eve through the introduction of his lie. Desire for things other than God have carried down through all men since. Peter reminds us that our earthly passions war against us. What the body desires, from money to sex, is a natural genetic defect and it opposes God.
Ex 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” The 10th commandment uses the word covet rather than desire or passion or want, but the idea is the same. People want. Who wants what they already have?
After eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, the first couple came to knowledge of their failure, that they were found lacking. As a result of the fall, God was no longer in communion with them as He was before. The false desire to be like God lead to the fall and the subsequent breakdown in the man-God relationship. Since then man has sought to replace what was lost in the fall. The flesh always desires. The unregenerate man lives as a slave to the desires of the flesh, seeking to replace what was lost with things of the world.
The good news is that God came to repair the damage. The healing process began with Christ in his victory over death (Jn 20:19-20) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Ac 2:1-4) to indwell the believers (Jn 3:16), regenerating them (2 Cor 5:17). The process also ends with Christ (Rev 21:6) returning and bringing the believers to their home (Rev 22:14).
1.10.13 Who will pass away?
Pr 11:4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. Grammatically it appears James is saying the rich will pass away. This in no way means that the lowly will not also pass away, but rather it speaks to the rich man specifically as a reminder that his wealth will pass from him when he passes away. Though his wealth might help him in this life, his money won’t extend his earthly life or help him with eternity. Only righteousness can be stored up for Heaven.