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 1:9 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
kauchaomai  boast, glory, joy, rejoice de  and, but, now… (conjunction) ho  the (article or indefinite pronoun) adephos  brother, sibling (connected by womb, literal or figurative) ho  the (article or indefinite pronoun) tapeinos  base, depressed, cast down, low degree, humble en  preposition denoting place: such as in, at, of, through… ho  the (article or indefinite pronoun) hupsos  elevation, altitude, the sky; or be exalted, high degree autos  her, his, it, them (possessive 3rd person pronoun)
1.9.0 Introduction to James 1:9
This passage beginning with verse 9 continues through verse 11. Here James contrasts the high with the low, again using word-pictures, to illustrate how high and low socio-economic stature relate to spiritual conditions. Verse 9 talks about how the believer in a low social or financial status can rejoice in his high place with the Lord. While studying verse 9 we will concentrate on the nature of the “lowly brother.”
1.9.1 What does James mean by “lowly” brother?
The Greek word tapeinos is rendered low degree (KJV), humble circumstances (NIV), or lowly (ESV). Tapeinos literally means not rising far from the ground and metaphorically means a) as a condition: lowly, of low degree b) brought low with grief, depressed c) low in spirit, humble d) in a bad sense, deporting one’s self abjectly, deferring servilely to others. This word is used 8 times in the New Testament and in each case has a fundamentally similar rendering in English.
In context, James appears to be speaking of one’s societal or economic status more than their state of mind, particularly when you see James go on to contrast against the rich man in verse 10. When you step further back and look at this statement in context with the whole of the NT and consider the audience (James 1:1), the societal status of being rejects of the Jewish leadership places almost all of the believers in the category of lowly brothers. If you think of it this way, the rich might also mean those rich in religion, but poor in spirit whereas the lowly Christian brother is beneath the contempt of the Sanhedrin yet is rich in spirit.
1.9.2 What exaltation can a lowly brother boast about?
James 2:5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? From this reference it would seem that God favors the poor. This cannot be the right understanding, though, because we have specific instructions not to be prejudiced based on social status, and that includes the wealthy. Instead, I am reminded of the passage in 1 Peter 2 where Peter talks about Jesus as the cornerstone of our faith, yet also as the stumbling block of non-believers.
In Mt 9:13 Jesus says to the Pharisees: Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Jesus offers something we must realize we need. Those who realize they are sinners in need of salvation are the ones who realize their low position. These are the people who humble themselves before God.
Mk 10:31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first. James merely reinforces what Jesus said. The exultation (lifting up) of the lowly is chiefly salvation, but extends to understanding and wisdom, receiving the Holy Spirit, and other features and benefits you receive as a part of the body of Christ.
Prov 28:11 A rich man is wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has understanding will find him out. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The same can be said of wealth. The man who is rich in his own eyes is near sighted because he doesn’t see beyond his worldly wealth. If a man can see beyond his own wealth to the wealth of God in the form of salvation, which is to say living in the eternal presence of the Lord in Heaven, he would be akin to the man Jesus describes in Mt 13:46-56 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Whatever we have in this world is nothing. When we realize that, when we allow ourselves to be poor in this world and reckon ourselves as such, then we may be exalted.
1.9.3 How is exultation or high position defined?
Greek: Hupsos. Defined as height 1) of measurement; 2) of place, heaven; 3) metaphorically rank or high station. The Greek word hupsos appears 6 times in scripture and in KJV is rendered “be exalted” only once, here in James. In the other cases it is rendered high, on high, or height.
In Lk 1:78, Lk 24:49, Eph 4:8 the hupsos used to describe a location. In Eph 3:18 and Rev 21:16 it is used to describe physical dimensions. James 1:9 is the only instance where hupsos is used metaphorically to describe a person’s condition.
As we have seen several times already and will undoubted see many more times in our study, James artfully illustrates points by comparing and contrasting opposites. In this passage (James 1:9-11), James compares the lowly brother to the rich man. James compares the high or exalted position of the lowly man to the humiliation of the rich man. It seems logical that hupsos would, in context, mean the opposite of tapeinosis, the Greek word in James 1:10 translated as low (KJV and NIV) or humiliation (ESV). If one uses high for one, then low would be the reasonable contrast. If one uses exalted, then humiliation would be the reasonable contrast.
1. to raise in rank, character, or status; to elevate.
2. to glorify, praise, or honor.
3. to increase the effect or intensity of, heighten.
4. to fill with sublime emotion - elate.
1. having a relatively great elevation; extending upward.
2. extending a specified distance upward.
3. far from a reference point.
4. being at or near the peak or culminating stage.
5. advanced development
6. slightly spoiled or gamy or having a bad smell (as spoiled meat)
7. sound pitch as a large number of cycles per second
8. latitudes closer to a pole
9. great importance, rank, status, serious, climax, lofty stirring of events or themes
10. lofty or exalted in quality or character
11. greater than usual or expected in magnitude, cost, or degree
13. great force or violence
14. luxurious or extravagant
15. of or relating to vowels produced with part of the tongue close to the palate as in the long e sound
16. of or relating to gear configuration as in an automotive transmission producing maximum vehicular to engine speed ratio.
In my humble opinion either word (high or exalted) works. The metaphorical use of the original Greek word in context seems to convey a sense of condition. That condition (v9) shows the elevation of the low person. The first time examining the definitions of exalt and high one might conclude that they mean fundamentally the same thing and would be interchangeable. The word “exalt,” however, seems to convey more of a concept of a transition in progress toward higher position rather than already being at that higher position as with the word “high.” Since we don’t realize the fullness of God’s grace and glory in this life, only tasting it here, we hope for its fullness in Heaven. A person in low physical circumstances, therefore, is a person in the process of traveling along the narrow road to heaven. There can be no greater exaltation than salvation where we can come into the presence of Jesus and be allowed to remain. There can be no greater humiliation than being rejected by the ultimate source of grace. That said, to me the use of low and high as words to describe the conditions of poor and rich men seems insufficient when words like exalted and humiliated are available.
1.9.4 What is an example of the “lowly brother?”
2 Cor 6:10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. Here Paul was discussing the nature of his ministry. Included in this description he counts himself as poor, yet making many rich. Paul describes himself as poor, having nothing. Paul understood that nothing in this world will last, and that our new bodies will live in a new place. We can’t take anything from here with us, so since we have nothing to keep, we are indeed poor as the world reckons poor. At the same time Paul indicates he possesses everything. This sounds foolish, but if you realize that having obtained salvation means eternal life basking in the love of our Savior where there will be no more tears, then truly he does possess everything he needs eternally. Paul speaks of making many rich. The only work of eternal value is working with the harvest. God will assign the specific work and the season for your labor, but the work is there to be done. The work of making others rich does not mean “working for the man,” but rather sharing the good news with others so that they too may become rich with knowledge of the Lord unto salvation.