Scripture on Sunday – James 1:9

Saint_James_the_JustJames 1:9
Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up.

At first glance these verses appear to mark an abrupt change of theme and help support the idea that James is a collection of unrelated homiletical materials pieced together to form a letter representing the central themes of James’ teaching. It is possible, however, to read these verses as part of James’ overall theme in the first part of this chapter. First, verse twelve will return to the theme of the blessedness of those who endure under trial, suggesting that all the material from at least verse two through to verse twelve belongs together. Second, the opening word of verse nine (kauchasthō) is another third person singular imperative, extending the string of imperatives James has used in his opening section. Further, the word means to boast or to glory in which is not too far removed in concept if not language, from the opening thought of verse two where James exhorts his hearers to ‘count it all joy.’ In Psalm 149:5 (LXX) the word is set in parallel with joy: “Let the godly ones exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds.” Finally, a number of commentators understand these verses as an application of the opening section, identifying a particular trial, and indeed likely the major form of trial, being experienced by James’ community. The theme of wealth and riches, and the temptations associated with them recurs throughout the letter. The second chapter especially, indicates that this is a present trial and temptation for the community. Together, these contextual clues suggest that these verses should be understood as a continuation of the primary theme in this first chapter. That is, the community is to rejoice in the midst of their ongoing trials, enduring them steadfastly with faith, hope, and prayer for wisdom, and especially with reference to the vexed issue of economic difficulty, privation and temptation.

James turns his attention first to the lowly brother or sister(ho adelphos ho tapeinos), the reference to ho adelphos indicating that he refers not to the lowly in general, but to those in the community of God’s people. Tapeinos means humble or lowly, but in this context, especially given the contrast with ho plousios in verse ten, is to be interpreted in socio-economic terms rather than with respect to attitude or demeanour. The word is used in this sense in the Old Testament, and often in contexts in which the Lord is near to those who are tapeinos, to hear their prayer and to judge in their favour (e.g. Psa. 10:18; 18:27; 34:18; 102:17; Isa. 11:4). In 4:6 James will cite Proverbs 3:34 which declares that God gives grace to the tapeinos. Such favour is also in view in 2:5 where God has chosen the poor (ptōchos) to be the heirs of his kingdom. James, therefore, exhorts the person in ‘humble circumstances’ (NASB; NIV) to glory in their high position (NASB; en tō hypsei autou) because (reading en in a causative sense) they have been ‘raised up.’

Everything depends on the reality of this exaltation. Already they are the recipients of God’s grace and the special objects of God’s favour. Although not rich in this world they are rich in faith (2:5) and as such are heirs of the eternal kingdom. This, too, is divine wisdom, as James brings an eschatological worldview to bear on the circumstances of his readers. Only on the basis of divine grace and promise may the poor rejoice. From an earthly perspective they have no reason to boast. Just as joy in the midst of suffering is counter-intuitive, so too is boasting in the midst of poverty and affliction. But in the light of God’s present favour and eschatological promise, they may indeed boast for they have been made brothers and sisters in the very family of God.

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