James 1:9 tells us to “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation,…”
Some may interpret this Scripture as a political sentiment leaning to the left – saying something like this: the poor will be given the wealth that the rich will have to give up. However, James does not indicate in this passage that this is so. In fact, the profit of the lowly (poor) brother is one of perseverance through experiencing difficult circumstances which has the effect of perfecting his character and faith (thus, exaltation). The same effect is wrought for the rich brother who can glory (count it all joy) when he learns through experience that his pursuits for money and his wealth will fade away, thus teaching him he should always trust in the Lord, not himself or his money.
To be sure, if you are poor you are looking for a way to get what you need and want. Then again, if you are rich you are looking for ways to get more of what you need and want. What is different for each of them, then? The difference is not between the desires of the rich and the poor but between the man who trusts in the Lord and the one who does not. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.”
There are many other such passages of Scripture that assure us that God cares for us and is with us in our time of need or plenty (Matthew 6:33, for example). There are just as many that speak about learning contentment in all circumstances (I Timothy 6:6-10 outlines godliness with contentment). So how does a Christian gain contentment at all times? The first rule of thumb is to remember in whose hands we are held. Jeremiah was given the task to remind God’s chosen people of this truth. In Jeremiah 18:1-6, [The Lord told Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house.] “The potter was making something at the wheel, and the vessel that he made was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the Lord said, “
‘…can I not do with you as this potter?’”
Now, I’ve never made pottery, but I am fascinated watching the potter work with clay and water, using his hands to build a base and shape an object, making adjustments or even starting over when the product collapses or tilts to the wrong side. As long as the clay is wet and pliable, the potter continues to form and smooth the vessel until satisfied with the finished design. What an illustration of how God with expertise, patience, and purpose fashions us from the elements of this world into His chosen vessels capable of holding His Spirit to pour out His blessings.
Yes, it is hard to declare that there is purpose in going through trials when one is poor, and it even harder to say that a rich man should lose everything in order to learn godly contentment. (Hey, I’m just the messenger!) As Jeremiah lamented, “O Lord, You induced me, and I was persuaded; You are stronger than I, and have prevailed,” Jeremiah 20:7 Yet, I, too am persuaded by this message that we all, rich or poor, should not trust in man but must trust only in the Lord our God.
From the archives. Originally published October 5, 2015.