A.W. Tozer called humility “the root of all grace.” James shows the importance of humility in the first chapter of his letter:
9 But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position; 10 and let the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind, and withers the grass; and its flower falls off, and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
This really has to do with our self-image and how we view ourselves in relation to God and man. It is easy to be humble before God, but the real test of humility is where we position ourselves in relation to our fellow men.
In verse 9, James summarizes all the teaching about our exalted position in Christ, and then he immediately contrasts it with our equality among men. Though he does not go into detail, his teaching is consistent with the rest of the apostles and prophets. Paul, for instance, writes in Eph. 2:4-6,
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.
Like James, when Paul speaks of our exalted position in Christ, he reminds us of our reason for humility in verses 8 and 9,
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
Those who have been beaten down tend to think too low of themselves, not because of genuine humility, but because of an inferiority complex. There is a big difference between humility and low self-esteem, but not many truly understand the difference. Humility is a byproduct of grace. An inferiority complex—like pride—is a byproduct of works. Grace teaches us that we have received something that we really did not deserve by our work or effort, but rather by the work of Jesus Christ.
In his study of humility, James recognizes that those of the lower classes enjoy an exalted position in Christ, while the rich and powerful should appreciate God's ways that are designed to bring him the grace of humility.
Remember that we ourselves are in training for the throne. Understand how God trained Joseph and David for the throne. Both were trained through hardship. Both learned faith in God through difficult circumstances. Both wrestled with the old man. Both learned humility, which served them well during their time on the throne.
Paul says that “the saints will judge the world” (1 Cor. 6:2). But everyone's exaltation will be according to their level of humility. Jesus said in Luke 14:11,
11 For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.
Jesus said again in Matt. 20:26-28,
26 ... whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
Jesus is our example of humility.