Summary: James wants us to learn that it doesn’t matter what your status in life is – it matters what your status in heaven is!
“Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.” (James 1:9-11)
Some years ago I knew a doctor’s wife who was a most amazing woman. Every Sunday she would pick up several rather dirty children who lived on her way to town and bring them to church with her. Because of that woman’s faithfulness to God that boy and girl were both baptized. The boy later on went to college; something no one in his family had ever done. Nancy had refused to pass by on the other side as did the Jews in the story of the Good Samaritan.
The sad thing about that true story is that it seems that what that woman did was an unusually laudable thing. It should have been the normal thing in the Body of Christ. James wants us to learn that It doesn’t matter what your status in life is – it matters what your status in heaven is!
I. THE PROBLEM OF PERSISTENT POVERTY
This passage reminds us that being a Christian doesn’t always mean being on top of the world’s list. Most of the Christians James was writing to had given up their homes and past lives because of their decision to follow Christ. As a result, poverty was a reality they knew all too well. So desperate was their situation that James calls them lowly brothers (v.9). The word lowly can mean without money or without other talents and abilities others see as superior.
These Christians actually faced two great trials. First, they faced the trial that anyone would who was in deep poverty. Obviously they faced the rigors of life that any person without material means would. Added to that they had a far more insidious trial to face. They also faced the trial of being looked down on by other, more well-to-do believers. James 2:1-6 records the strong words of James as he brings to light the habit of some people in the church looking down on their own brothers and sisters in Christ of lesser means.
James is plain about this one thing: Being on the bottom of man’s list doesn’t put you on the bottom of God’s list! The reason is that God has no list. The truth is that we as Christians all have the same exaltation (v.9) or rank. Our rank is that of saved by the blood of the Lamb and servants of Jesus Christ.
This passage doesn’t mean that only poor people can really be spiritual nor does it mean you have to take a vow of poverty to serve the Lord. It does mean, however, that for all of us there is only one thing that makes us truly rich – our position in Christ.
II. THE PROMISE OF PASSING PROSPERITY
James turns his attention in James 1:10 to those in the church who were considered well off, physically and financially. His first reminder is this; Earth’s prosperity is not eternal. The warning to the rich man is as a flower of the field he will pass away. Here is a picture of Palestine’s flowers and flowering grasses, which colorfully flourish in February and dry up by May. The prophet Isaiah said, “All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the Lord blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8).
When all is said and done, being on top of the world’s list doesn’t count for much nor does it last for long (see Job 15:29-30; 24:24). David wrote, “Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house is increased; for when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not descend after him” (Psalm 49:16-17).
James 1:11 puts it even more bluntly, so the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.” This can be translated, “so the rich man will wear out in his journey of life.” The journey of life wears away the differences between us. Ronald Reagan was the most powerful man on the face of the earth. Today his condition has left him with no more ability than the person with the same condition in a shack in the Tennessee Mountains.
It is also important to realize that God has allowed the believer to have riches for a season and a reason. The wealthy are instructed to use their wealth for God while they have it. It may not last! (See 1 Timothy 6:17-19.)