James 1:9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they 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 will fade away even while they go about their business.
The theme of contrasting the rich and the poor is a common theme in the book of James. Since James is such a practical letter, one of the most practical things we can focus on is what are we to do with our material resources. A lot of people like to divorce the material from the spiritual. This leads to the conclusion that being materially wealthy is sinful, and being poor is automatically spiritual. We all know that there are rich people who are totally devoted servants of God, who use the resources they have been given to advance the kingdom. The last time I checked almost every kingdom advancing mission needs resourcing.
And likewise the other conclusion is that just because someone is poor does not mean they are being obedient to God. Could someone who is poor have ended up that way because they were lazy, or were foolish with what they had been given? Obviously on the flip side a rich person could be greedy and living only for earthly pleasures. And as the passage says, their riches will fade away like a hot scorched plant that loses all its blossoms. Also someone who is poor is in a position to show that true wealth is stored up in heaven where it cannot lose its value or fade away.
So then what is James saying here? Either position could lead to pride, or to humility. The next passage we will look at tomorrow will show us that either situation will tempt us to be prideful. And as we persevere through this trial, we will become spiritually rich. When we have pride, we lose our spiritual foundation. We are reminded that though Jesus was the richest man in all history, he did not consider equality with God as something to hold on to. But he humbled himself and emptied himself. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place, so that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.
So whether you are rich or poor, if you humble yourself you will be exalted! But if in pride you keep things to yourself, even what you have will be taken away from you.