Riches and poverty – James 1:9-12

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. Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

In the epistle that bears his name, James, the brother of Jesus, continues the theme of wisdom in the midst of trials in verses 9-12 of chapter one; he does so by discussing the matter of riches and poverty. While we might easily understand the genuine trial of one living in poverty, it is not always immediately obvious that one living with riches would suffer trials as well. But in fact, it takes godly wisdom to react righteously under both circumstances.

Commentators discuss two thoughts concerning this text. Some say that the text refers to a believer who is poor, and an unbeliever who is rich. While James addresses this very thing later on, I believe that here James is contrasting the trials and wisdom of believers who are both the poor and the rich. James spends more time discussing the rich person because this is the trial that requires more godly wisdom. That said this text also conveys what some call the great reversal, as told in the words of our Lord from Matthew 20:16, “The last shall be first and the first last;” and Luke 1:52 “he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” The text also teaches the blessedness of being poor, again reiterating the teaching of Jesus from Luke 6:20 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

In this life, Christians who are poor may have access to immense spiritual privileges that often help them rise above their physical or social estate. This can be seen in the faith, joy, and selflessness of the impoverished two-thirds of all of the world’s believers. Anyone who knows, or has been to a third-world country like Cuba, China, or India, can describe how the life of these poor Christians can put to shame visiting Christians who are rich compared to their standard of living. Rich believers, which most of us in the United States are compared to the majority of believers, must beware in taking pride in our possessions. How many of us love this world and our things? James likens these things to grass and flowers, which may be beautiful, but they will fade away. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8). James does not teach that a believer cannot be rich, but he does suggest here that your attitude towards your possessions proves critical.

James ends this section with verse 12 as he ended verses 2-4 with the eschatological (end-time) hope “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” Please pray for this coming Sunday that His Word would come forth, and that His people would have ears to hear.


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