“Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 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.”
(James 1:9-11 NIV)
In verses 2-4 of Chapter 1, James provided us the “gold standard” of living with Christ… trials require perseverance, and perseverance causes growth, and growth leads to completeness in Christ.
In verses 5-8, James provides the first contrast to being complete – and what we should do when we find ourselves in that place. What did James say we might be lacking? Wisdom. And what should we do? Ask God in faith.
In today’s passage, James provides the second contrast to being complete – our view of our economic status.
The Jewish believers that received James’ letter were largely dispossessed by everyone. Within the Roman empire, Jews were looked down upon, treated like second class citizens, religious fanatics compared to the worldly pagans they lived among. Within the Jewish community, they were not welcomed, even ostracized for naming the name of Jesus. This hit home particularly hard economically, as the Jewish believers tried to scratch out a living. And on top of the economic hardships, they had to endure the social hardships as well. Both the Romans and the rest of the Jewish community that did not name the name of Christ measured their social standing based on their economic standing.
Today’s passage shows us the heart and character of God – that God’s economy is not measured in financial terms, but in relational terms… in relation to God and God alone.
When James speaks of those in “humble circumstances”, he is referring to the poor, even the very poor, the destitute. And what does James say to them? “Take pride in your high position”. And what is that high position? Our relationship to God. If our finances are nonexistent, then we can focus on our rich relationship with the Lord, both in this life, as well as the life to come for eternity.
James then moves on to the other end of the economic spectrum – the rich. And what does James say to them? “take pride in your humiliation”. What does that mean?
James is not talking about God financially wiping out the rich person. Rather, he is saying the rich person should consider their position in Christ without any financial or material possessions… that is, the humility that comes with contemplating a life without economic resources, and the resulting social humility that comes with living a life without those economic resources. Again, this points us aware from ourselves and our possessions, and back to God.
James reminds us that just as quickly as a flower will pop up, it will wither and die. And so our economic fortunes can change just as fast. Our only constant in all this is measured in God’s economy – in relationship to Him.
And what is the poverty line in God’s financial measure? Having a change of clothes. Jesus taught that if someone sued us, that we should give up both the shirt we are wearing as well as our coat. That implied that the person had a spare.
By that definition, anyone reading this is rich beyond measure.