But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position, and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 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.
The contrast and struggle between the poor and the rich is covered repeatedly in the book of James (1:9-11; 2:1-7; 5:1-6). It is a struggle which continues today in many places around the globe. Yet the Spirit of God inspired James to show Christians the way out of this struggle by giving them a new perspective. Consider this. Why did God tell “the brother of humble circumstances” (i.e., the poor Christian) that they have a “high position” in which they are to “glory”? Why tell “the rich man” that he has “humiliation” in which he is to “glory”? Why promise the rich man that even while he is “in the midst of his pursuits” he will “fade away”?
After all, as far as the world is concerned the impoverished individual is worthless. They are seen as having no value. They are looked down upon and castigated. They have little to no advantages in life. When viewed from the perspective of the world, I can understand why Job’s wife, undoubtedly in deep sorrow, stress, and anger over the sudden loss of her children and her husband’s wealth, urged him to “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). To her, at that moment, as far as she could see, there was nothing left to live for. From her perspective, God had certainly shown that He did not care about them. In like manner, the world holds wealth and those who have it in the highest esteem. The rich have all the advantages, all the power. Indeed, we observe most of them to attain and possess their vast riches all the way until their deaths. From a human point of view, rare is the rich man who is humiliated and has his wealth fade away.
However, the Christian is to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Instead of embracing “human nature” and viewing things the way humanity tends to view them, we are to be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4) and look at things from a divine, eternal perspective. The only way we can do this is to regularly study and meditate upon the Word of God (cf. Rom. 10:17; Ps. 1:1-3), and thus come to know more and understand how God looks at things and embrace His point of view.
And from God’s viewpoint, the poor have many advantages over the rich. The gospel was first preached to the poor (Lk. 4:18), as seen when Jesus began to preach the gospel of the kingdom to the impoverished regions of Galilee and drew disciples from lowly fishermen (Matt. 4:12-25). Paul observed that there weren’t many who were “powerful” or “of noble birth” by “worldly standards” among the ranks of the church (1 Cor. 1:26; cf. Matt. 19:23ff). Thus, the poor Christian has much about which to “glory” (hypsos, be exalted). His name is in the registry of heaven. As far as eternity goes, the faithful Christian – poor or rich – has it made due to the grace of God.
In like manner, the perspective of eternity reveals that the material, worldly wealth of the rich man does not last. The parable of the rich fool shows that one can’t take one’s wealth with them into the next life (Lk. 12:13-21). James’ Middle Eastern readers would have been very familiar with his comparison of wealth’s brevity to the short lifespan of grass and flowers in the “scorching heat” of the sun. Indeed, placing too high of a priority on worldly riches leads to many spiritual downfalls (1 Tim. 6:6-10). Thus, the wealthy Christian who chooses to “store up for (themselves) treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:19-21) by putting God first and others before himself (Matt. 22:37-39; Phil. 2:1-11; 1 Tim. 6:17-19) will indeed “glory in his humiliation.” In other words, by humbling himself to serve Christ and others he will be exalted in eternity.