What is important for every man and woman is his or her position before God. There are those who are righteous before God because he declared them to be righteous because of their faith in his son. There are those who are unrighteous before him because they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and have not believed in Jesus in order to have their sins atoned. Nothing ultimately matters other than that.
Yet men and women focus on other things. One of those things is wealth. It is easy to convince yourself you are better because you are richer. It is easy to see yourself as worthless because you are poor. That was very much the case with first century Jews. But God does not accept this structure. Jesus said to some rich Pharisees “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men in a abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15) So James addressed this issue within the greater context of suffering.
The lowly or poor believer (brother) should boast in his exaltation. Although he is poor on earth, he is exalted in Christ. Christ, in fact, was poor on earth but exalted to the right hand of God. (Philippians 2:9) That is easy to understand. But the opposite is true also. The rich man should boast in his humiliation! He is like the wild flower, which withers and dies in the heat.
We understand wildflowers in Texas. We love our wildflowers. Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrushes, Mexican Sombreros, Wild Daisies and more. They pop up in Spring and we relish them. But, once it gets hot, they disappear. They are only up for a few weeks. So it is with human life. Life is short. As you get older you wonder where it all went. The days and weeks go faster and faster. And then this life ends, the flesh fails and we are gone from this earth until the restoration of all things. Stevie Nicks wrote a song for the band Fleetwood Mac called “Landslide”. She wrote
“Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?”
That is true of rich and poor alike. It is humbling. So the rich should boast that this life, even with wealth is short and riches do nothing to win God’s favor. But right standing before God will last forever.
Our economic status can be a trial for believers. Certainly the poor were, and are, often persecuted. You wonder if you have too much or not enough. Rich people make themselves miserable obsessing about money. Poor people make themselves miserable obsessing about money. But your standing before God is the important thing.
The Father said this plainly in Jeremiah 9:23:
Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
James might also reflect the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 23:12: whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Blessing For Perseverance
James told us before to be steadfast. In fact, this verse has three words to show us James is referring back to his opening theme in verse 2: trial, test and steadfast (persevere in NIV). We are to consider it joy to face trials knowing that they produce steadfastness which makes us complete. Here he says God blesses us when we are steadfast under trial. Steadfastness and perseverance in the faith is the proof of our salvation. Jesus said “the one who endures to the end will be saved”. James says the same thing here. Those who endure the trials and keep the faith will be saved.
James speaks of that reward in a metaphor. He compared the Christian life to a race. The winner of a race in the Greek games received a crown. It was a wreath of laurel leaves worn on the head. Here is a picture:
In a long race, the runner must endure trials. He or she will experience fatigue, pain, thirst, hunger, sunburn and other unpleasant things. To finish, you must endure those without giving up. If the runner endures and finishes, he or she receives a crown. These days you get a medal or a shirt.
James called this the crown of life. He said God has promised one to those who love him. Only one who loves God will endure trials and suffering to the end.
The crown of life symbolizes eternal life. One who believes in Jesus endures to the end and receives eternal life. (John 3:16) Jesus said the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:13)
Paul referred to a crown of righteousness. As he saw his execution approaching, he said:
I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (1 Timothy 4:8)