1. Recognize the Context:
Previous Context: James 1:5-8 James repeated the verb “lack” to connect verse 5 with the discussion of trials in verse 4. If someone is in need during a trial, before perseverance has “finished its work,” they should ask God for wisdom.
Here, as in the Wisdom literature, wisdom is the godly, practical way of living life in this world, even in trials.
“Wisdom is essential for leading a mature Christian life. Throughout Scripture, the wisdom that comes from God certainly includes knowledge and insight, but more importantly, it relates to the practical outworking of one's faith in every sphere of life. A lack of godly wisdom has catastrophic effects for one's life—effects evidenced by damaged relationships, deteriorated integrity, undisciplined behavior, and the inability to endure well through trials and troubles." (Devotions on the Greek New Testament, p. 128)
God gives generously to those who ask him for wisdom. However, one must believe God will answer this request. James used an analogy from the sea to describe the person who doubts God will provide. This person goes back and forth like the waves of the sea.
This person should not expect to receive from God because they are double-minded. The word for “double-minded” is only used twice in the New Testament, here and in James 4:8. This “doubter” is unable to trust God and unable to make decisions.
In verses 2-4, James provided the proper way to live the Christian life. Then in verses 5-8, he contrasts this with the way NOT to live.
2. Read the Scripture: James 1:9-11
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.
3. Reflect on the Scripture:
Verses 9-10 contrast people from opposite circumstances in life and their required responses to those circumstances. From an initial reading, the instructions appear counterintuitive, providing a reversal of what might be expected.
The believers, who were in low social and financial positions, were instructed to boast in their “high position.” The virtue of their “high position” was not found simply in being poor but in their relationship with Christ. From a worldly perspective, their life offered no reason for pride or boasting. But from a godly perspective, they had every reason to boast. Remember, the context for these instructions is found in verses 2-8. Some of the reasons that make the responses in verses 9-10 possible include joy, perseverance, faith, maturity, completeness, and wisdom.
The rich person is then considered in verse 10. From a worldly perspective, they have every reason to boast. Their material possessions and status enabled them to boast with pride in their position. But from a godly perspective, they were made low, because these earthly things don't matter. In Christ, they were humbled, and this “lowness’ was the only reason they had for boasting. While the wealthy might be tempted to boast in their possessions and status, they will one day disappear like the wild flowers.
Death is the great equalizer. It comes to everyone, and its timing is unknown. James illustrated this by alluding to Isa. 40:6-8. In this passage, Isaiah spoke of humanity's temporal nature and the eternal nature of God's word. It appears James believed the rich need a special reminder of this message.
4. Relate to life:
Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
In our society, it is more challenging to classify yourself as simply "poor" or "rich.” Today, prayerfully consider your own social and financial circumstances. Based on James’ instruction and who you are in Christ, respond accordingly.
Today, thank God for his provisions in Christ.
Today, prayerfully consider your own mortality. Have a conversation with God about this.
Given the prayer suggestions above, what can you incorporate into your life today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. Our world has distinct views on financial and social status based on wealth. These often are contrary to a biblical understanding. Identify any changes you need to make in your mindset toward these issues. This week have a conversation with a fellow Believer (perhaps someone from your church) about the themes found in these few verses.
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)
Read and study these passages on the temporary nature of life-Isa. 40:6-8