“Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.” (James 1:9–11, AV)
One of the assignments I had while serving in the United States Army in Germany was as the Battalion Maintenance Officer of a tank battalion. My job was to oversee the maintenance efforts of the unit in keeping 156 vehicles in operational status. It was not an easy assignment, especially when we were maneuvering in the field.
On one such field exercise, I received orders from our Battalion Executive Officer to go to a position where there was an Alpha Company tank stuck in the mud. So, I took my jeep out to the location and looked over a muddy field to see what was necessary to pull the tank out. When I got there and looked over the field, I did not see a tank and was about to leave, when I saw something unusual. At first, all I could see was a radio antenna that looked like it was sticking out of the ground. Upon further inspection, I could see the cupola of a tank and just the top of the turret sticking out of the mud. The tank was about 90% submerged in the mud. I determined that two M88 recovery vehicles were necessary to remove the buried tank.
As I sat there a bit more, I saw another tank driving at a high speed towards the other sunk tank. I could see the commander of the tank pointing at the sunk tank and laughing. However, the laughter did not last very long. All of a sudden, that tank drove into the same mess that the sunk one was in. The mud rolled up over the front of the tank like a wave. Now we had two tanks sunk down and 90% buried in a lake of mud. Everyone around the tanks were brown with mud from head to toe.
The point is that things can change very suddenly. There is no room for boasting and laughing at the expense of others. This can happen in many areas of life. in particular, it can happen in the area of wealth and material possessions. Here in this passage, James is writing to Jewish Christians in the context of trials. Some may have lost their homes and property as they fled persecution. Once they were somewhat well off and now, they are destitute. Others who lived in regions not affected by the persecution, at least for now, were faring much better. James writes to those who find themselves at two ends of the economic scale, the poor and the wealthy.
To the poor, James encourages them to rejoice in their high position in Christ. In Christ, they have become rich. While they struggle here on the earth, they have a glorious inheritance in heaven. They do not look rich here, but great riches are already theirs in the blessings of heaven.
To the wealthy, he gives a sober warning. While things may look great now, they are not to glory in their wealth. The reason is that as the grass burns up under the summer sun, so will the riches of this life on earth perish. It is only the riches stored up in heaven that will never perish. So, the rich must keep a humble attitude. They must never look down upon the poor. They must realize that when this life is over, the playing ground for believers is leveled. They must also realize that their wealth here will amount for nothing, unless it is used for the glory of God.
Consider your status in life. Are you struggling? Rejoice in your heavenly inheritance. Are you wealthy? Be humble and consider the less fortunate and be rich in blessing others.