How Transitory Life Is!
I suppose there are some who will want to turn this passage into a “Hurrah!” for the poor and a “Down with the Rich!” theme. That’s really not what it is about. Granted, James has some pretty strong words for the wealthy who have earned their riches in unjust ways or who were otherwise tight-fisted with their overflowing resources, but that is not the point here. (One of the humorous facts of life which I have long noticed is that when Scripture speaks of the rich, no one seems to think that they belong to that class but that Scripture must be speaking to the guy who has one more dollar than they do. Listen up, brother, if you live in America, you’re rich!)
But as I said, this passage is about something else; namely, how fleeting and transitory life is. It doesn’t matter—rich or poor, mighty or lowly, king or pauper—we’re all subject to the same vicissitudes of life over which we have no control—from health to natural disasters and that greatest and most unfeeling ruler over all our lives—time. Time listens not to our pleas and cares not for our cries. If any of the pagan gods ever had a heart of stone, it must be Chronos. And what are we by comparison? Why, the polar opposite, James tells us, as do a plethora psalms. We are like the flower of the grass that will pass away—rich and poor alike. Time is wonderfully egalitarian, you see.
So the primary question then becomes, “How then shall we live in the face of such an utterly inescapable fate?” James shows us the way of wisdom. Let the lowly boast in his exaltation. “What exaltation?” you scream. That like a flower he has been made to bloom, but for much more than a moment, for he is far greater than a flower and has been made in God’s image, an eternal soul who clinging to the Immortal Flower shall one day be transplanted by Him into an eternal garden by bubbling brooks where time extends no rule. Why should he not boast in his temporary lot on earth when it portends a far greater abode in heaven? And the rich man too may glory but in his lowliness. Providing he has managed his wealth for the sake of his poorer brothers and trusted in Christ his Lord, he too may rejoice that what goes by “wealth” here does not amount to a pittance there, and that he shall one day have the good fortune of trading his worthless and disappearing earthly possessions for the enduring rewards of eternal life. And so, you see, in the end, we all stand naked before the Judgment seat of Christ; no one has anything to offer, no one has any claim to make—lest it be this: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”