Online Bible Commentary
The Crown of Life
James 1: 9 Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, 10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. 12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (NKJV)
James is writing to Hebrew Christians who have been dispersed from Palestine because of religious persecution. Since they had to leave their sources of income and many of their possessions, these Hebrew Christians, for the most part, were on the poor side. James addresses both the poor and the few rich Christians in this passage.
He begins with the poor, citing “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation” (v. 9). The literal Greek translation of this verse is “Let boast But the brother lowly in the exaltation of him.” The verse actually begins with the word “But”, however, in the Greek, words or clauses are often pushed to the front of the sentence because they are to be emphasized. In this case, James wanted to emphasize the boasting. He calls on the poor to boast, not because of their lack of money, but because of their high position in their spiritual life. They are receiving Heavenly blessings that far outweigh earthly riches.
In contrast, the wealthy Christian should boast of his humiliation when he loses his wealth, either in his lifetime or upon his death. The literal Greek for verse ten is “the and rich one in the humiliation of him; because as a flower of grass he will pass away.” His riches “will pass away like a wild flower” (v. 10b). “For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes” (v. 11a).
Like a wild flower his riches are short lived, here today and gone tomorrow. “So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits” (v. 11b). Like the wild flower, the beauty of earthly riches, the lifestyle of the rich, will fade. There is no doubt that earthly riches will pass away at some point, and when that happens the wealthy Christian should boast because he will be able to draw even nearer to God.
The apostle Paul made this same point when he wrote: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
James concludes this passage by stating that no matter whether we are rich or poor we will be blessed with eternal life when we persevere in our faith: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (v. 12). Trials come from God. Temptations come from Satan. So James writes “those who love Him” will obey, “endure temptation”, and will receive the “crown of life” (v. 12a).
Jesus said “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching” (Jn. 14:23). He also said “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
Paul wrote in great detail about how being controlled by either the sinful nature or by the Holy Spirit determines our eternal destination: “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Ro 8:13-14).
The points made by Jesus, John and Paul are all expressed in the point being made here by James. When we allow the Holy Spirit to live through us we will “endure temptation”. Thus we will show our love for God by our obedience, and those who love God will inherit eternal life. That is what James is writing of when writing of the crown of life.
Therefore, the blessing of verse twelve is the “crown of life”, a reference to the victor’s wreath at the Greek games. It represents our reward of eternal life in Heaven for enduring the temptations of Satan and persevering in the faith. It is not enough to say that we are Christians. We also must prove it by allowing the Holy Spirit to control our lives. That is our challenge.