Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:9-18)
1) Here we have a little twist on boasting. Usually we hear "let the rich boast in his riches. Let the wise boast in their wisdom." Here we see letting the poor boast in exaltation and the rich in humiliation. This is very important, because we think the Bible makes a distinction between monetarily rich and poor people, when it really distinguishes between selfish people and people who have faith in Christ. Aren't the poor to be exalted? Why is this wrong? Because they are not boasting in Christ. They are still boasting in themselves, except this time it is, "look how downtrodden I am!" Likewise, the rich person, who is humbled in life, should not boast in the fact that he was humbled. "See how I lost big in that business deal! How humbled I have become!" Nor is he to boast in anything except Christ. Look at Jeremiah 9:23-24:
Thus says the Lord: “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.”
We must only boast in that we know and understand God, and we can only know and understand God through Jesus Christ. If the poor man boasts in anything besides Christ, he is disconnected from God. Likewise with the rich man. Christ tells us that he who is "poor in spirit" is blessed. Why? Because the poor in spirit is not boasting in himself. All he has is Christ.
2) All activity on earth is going to fade away, and will count as nothing in and of itself. This is why we must not boast in anything but Christ. When all passes away, all we will have is Christ. All activity on earth is really useful toward either bringing us closer to Christ or taking us further away from Christ. When it fades--and it will--where will we be standing on Judgment Day? Will we be presenting to God flowers of achievement that have faded away? Essentially presenting to God empty hands? Or will be be presenting Christ, who died on our behalf?
3) Everyone experiences trials, the godly and the ungodly, but God gives the crown of life (everlasting life) to those who love him. Who are those who love him? God has chosen those who are "poor in the world" (James 2:5) to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom. Remember "poor in the world" is not a monetary condition. It is he who does not boast in himself but in Christ.
4) Those who boast in themselves are being tempted not by God, because God tempts no one, but by his own desire. The desire gives birth to sin, and sin brings forth death, because the wages of sin is death. By boasting in ourselves, we are actually earning wages toward death. The only wage that does not perish is Christ. By knowing him and loving the Jesus of the Bible, we are laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven, wages that do not perish, and earn for us everlasting life.
5) Every good thing comes from God.
6) Every evil thing comes from ourselves.
7) God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
8) God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
9) The final, and most important point. The world tempts us, even Christians, to boast in ourselves. When God gets us through a trial and we come out on the other side, the temptation is there, and it is usually given into, to boast in our own perseverance. James' last sentence of this section is crucial to our understanding: "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures."
a) Our boasting in Christ is of God's will. We can't will it ourselves. If we try to boast in Christ, we fail. God wills us to boast in Christ. As John tells us in his gospel, those who "receive" Christ, who believe in his name, his children, we are born again into this covenant, not through blood or family lineage, nor from earning God's grace, nor from sheer human will, but only from God himself (1:12-13).
b) The word of truth, the scriptures, is God's means of bringing us out of death into life. We were dead in sins, and God's word preached reached our ears, the Holy Spirit transformed our hearts, our souls, and we began the process of knowing Christ, of loving God through Jesus.
c) In Christ, we obtain an inheritance, which God decided beforehand through his holy will, so that those who hope in Christ--who boast in Christ--on this side of death's veil might do so to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:12). Remember the last of the five solas: to God alone be the glory. God's glory is the end goal of any boasting in earthly life, and Christ is the object of our boasting. He is the true glory of God. He is the amazing means of salvation for all who believe in him.
d) Just as Israel was the firstfruits of the Lord's harvest, designated to bring the Christ into the world, so Christians are to be the firstfruits of boasting in Christ to the world, so that hearing the good news, many may be converted. The firstfruits are those who--in this world--sing a new song of Christ. Only the redeemed can learn the song, and they follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb (Revelation 14:4).
Remember: only by God's will, and only for his glory.