James is not passing judgment on being either rich or poor. Consider the immediate context: just prior to these verses, he wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). He made no distinction between being rich or poor in verse 2, so why now?
This passage is not saying the rich are bad, and it’s not saying that it’s bad to be poor. What it is saying is that whether someone is rich, or poor, or anywhere in-between, the “testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3b‑4, NIV).
James is concerned about our spiritual life. A person’s economic and social standing presents unique challenges to his spiritual development. God is making us like Jesus Christ. The rich person wrestles with this with his own unique challenges, just a poor person does with the difficulties that he has to face.
Both poverty and prosperity present trials that test our faith. Either may result in spiritual disaster. The Christian who is poor materially can rejoice in his high spiritual position as a child of God. At the same time, the rich person can rejoice in new values. The apostle Paul described what those values look like for a wealthy Christian: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:17‑18, NIV). The circumstances of your life are an opportunity to ask God how you should live for Christ. On this point we are all the same. James will return to social responsibility to the poor later in his epistle, but what he’s arguing here is that poverty and riches have their unique challenges to living in Christian faith.
Rich or poor, Christians share the challenge to love all people regardless of social or economic status. Love others the way Jesus loves you. At the cross of Christ, where Jesus was crucified, and at the tomb, where His body was laid, rich and poor were united in their love for the Savior. My heart-felt prayer is that we would really ponder what James is teaching. How is the Kingdom of God (of which we are now citizens) different than this world? Where do you need to seek wisdom from God to live your life in a Christ-like way?