Wickedly Wealthy? - Notes on James 5:1-6
In this passage, James is addressing the materially wealthy. At what point, though, does one become rich? Or how much does one need to possess to be considered as one of those addressed here by James? It is safe to say, I think, that this passage can apply to each of us who have more than what we need and have extra left over to help another. (Indeed, compared to most of the population outside the United States, we are all relatively wealthy!)
Question: Is it sinful to be wealthy materially? Clearly, the answer is no. Indeed, we have rich individuals recorded in Scripture who were godly. Included in this list are Abraham, Job, David, and Lydia.
The problem, then, is not in possessing wealth in itself, but in the focus that we give it or the affection that we set upon it. It is not a small matter when we consider the fact that God gives us this specific warning: "the love of money is the root of all evil" (1Timothy 6:6-10). Take the rich young ruler, for example, in Matthew 19:16-22. He esteemed his possessions greater riches than Christ. He is evidence to the fact that one whose master is money cannot be a servant of God (Matthew 6:24-34). Clearly, the pursuit for material wealth is a pursuit that leads to ruin and destruction.
In light of the whole counsel of God in His Word, James is calling for the attention of those whose trust is in their riches and whose use of such wealth is fraudulent, excessive, and self-indulgent to the oppression and condemnation of others (5:3-6). These ones are those who are hoarding material wealth and not extending their hands to those in need. Thus, their "riches have rotted," their "garments are moth-eaten," their "gold and silver have corroded" -- these will be "evidence against" them and will "eat [their] flesh like fire." Compare Matthew 6:19-21. In addition, consider how James describes how such individuals have "condemned and murdered the righteous person" (5:6). These words bring to mind how even our Lord Jesus was ill treated when he dwelt among us. He was despised and rejected, condemned and crucified.
Let us examine ourselves: if in any way we have come to trust in wealth rather than God, thereby loving things and using people for selfish gain, then we are called to "weep and howl for the miseries that are coming." The cries of the oppressed "have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts" (5:4). Do you remember the prodigal son who spent his wealth in riotous living? He lost it all; but, not his soul. In that parable, he repented, showing to us that there is no sinner so sinful that God cannot forgive. Let us not forget, though, about the prodigal's brother, lest there are those of us who think that we're so good that we can earn God's favor. Read about the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican and you'll see what I mean (Luke 18:9-14).
Again, let us examine ourselves, repent where we need to, and set our affections on Christ. Note the example of Moses, as recorded in Hebrews 11:23-28. Recall also the example of our Lord who for our sake became poor so that we might become truly rich (See 2 Corinthians 8:1-9).
How are we? What have we been doing with the resources God has given to us? Have we been employing them for the glory of God? Remember: earthly treasures will all certainly pass away. No amount of our earthly goods can we take beyond the grave. Naked we came into this world and naked we shall be at death. Let us, therefore, lay up treasures in heaven, not on earth.