Words to the Wealthy (from James 5)
What words does James have to say to the wealthy? In James 5:1-6 we see some of the roughest and most condemning verses in the Bible. Does James 5 have any relevance to us? If so, why? And if it does, what does it teach us?
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”
First, who is it wrote to? It says “you rich” in verse 1.
So, we should ask, ‘Are we rich?’ What do you think, are we rich?
Rich is a relative term. Compared to Elon Musk and Bill Gates I am not rich. If, however, you compare my wealth to what others have had throughout history, or what others have in developing countries, then I will seem quite rich.
Therefore, I don’t think we should automatically discount what this passage is saying. We shouldn’t naively think we’re not rich, so the passage doesn’t apply to us.
Rather, we should humbly consider what it’s saying. We should ask, ‘Why would the rich need to weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon them?’ (v. 1)
I think it’s because…
1) Riches won’t save
It’s always been tempting to trust in wealth. We often feel like our security is connected to how much money we have. We may not come out and say it like that, but that’s what is often going on at the level of our hearts.
James, however, says,
“Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.”
What’s happening is James is fast-forwarding for us. He’s showing us the future result of trusting in our treasure, trusting in our money rather than our Maker. What happens to riches? They inevitably rot. Even crypto will metaphorically corrode.
When the foundations shake, you’ll be found out. When what you thought was a foundation fails, it’ll be shown that you trusted in the wrong things. The failure of your treasure to last will be “evidence against you.”
In the Bible, “last days” has to do with the end and the coming judgment. So, when the passage talks about laying “up treasure in the last days” it should strike us a very odd and even supremely foolish.
It’d be like people in an apocalyptic movie—whether A Quiet Place, World War Z, or whatever—going out of their way to put money in the bank. At the end of the world, storing up money’s not really the priority.
Instead, James shows us that…
2) Riches are meant to be a stewardship
We are not meant to trust in money or hoard up money all for ourselves. Instead, we should care about justice and carry out justice. Look at James 5:4-6:
“Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”
Every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17 cf. 1 Tim. 4:4). But, it is not just given to enjoy. Though, enjoying the gifts that God has given is right and honors Him. But, we are also given things to manage and invest. What we have is not just for us, but also the benefit of others.
Just as laborers deserve and should get their owned wages, we should justly steward our money. Our unjust selfishness does not go unnoticed by God. We don’t want to be found guilty of living “on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence” (v. 5). We must remember that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10).
Jesus and James, of course, don’t say money is evil. Money itself is not evil. Even having money is not evil. It can actually be very good and useful. But, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.”
How can we have the right relationship with wealth?
3) Riches should be submitted to our Savior
James essentially gives us an x-ray of our hearts, and the resulting picture is often ugly. It reveals a misaligned heart. One that often trusts in money and not the Maker.
What is the cure for our heart sickness? What is our cure for our naive trust of money?
I believe it’s seeing life for what it is, short and followed by eternity. We are in the Last Days. There is a coming judgment. The way we steward our money matters.
Further, we need to see Jesus. We need to love our Lord who freely gave up His wealth. Second Corinthians 8:9 says “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.”
When we know the amazing “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” it loosens our grip on wealth. We, more and more, trust the Lord and willingly steward our wealth for Jesus’ Kingdom, not our kingdom.
Questions for Reflection
- What can money provide? In what ways do you trust in money?
- Is money evil? What are some blessings of having money and some challenges of having money?
- Why is the love of money so problematic (“a root of all kinds of evils”)?
- What does it mean for you to manage or steward money?
- What does Jesus have to do with how we think about and use money?
Photo by Jp Valery