James 5: 1 – 6 NLT
“Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. 2 Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. 4 For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
5 You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you.”
These are super strong words. You may have read them and thought “Wow! That’s not me!” And you are right. It likely isn’t you. James is targeting people who put wealth first in their lives. The person for whom making money and living a luxurious lifestyle ranks first – all the while cheating those who work for them – judgment will come someday. These verses don’t seem to be aimed at Christ followers, but rather people who have no concern for, or connection to God.
But before, you turn your mind completely off, let’s take a closer look at what James is talking about. Remember how James often reflects Jesus’ teaching? Let’s look at the Sermon on the Mount. First at Luke 6: 22 – 26:
“What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. 23 When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.
24 “What sorrow awaits you who are rich,
for you have your only happiness now.
25 What sorrow awaits you who are fat and prosperous now,
for a time of awful hunger awaits you.
What sorrow awaits you who laugh now,
for your laughing will turn to mourning and sorrow.
26 What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds,
for their ancestors also praised false prophets.”
How does Jesus define joy and sorrow? In verses 22 and 23, Jesus assures us that joy comes from following Him. Sorrow comes to those who concentrate on wealth and fame in this life. They may think they have everything now, but it won’t last. People who have been in the news lately come to my mind: Harvey Weinstein in the film industry, Jeffrey Epstein in the finance industry, and Peter Nygard in the fashion industry. All of these men have paid a high price, even in this life, for their focus on self-indulgence.
Matthew also tells us about Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon of the Mount in Matthew 6: 19 – 21. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” There again, is that warning about where our priorities should be.
We can ‘fluff off’ James’ warning in these verses because we don’t think we qualify as these wealthy, unscrupulous people. But we can learn that ‘getting ahead’ is not what should be the primary goal in our lives. Most of us likely put ourselves into that comfortable middle-class designation, financially okay but not greedy. I thought I’d look up some information about incomes around the world. The following information comes from a website called worlddata.info using 2019 statistics. Canadian income ranks as #21 in the world at $46,370.00 per household. The lowest incomes were in Afghanistan and the Congo at $530.00 (#78 and 79) Just stop and think about that for a minute – $530.00 to live on for a year?
Paul writes about what our focus in life should be in comparison to concentrating on acquiring money. 1 Timothy 6 has a few verses that speak to this:
“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. 7 After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. 8 So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.
9 But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (6: 6 – 10)
“Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.” (6: 17 – 19)
So, here are some questions that I’m quoting from Francis Chan’s study guide on James 5 to think about:
How can we use the resources we have, such as they are, to help the poor?
What can we do to make sure that poor workers are not exploited, that they get a fair wage for their work?
As we participate in our word economy, how can we advance the cause of justice?
Where are we storing our treasure? How can we break free from the idolatry of money and the things it buys? How can we centre our hearts on God rather than wealth?
Our song for today is Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath