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The Epistle of James: The Fate of the Rich
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.”
James 5:1-6 NASB1995
When I first put the plan together to subdivide up this Epistle into appropriate segments, I had this passage and James 5:7-11 combined, but I decided to break those up into this devotional and the next one. James begins the last chapter of his epistle by telling us in no uncertain terms that he is not a fan of those who are rich, living luxuriously and indulging in every pleasure and cheating those who labor out of their wages and fattening their hearts in a day of slaughter. He predicts that their riches will rot and their garments will become moth-eaten. Their gold and silver will rust and will be used as a witness against them.
I found this image for this devotional and it seemed appropriate - two classic automobiles, which could be worth a lot of money if restored, are rusting in a field and being invaded by plants. And here is an interesting aside and observation on this passage: Lord of Sabaoth, according to Blue Letter Bible, means Lord of the Armies of Israel (it is not Lord of the Sabbath). This notation is not used very often, but James was an adept scholar in understanding OT prophets and terminology. James is directing this passage at outsiders who are wealthy, but he is also using it as a precaution for those in the early Church.
Having wealth in and of itself is not a sin. Abraham was described as being very wealthy in terms of the number of servants and animals and tents that he had. Solomon acquired incredible wealth and built the first Temple, but he did not live wisely later in his reign and could not resist having hundreds of wives and concubines, as well as the resulting mess of trying to appease many offspring. Two of the Sanhedrin members who secretly followed Jesus and provided a burial tomb and spices for His body (Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus) were considered quite wealthy. But wealth is a dangerous trap when it is used for ungodly purposes. Once again, I found a superb sermon by Steven Cole on Bible.org on this passage and recommend reading it. From that sermon, I am borrowing some key points, with my own commentary added:
To be rich without God is to be short-sighted in light of eternity:
Our culture despises and worships wealth simultaneously. Pundits rail against wealthy business owners and demand that their wealth be taken by taxation, yet many of these same pundits admire celebrities and sports figures who make millions of dollars a year doing completely trivial things like being able to get a triple-double in a basketball game or garner millions of hits on a salacious video.
Congressional hearings are likely to be convened on the recent ticket sales debacle associated with the announced Taylor Swift concert tour; billions of hits were made on the ticket seller Ticketmaster for the far fewer (and very expensive) tickets that were available, resulting in gridlock. Is this really what should be a priority for our government these days? Ms. Swift will get her bucks and her possessions will grow, but some fans who fear missing out may have to pay scalpers for tickets (I weep for them if this is their top priority in life).
The number of souls who line up to buy lotto tickets (when most can’t afford them) testifies to the allure of instant wealth. A quick search yielded dozens of articles about the Sad stories that occurred to many winners of jackpots, with family tragedies, bankruptcy and even murder being part of the outcomes. Being rich without God in your life is short-sighted. If God is in your life, your “wealth” is saved up in working towards your sanctification and eternal life.
As I noted in my devotionals for a couple of the Parables of Jesus in Luke, wealth does not save you from death or from separation from God. You could get a million dollars today and die tonight; your family might benefit temporarily, but the headaches would probably be worse (visits from the IRS, demands from other relatives, etc.). And you would be consigned to the outer darkness for eternity if God was not in your life.
To be rich without God brings temporary comfort and ease, but long-term misery:
There is nothing inherently wrong with providing for your family or saving some of your money for retirement so that you are not dependent on others. There is nothing wrong with having a home and a car for transportation, convenient appliances in your home, the latest gizmos, and taking the occasional vacation. That’s the “American way”.
But the carrots are dangled in front of us constantly: You are missing out in your life by not moving into this bigger home or having this fancy sports car or doing that luxurious vacation or buying that expensive Italian leather bag or indulging in that costly spa treatment (the key word in many of these enticements is “indulge”). When people gain a little bit of additional income, they tend to use it to buy new stuff, plan a fancy trip, and not further God’s work here on Earth or even pay off bills.
Steve and I have loved to travel and have done a lot of it in our selfish lives, foregoing a family so we could have stuff, make more on our jobs, and do fascinating trips. But the misery comes… we regret our choices in many ways because we are essentially alone in the world (except for God, thankfully). All the photo collections and souvenirs in the world mean nothing at the end, even if they did bring you some temporary pleasure. When wealth and its accoutrements master you, your focus is not on Him. Much of the time we spend on computers and gizmos every day , for example, is lost time, never to be regained.
To be rich without God brings short-term advantages, but long-term loss:
Power is often an outcome of wealth. The rich are treated differently and catered to and allowed to break the rules and regulations; they sometimes even become political leaders or dictators because of their wealth (recall what James said earlier in this Epistle about partiality). Even the most devoted Communist leaders (examples being Mao and Stalin) had wealth and privilege.
The Steven Cole sermon uses another example of Imelda Marcos to discuss how she hoarded thousands of things, including 3,000 pairs of shoes, that she bought with Filipino taxpayer monies (these items were found after the Marcos fled in 1986). But her story is even worse - Imelda and her late husband Ferdinand scammed the Filipino people out of billions of dollars. She has since returned to the Philippines, has served as a representative in Parliament, and her son BongBong Marcos is the current Filipino President, so I’m not sure what that says about the intelligence of the average voter in that country. She hasn’t lost much yet in this life (she still has outstanding criminal charges that are out there), but God is truly the perfect judge and will judge in His perfect time those who used wealth for short-term advantage, power and tyranny.
In conclusion, there are four things that James lists in this passage that are ungodly uses of wealth that we all need to take to heart; the sermon that I linked to breaks these down in more detail:
Hoarding stuff and money
Cheating people out of money
Living in luxury while ignoring the needs of others
Hurting innocent people for the sake of gain
Money (and everything else) is on loan to us from God and we are responsible for good stewardship of His resources. Steve and I are rich, certainly in comparison to many others on this planet. We are trying a few things to be better stewards of God’s resources:
We have started a sell-off and donations of our “stuff” (I have several useless collections from earlier acquisition years that sit and gather dust, plus those travel souvenirs) with the intent of adding the proceeds to our giving to advance His Kingdom. For some reason that is unclear now, buying this stuff seemed important at the time. I hope we can provide benefit to others and simplify our lives, especially as we contemplate downsizing in a few years.
We still enjoy traveling, but now our plans are prayed over; we are also on the lookout for opportunities to evangelize, bringing pocket testaments with us, and we based our devotional website on reaching RV’ers and others who enjoy God’s creation about charitable giving and volunteering opportunities.
Tithing and extra giving comes before everything else in our budgeting.
We created a charitable trust to designate worthy causes and our church as beneficiaries of the estate that remains when we are both gone.
My next devotional will examine James 5:7-11 - Patient Endurance
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Please help me to properly steward the resources you have given me and to be thankful for your provision on a daily basis. Help me to find a way to eliminate hoarding in my life and chasing after luxuries and see and act on the needs of others before me instead. I want those treasures in Heaven! In Jesus name, Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org
Sermons by Steven Cole on Bible.Org were accessed through Precept Austin resources and are copyrighted 2005.