Wealth can be Dangerous
1. Recognize the Context: Previous context-James 4:13-17
In the final four verses of chapter 4, James redirects his emphasis to those attempting to plan their lives. Their strategy is outlined in verse 13.
go to the city-spend a year-carry out business-make money
James reminds them of the uncertainties of life. He challenges their knowledge of the future. He reminds them of life's transient nature, returning to a theme considered in chapter 1 (verses 10-11). The future is unsure, including the longevity of one’s life.
Instead, one should submit to God’s will in the planning process. The problem was not in the notion of establishing a plan. Every merchant in the first century needed a "business strategy" to succeed. James addresses a person who is goals setting without God. Followers of Christ need to approach this process differently. God should be central to every thought, idea, and plan, not merely an afterthought. Goal setting without God leads to self-reliance, boosting, and pride.
James concludes this section by reminding his readers that to know the right thing and not do it is sin (verse 17).
2. Read the Scripture: James 5:1-6
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
3. Reflect on the Scripture:
In chapter 5, James turns to a condemnation of the wealthy. He addresses them as “you rich people." Therefore, it seems unlikely he is speaking to the Christian community since they are not identified as brothers and sisters, and there is no call for repentance. One might ask, “why address these unbelievers in this letter?” Here in James, we find elements of Old Testament judgment oracles found in the prophets. It was not uncommon to find declarations of judgment against foreign nations dispersed within the addresses to God’s people (Isa. 13-21, Ezek. 25-32). This confirms the justice of God can not be ignored or escaped.
These rich people are encouraged to weep (Jer. 9:1, 13:17) and wail (Isa. 13:6, 14:31) because of their misery (Isa. 59:7, Jer. 6:7, 26). In this passage, James brings four charges against the rich to justify the coming punishment.
1. They have hoarded various forms of wealth, such as clothing and precious metals (verses 2-3).
2. They have failed to pay workers their wages, and God is well aware of the situation (verse 4).
3. They have lived self-indulgently and luxuriously (verse 5).
4. They have condemned and murdered the innocent (verse 6).
For these reasons, God’s judgment is coming on them.
4. Relate to life:
Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message. To pray:
Today, prayerfully consider these words of warning. Although addressed to unbelievers, is there a challenge for you in James' words?
Remember-you may not consider yourself "rich," but in a 21st century western materialistic and consumer-driven society, it is possible to reflect some of these characteristics described (hoarding material wealth, self-indulgence, etc.).
Today, prayerfully remember God is in control. If you have been exploited by someone who operates by these evil and worldly principles of riches, know God will ultimately bring about his judgment and vindicate you, even if you don't get to see it.
To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)
Read and study the verses above.
Read and study Matthew 6:19-21.