“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).
Seems odd that, while writing to Christians living in exile for their faith in Christ, James would launch into a diatribe against rich people. Either he was addressing, hypothetically, the unregenerate wealthy among whom the believers dwelt, or he was directing his attention to one of the remaining sins in the church.
Many early Christians had money or property. Before Saul launched his persecutions against the church in Jerusalem, for example, “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35).
Wealth, on its own merit, isn’t a sin. The love of money is. Loving money isn’t a rich person’s sin either. Greed and coveting belong to us all. So, James was likely confronting dependence on wealth – or the desire for it – as a sin that’s common to many believers.
James specifically confronted those who were prone to abuse the wealth they possessed. When they were able, they cheated workers out of their wages. They indulged in prodigal excesses on the backs of their dependents. They bought favors in the courts at the expense of others. They used and disposed of people as chattel with no regard for human worth or dignity.
The love of wealth is a form of idolatry – an idolatry of self. We love money because of what it can do for us. With it, we can buy beauty, power, favors, and toys – even people. Again, the problem doesn’t lie in the money itself; it’s in our hearts. As we fall in love with money, we lose our first love for Jesus Christ. The more we love money, the less we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The more we love wealth, the less we care for one another.
The love of money leads us to commit all kinds of atrocities against others. Ironically, many abuses are committed in the name of love. Many people think, even as they destroy the lives of others, that they are committing acts of kindness.
The endgame of loving money, though, is a wealth of misery. In Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man had indulged in every imaginable extravagance during his life on earth. When the time came for judgment, however, he stood condemned. None of the comforts to which he’d given himself came to his aid. None of his luxuries defended him against God’s immeasurable holiness. None of the pleasures he’d enjoyed could bail him out of the eternal misery in which he now found himself.
If we are wise, James’ warning counsels us to drop our attachments to anything that takes our eyes off Jesus. Anything in our lives that compromises our standing with God is to be rejected outright. Such counsel is difficult because our sins so easily beset us. Yet, the Christian’s life is a struggle to renounce sin and to embrace Christ.
Thankfully, our salvation is all of grace and not of our own works, worth, or wishes. If you love the Lord Jesus Christ with your whole heart (not just a Sunday heart), let your joy be fully in Him. If you still think you can make it on your own, apart from Christ, I pray that the riches you love will fail you before it’s too late.