Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 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. 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. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
As we begin the fifth chapter, it’s easy to forget how the fourth chapter ended and think these verses are standing on their own as so many of these paragraphs have in this book, particularly if we have a modern translation with subheadings added, such as the NIV, where this paragraph has a subheading, and then verses 7 ff. have a different subheading. If we continue in that way, and many commentators approach this as a “stand alone” section, these verses won’t make much sense unless we resort to a political understanding. I rather doubt that the politics of class envy are what James had in mind… if hadn’t been invented yet!
In the previous section, covered in the previous post, James is teaching people about priorities and keeping our priorities on God’s purpose and will, and avoiding the arrogant view that we are in charge, not God. Here, he is pronouncing God’s coming judgment on those who oppress the poor for their own personal gain, and in the next section he urges us to be patient for the Lord’s coming is near at hand, and further urging people not to judge one another… which was his point in 4:1-12. Taking this larger passage into account and remembering that James has mentioned the rich twice before in his letter while teaching us first, not to show favoritism and then not to love this world and its allures, can you see how context is really important here? This isn’t “bag on the rich guy” as much as it is watch out for what’s going on in our own minds…
So dear reader, are you rich?
No, of course not and neither am I. By the way, are you on your own computer as you read this… or are you on your smart phone… or your iPad or Kindle Fire? Is this your internet connection? Do you realize that compared to most of the world’s population you are rich? Yeah, I’m not crazy about that thought either!
I can’t think of a passage anywhere in the Word that says that material wealth is evil or bad, but there are a lot of passages that warn us about being caught up in wealth, or lording it over others, and certainly there are passages about being tight-fisted and failing to help to meet the needs of others.
If it can be said that this letter has an over-riding theme, it would have to do with putting our love into action, you know, that “love your neighbor” thing… well Jesus was serious about that! We don’t need to be millionaires or super-rich to be tempted to love money and things, in fact if I were to be entirely honest, I would have to confess that I have met considerably more people of modest means who are lovers of money than I have rich people who are lovers of money. No, I’m not kidding… think about it! How about old Uncle Joe who is always so ticked off at those who have more than he does… Doesn’t he complain just a little too much?
Do you see it yet; have you gotten the point…?
It doesn’t matter how much you have, if we love the things of this world whether it’s money, possessions, power, position… whatever it may be, those things will be our undoing! There’s a great line in one of the old prayers in the Book of Common Prayer that says, “In our time of prosperity, good Lord deliver us.”
Yes, Lord, deliver us!