A few weeks ago, I was reading through the book of James, and the verses at the beginning of chapter 5 captivated me. He starts the chapter by admonishing the rich, a passage I had never paid all that much attention to in the past. I’m not a millionaire or billionaire, I’m firmly in the middle-class in America, so surely those verses don’t apply to me?
According to the World Bank, “In 2017, an estimated 9.2 percent of the global population still lived below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day, which is based on poverty lines in some of the poorest economies in the world.” It’s crazy to me that many people live off of less than $2 per day. They live on less than my order at Starbucks!
While I’m not rich by American standards, in comparison with the rest of the world, I am rich. Because I have the privilege of living in the United States, I have more money than many precious souls around the world. I have more money and more access to income than Jesus did when he lived on the earth—he was a homeless, nomadic teacher—he sure didn’t have a savings account or a 401K.
With that in mind, let’s read James’s warning to the rich.
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.” James 5:1-6 (ESV)
These are really uncomfortable verses that I would much, much rather just gloss over and pay no attention to. I don’t like to read verses about judgment, but I think it would do us some good to at least consider them. Let’s ask God to examine our hearts and reveal anything improper.
Wealth Exposes (v.2-3)
“Money is amoral—it’s neither good nor evil. It can be used either way.”
I remember my pastor saying that years ago. 1 Timothy 6:10 tells us that the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evils. But money itself is not bad. It’s a tool that can be used for good or evil. And our use of money exposes the state of our heart, our priorities, and our loves.
In James 5, James is calling out the rich because they had placed their trust, their hope, and their faith in their wealth. They had been so focused on enriching themselves that they missed the point—they weren’t building up treasures in heaven.
How about you? Regardless of how much you make, how do you view money? And how do you use money?
As I have been looking at my life, I have realized that I can very easily use my money to worship myself. I can indulge in too many luxuries (often eating out) or entertaining myself. I can use my money on myself instead of investing in the Kingdom of God.
On the other hand, I can also hoard my money, trusting in my stockpile to provide for a rainy day instead of having faith in the Lord. Of course, it’s important to use our money wisely, but we’re called to be generous and not stingy.
God Sees it All (v.4-6)
I am not a business owner, I don’t oversee employees, and I am not distributing payment to anyone. And, of course, if I were employing people, I wouldn’t unjustly withhold payment from them. So it’s really easy for me to gloss over verses 4-6. But I want us to sit with these verses a little longer and see what they can reveal to us about who God is and who he is calling us to be.
God sees injustice, including unjust business practices. These things aren’t lost on him. He doesn’t turn a blind eye in the face of wealth-gaining—he hears the cries of those who are mistreated and aren’t being paid fairly. He is also aware of us when we spend our lives enriching ourselves while others are struggling.
I do believe these verses are a warning for us. We’re called to different things and I fully believe that I am called to start businesses and help employ people. When I read these verses and I want to weep. My guess is that some of the people who James was warning didn’t start out wanting to be greedy or selfish. Some of them probably started out like me, wanting to create jobs and opportunities for people, and just fell into the allure of greed. Reading through these verses is a reminder that I have to be on guard against greed.
What stands out to you in these verses?
Lament is Good (v.1)
This has been a really uncomfortable passage to work through and I’m proud of you for making it this far. If something has stood out to you or you’ve felt convicted—praise God! That’s amazing! Let’s engage in repenting for when we have partnered with greed, used wealth unjustly, or placed our faith in our material resources instead of in Jesus.
I believe that God is calling us to lament. Honestly, I think 2020 was a year of lament—many of the people I talked with last year were engaging in the process of mourning, weeping, and wailing with the Lord. And I think he’s inviting us to lament for the state of the world today. The greed in the church today. The trust in material wealth that’s present in his people today.
I believe that God is calling his people to turn away from the idol of greed and pursue him instead. This might require us to steward our money and our businesses differently. I wonder how the world might change if the people of God used our money differently than the world. How could our lives, our checkbooks, and our communities change if we took the time to regularly examine our hearts when it comes to our money?
Let’s actively fight against the greed that can so easily take up residence in our hearts and minds!
What stands out to you in James 5?
How do you practically fight against greed?
To go Deeper: Read Greedy Little Heart, Characteristics of the Kingdom: Generous
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