“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you” (James 5:1).
We don’t often think of the rich as miserable. Though I suspect they are frequently less happy than the rest of us imagine, the misery James envisions is future, a coming judgment that is the result of a present problem—the problem of ruined riches. James’s language suggests four specific problems . . . problems which are by no means limited to the “super rich.”
“Your riches have rotted and your garments 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” (vv. 2-3).
Moths and rust more readily attack things in storage than those in daily use. Money, and what it will buy, is to be used, not merely accumulated. Do we ever reach a point when we say, “That’s enough”?
“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 (v. 4).
Problem two is not being fair with others in business dealings. James targeted those who would not pay their workers, something the Law of Moses required to be done each day (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). Not paying a fair price for goods and not paying one’s bills (that includes loans and credit cards) are kindred practices. No matter how powerful or shrewd a cheat may be, he is no match for “the Lord of Sabaoth,” the Lord of hosts.
“You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter” (v. 5). James’s terms point to luxury and lack of restraint. The ESV says “self-indulgence”; that is surely the spirit James is attacking.
Look at your checkbook. Where did it all go? Was it all the latest gadgets, the nicest accommodations you could possibly afford, and constant fun times? James graphically likens unrestrained selfish spending to fatting the hog for slaughter!
“You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you” (v. 6).
James’s climatic indictment is rich people using their power to put to death those who helplessly stand in their way, reminiscent of the story of Abab and Jezebel and Naboth (1 Kings 21:1-16). Surely our readers are thinking they would never do such a thing. Good. But how far do you go in taking advantage of others in the pursuit of more?