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1 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. ~ James 5:1-3
Today, we enter into the final chapter of this book which has as its main theme: the maturation of the faith of the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. In this letter, we have learned the utter importance of gaining the wisdom of God which enables us to navigate our sanctification. We have also learned that the goal of our sanctification is that others might benefit from our better quality of life which is a biproduct of having the God of the Bible define us on a daily basis.
As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are all tempted by the opulence and materialism of this world. In fact, we have all chased what is known as the American Dream which is not necessarily consistent with God's definition of the way our lives should be lived. This is, of course, the reason James highlights the various tests that God allows and causes to prove that our faith in Him is being strengthened.
The theme of today's passage is how the believer in Christ is supposed to handle our material wealth in this world. One of the four half-brothers of the Lord Jesus, James, here is obviously speaking to people who though on the outside may have affirmed faith in Christ and love for God, obviously struggled with their love for money. And so, their spiritual state was revealed in the matter of their relationship to riches.
In Matthew 6:19-21 the Lord Jesus said, "19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Along with the Lord Jesus, James calls us to evaluate the state of our hearts by how we handle our wealth, because our hearts will always be invested in those places that we invest our wealth. And, in today's passage, James gives the most blistering denunciation against those who trust in their wealth. We prostitute the goodness and generosity of God when we base our daily choices on the basis of our wealth rather than on the will of the One who laid down His life for us.
Wealth in itself is not sinful. It is not wrong to possess wealth, it is wrong to be possessed by wealth. And, the more wealth we have, the greater will be the potential for us to be guilty of the love of money which is the root of all evil. When our hearts are greedy for money and therefore controlled by it, all kinds of evil is possible for us. If we serve money, we have a very difficult time serving God at the same time.
In v.1 of today's text we read, "Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you."
We are rich when we have more than we need. If we have money beyond the meeting of our needs, we’re in the category of the rich. Those to whom James wrote abused their God-given resources by hoarding them. The word "weep" means "to sob out loud." This word is used in other places in the Bible to describe those who "hysterically cry for the dead." This uncontrollable response to greed is the bi-product of gaining God's wisdom. This response is uncontrollable because of the horror of realizing that we are found in the clutches of the evil one himself. And, this viewpoint leads us to the lament of repentance where God's grace is quick to comfort.
The word "misery" is connected to our sinful wretchedness. It has to do with the overwhelming trouble that creates incredible distress in us. This misery is present in our lives because sin is out to destroy us.
In v.2-3 in today's text we read, "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."
Trusting in our riches is a damning thing. Again, money is not the issue, it is how we relate to money. Money is, in and of itself, amoral. What we do with our money is what makes it moral or immoral. And, when we hoard our wealth, we sin. From the word translated "hoarded" in v.3 we get our word "thesaurus" which means storehouse or treasury. And, when we storehouse our wealth we are not putting it to its proper use, which is to advance the kingdom of God in this world.
Obviously, God provides for us so that we might provide for our families, and, when we do not do that, God says in 1 Timothy 5, we are worse than unbelievers. We are to take care of our families, of those in the extended family, of the widowed and the orphaned among us. God gives us wealth so that we can be an extension of His grace in this sad world. We are defined by His culture when we obey His word.
All material things, not invested in the eternal, will end up useless and will decay. When we recognize that we are not investing in His culture, we should wail. We should wail because, if we have only invested our wealth in the temporal, we have nothing to show for God and others in the end. In eternity, if we have lived as if this world was all there is, we will be rather poor in comparison to those who were motivated by God's heart. In the end, our gold and silver will be useless. How foolish are we when we hoard the money of this world, because it will not follow us into eternity.
The only acceptable way to live in the light of the soon coming of Christ is to live holding everything loosely. This includes all of the blessings that God gives us, our wealth, especially. It doesn't take us too long to discover that the tighter we grip it, the less we will have for His glory. This is one of the great litmus tests to our faith in the here and now.