Words of Warning for the Wealthy (James 5:1-6)

Matthew 6:19-21 TLV ““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in or steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Throughout the book of James, we have been given indications of what true faith looks like; how we overcome temptation, how we speak, how we treat others, and how we handle money indicates where we are at in our faith.

We can see from Jesus’s description of handling treasures that there is a clear distinction between a biblical view of wealth and the world’s view of wealth. You can use wealth for good, or you can hoard it unto yourself. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (not the man Jesus raised from the dead), the rich man had everything one could want in this life, while Lazarus sat begging at his gate. After death, the rich man begged Abraham to let Lazarus warn his brothers of their impending fate because of their greed. Luke 16:27-31 concludes the parable; “Then the rich man said, ‘I beg you then, Father Abraham, send Lazarus to my father’s house! 28 For I have five brothers to warn, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “But Abraham says, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them listen to them.’ 30 “But he said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “But Abraham said, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead!’”

Jesus warned of the pitfalls of wealth, and James goes further to address the misery of the rich. Even though Ecclesiastes says money answers all things, we cannot place our hope in finances, and we are not to look to God as our financial guru or treat giving like a divine slot machine. Any level of finance is provided for stewardship, and we do well to heed the many warnings in Scripture about the desire for money.

James 5:1-6 TLV “Come now, you rich, weep and wail over the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your clothes have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have stored up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the workers 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 earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts for a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the righteous person—he does not resist you.”

We read harsh words right off the bat in chapter five. James is letting us know, like the whole of Scripture, that putting trust in money is not a good idea. Look at the New Living Translation of that passage. “Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you.”

“The very wealth you were counting on will eat your flesh like fire.” We may hear preaching that wealth is a sign of blessing, but wealth ends up being a curse more often than not. Is wealth bad? No, but if you begin making money, you better put a guard on your heart. Scripture says the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. As Christians, if we’re constantly listening to preaching on becoming prosperous and believing for bigger and better, we invite greed into our lives. We must guard our hearts, we must desire to do good with what we have, or the warning of James will come to bear on our lives. James tells the rich to weep and howl, that is, to have uncontrollable grief. Why do the wealthy need to have uncontrollable grief? Because of the miseries that are about to come upon them. Tragedy and hardship is the great equalizer in life. There are some things no amount of money can save you from, and even if money can keep something in the end, it may not necessarily prevent some level of setback.

Luke 12:16-21 TLV “ And Yeshua told them a parable, saying, “The land of a certain rich man produced good crops. 17 And he began thinking to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do? I don’t have a place to store my harvest!’ 18 And he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do! I’ll tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I’ll store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, ’O my soul, you have plenty of goods saved up for many years! So take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! Tonight your soul is being demanded back from you! And what you have prepared, whose will that be?’ 21 So it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich in God.”

Matthew 6:25-34 TLV “So I say to you, do not worry about your life—what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 “Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your Father in heaven feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They neither toil nor spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 Now if in this way God clothes the grass—which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow—will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the pagans eagerly pursue all these things; yet your Father in heaven knows that you need all these. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Let the words of these passages settle your heart concerning wealth, finances, debt, setbacks, or anything else. We do not want to be among those who put our hope in a crumbling financial system. We are not promised material wealth in this world, but the wealth in the world to come is incomparable; but as for this life, we have the promise that God will meet all our needs. Store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where nothing can corrupt it, and trust God to meet your needs and see you through debt and difficulty on earth. Wealth cannot stop sickness or death, wealth cannot bring peace that surpasses all understanding, and wealth cannot buy your way out on judgment day. Trust in the Lord, and lean not to your understanding. Put your faith in Jesus now, trust him with your life, submit to Him and follow His ways and He will take care of you.

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