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

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

Throughout the book of James, we have been given indications of what true faith looks like. How we handle handle 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 in a biblical view of wealth, and the worlds 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 go warn his brothers of their impending fate because of their greed. Luke 16:27-31 concludes the parable; “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him,  ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him,  ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets,  neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

Just as Jesus warned of the pitfalls of wealth in the parable, so too, does James 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 given for our stewardship, and we do well to heed the many warnings in Scripture about the desire for money.

James 5:1-6 NKJV “Come now, you  rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; 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 more times than not, wealth ends up being a curse. 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 are inviting 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 save something in the end, it may not necessarily prevent some level of setback. Luke 12:16-21 NKJV “Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul,  “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease;  eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night  your soul will be required of you;  then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself,  and is not rich toward God.”

Matthew 6:25-34 NKJV ““Therefore I say to you,  do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one  cubit to his  stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not  arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But  seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

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 great 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, trust God to meet your needs and see you through debt and difficulty on earth. Wealth cannot stop sickness or death, wealth cannot bring a peace that surpasses all understanding, and wealth cannot buy your way out on judgement day. Trust in the Lord, and lean not to your own 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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