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

Matthew 6:19-21 ESV ““Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 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 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; “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (ESV).

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 ESV “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.”

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 ESV “ And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Matthew 6:25-34 ESV “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious 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? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. 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 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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