“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” (James 5:1–6 NKJV).
“Come now, you rich!” In other words, “Listen up, you rich people!” With these attention-grabbing words, James began this paragraph of his letter, which many people simply skip over! They wrongly think it doesn’t really apply to them. Instead, they think it’s directed to those rich folks living behind the iron gates protecting their mansion, and they’re glad the Lord is giving it to them!
Money talks or does it?
Let me just say that I’ve seen two basic reactions to James 5:1–6. Some people without money sometimes feel they’re a bit more spiritual than those who have it. Well, they aren’t. On the other hand, some people with money somehow feel defensive, as though they have to apologize for having money. Well, they don’t. These verses from James apply to every one of us, for being rich is relative. Compared with the overwhelming majority of the world’s people, everyone reading these words is wealthy. Think about it. You probably own an automobile — with air conditioning, power windows, and power steering. Many in the world have never even sat in an automobile. You can afford a hamburger for lunch. Most of the world can’t.
Over the decades of ministry, I have been privileged to preach around the world. I have been in the slums of Mumbai, journeyed through the African bush, sat with refugees in the Middle East, and have been the dinner guest in the most remote and humble homes you can imagine. If those people were reading James 5 today, they would be thinking of people in America who they perceive as wealthy.
Does money possess us?
The reality is, no matter how much money we may have, someone else has a lot more. No matter how little money we may have, someone else has far less. So, we can be sure that James’s words are directed to each one of us. No one is exempt. Wealth is, above all things, relative. I have known people without much money who were actually more preoccupied with possessing it than some who have large estates. The real issue is not whether we have money, but whether our money has us! James was touching a sensitive nerve regarding the danger of materialism, the danger of being possessed and obsessed with stuff.
One problem in our affluent Western culture is that too many politicians — and too many individuals — think that most of our problems can be solved with money. So, they raise taxes, redistribute the wealth and create a dependent and entitled mentality in the process. Also, it seems, the more money we have, the more money we think we need. The more we make, the more we spend. Too many salary raises have simply created more personal debt. Money is deceptive. Very subtly, it can become the object of our worship. When we begin to possess significant amounts of money, it has a way of attempting to possess us.
That said, know that there is certainly no condemnation of wealth in these verses. Many of our heroes in the Bible were very wealthy individuals. Take Abraham: “Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold” (Genesis 13:2). King David was certainly not in the welfare line himself: “He died in a good old age, full of days and riches and honor” (1 Chronicles 29:28). And his son Solomon accumulated more than Abraham and David put together. Joseph of Arimathea, in whose tomb Jesus was laid is identified as a “rich man” (Matthew 27:57). And Barnabas, the wealthy landowner, made possible the expansion of the early church when he sold a valuable piece of real estate on the island of Cyprus and gave the money to the apostles (Acts 4:36–37).
So, if there is nothing wrong with wealth in and of itself, then why these words of waning from James? As he explains in James 5, the real issue with wealth is not in having it, but in how we get it, how we guard it and how we give it.
The way we manage our money can bring — to use James’s words — “miseries” upon us. The underlying idea of the word conveys that money may bring joy temporarily, but that joy is followed by misery. If our money is accumulated by ungodly means, it will bring misery sooner or later. It always does. If we hoard our wealth, it does no good for anyone, and we will be of all men most miserable in the end. Also, if we simply give our money to all types of self-indulgence, the result is also misery.
Money reveals our hearts
Don’t misunderstand James here. The point he was making is that how we get money, how we guard it, and how we give it will reveal what is truly in our hearts.
Your money talks. In fact, it speaks volumes about what you think is important in life. It is so much a reflection of what is inside us that Jesus spoke often about it. In one of out of every three of His sermons, He spoke about money. He told thirty-eight parables, and one-third of them deal with our possessions.
One of Jesus’ most poignant statements is, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Jesus knew your treasure would not follow your heart, but that your heart would follow where you put your money. Thus, there is a real possibility that the accountant who prepares your annual income tax returns knows more about your spiritual condition than your pastor or even your prayer partners. Yes, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So be careful about how you get your money, how you guard it and how you give it.
Taken from The James Code by O.S. Hawkins. Copyright © 2015 by Dr. O.S. Hawkins. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. O.S. Hawkins has served pastorates, including the First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, for more than 25 years. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, he has a BBA from Texas Christian University and his MDiv and Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For almost a quarter of a century, he served as president of GuideStone Financial Resources, with assets under management of $20 billion, serving 250,000 pastors, church staff members, missionaries, doctors, university professors, and other workers in various Christian organizations with their investment, retirement and benefit service needs. He is the author of more than 40 books, and regularly speaks to business groups and churches all across the nation. All of the author’s royalties and proceeds from the entire Code series go to support Mission:Dignity. You can learn more about Mission:Dignity by visiting MissionDignity.org.
Read more articles by Dr. O.S. Hawkins at: https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/o-s-hawkins/