"1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and you garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man; he does not resist you."
I believe this section actually forms a piece with the previous section. And all of this scripture follows the section in chapter 4, vs. 4-10.
In that section, James reminds his readers that "friendship with the world
is enmity with God." When we seek to gain our joy, life, identity, success,
etc. from the world we are at odds with God and what He desires to give us.
In v. 7 of chapter 4 James says "Submit yourselves therefore to God..." and
in v. 8 he assures his readers that when you "draw near to God and he
will draw near to you."
As I have said before, the struggles that life brings us and that we bring
on ourselves all become trials of faith. When we are struggling with something
in our lives or something in the lives of those we love, the deepest issue
is always about God: "Is God here? Does He care? Is He able to work even
at this painful time in my life?" I think that the main reason it becomes
difficult to trust God is that we have deep expectations about how God should
handle our broken lives and we want to tell Him that we will trust Him in exchange
for Him taking care of things the way we want Him to. These expectations make
it very hard to trust God--they get in the way of our turning our lives over
to Him for Him to work as He sees fit. I think I am often willing to endure
unpleasant situations with the hope that they will be over very soon, in a
week or a month. I almost hold my breath, waiting for life to return to "normal." I
am not then living through the trial by faith, by counting on God to give me
His life, love, and comfort in the midst of the time. I am simply trying to
will my way through it.
So James tells his readers to humble themselves before God and to draw near
to Him. This means learning to turn the whole thing over to God, including
how we want it resolved. It doesn't mean that we don't still have hopes about
the eventual outcome, but that our highest hope and confidence is in our heavenly
Father working His good purposes here and that He is not thrawted in His ability
to work His wonderful will in these adverse circumstances. We draw near to
God in order to know the peace and joy of His drawing near to us--here and
James then turns to three things that were getting in his readers' way of
trusting fully in God's character and work. The first is the temptation to
put down or judge our brothers and sisters. This comes mainly out of jealousy
and fear that they are getting a better deal from God than we are, they seem
to be having the kind of life we think should be ours.
The second temptation is to make our own plans, without having God lead. I
think we do this either because we think God may not be paying close enough
attention, so we need to take care of things ourselves, or because we fear
what would happen if we really went with God's will--maybe it wouldn't be what
we want to happen right now.
The third temptation, which we take up today, is to put our trust in our wealth.
Money seems like a security, a firm foundation, in this very uncertain world
we live in. Wealth, we think, can provide us with options, with protection,
with a secure future. We become tempted to hoard it and to be unwilling to
share generously, especially with those who helped us acquire this wealth.
Now there are two ways to go through this passage, two perspectives that are
important to notice. James is speaking directly to the wealthy, but obviously
not assuming everyone in his readership is in this place. There are those who
are cheated by the wealthy as well--the laborers whose wages are held back.
James begins this section with the same words that he used to introduce the
previous section: "Come now." First it was "you who say..." and
now it is "you rich", thus connecting the two sections together.
In the previous section, James exposes the folly of thinking that we can make
plans for the next year of our lives when we don't know about tomorrow and
are nothing more than "a mist that appears for a little time and then
vanishes." Here James exposes the folly of building your fortress of security
out of your wealth. Notice the graphic word pictures James draws for us! He
begins by encouraging these wealthy ones in the congregation who are trusting
in their wealth to repent, to turn from counting on their money to give them
life, to get them out of their struggles, to give them security. He wants them
to "weep and howl" because there are miseries coming on them. These
miseries are the consequences of foolishly placing their confidence in their
wealth--of hoarding it out of fear. Are these things eternal? Will they last?
Are they worthy of this confidence? Can they truly make one secure and well?
James is very adamant with his "no" to all these questions. All
these things that you stack up and keep as your security will rot and rust
away and the rust will be evidence against you. Evidence of what? Evidence
of where you were placing your trust and life. Evidence of what you have come
We can know a lot about God and believe or assent to truths about Him, but
it becomes more obvious where our true faith lies when we look at how we are
living, especially what we are anxious about. What treasure are we really laying
up for the last days?(v.3)
James goes on to talk about these rich people's dealing with those who work
for them. They are reluctant to share the wealth with those that directly helped
them acquire it; they desire to keep as much of it for themselves as they possibly
can. Again, James says there is a consequence. What has been done will not
remain hidden forever. The injustice done to fellow human beings will be exposed.
For those who are the guilty wealthy this is meant to bring about repentance
and renewed trust in God. For those who are cheated by others, who are exploited
by those attempting to acquire and hoard wealth, this is a note of hope. He
is their advocate. God is not absent. He sees and knows the injustices of this
world and is committed to setting things right. They (and we) may have to wait
a long time to see the justice of God worked out, but we can know that it will
happen. Out of faith we can participate in this process here and now, but the
final and complete work belongs to our heavenly Father. Only He sees and knows
everything and only He can bring about deep and true healing, restoration,
In verse 5, James describes these wealthy people as ones who "have lived
on the earth in luxury and in pleasure..." These are people who have made
it their top aim to avoid all suffering if possible, to have themselves pampered
and indulged. They are the center of their own world, and their pleasure is
their only aim. They have attempted to belong to this earth, to establish their
home, their life, and their identity here, as if this was their true home.
They are ignoring all the signs that indicate we were made for a home somewhere
else. But again, James warns them strongly of the consequence of living this
way. Indulging oneself, blessing only yourself, leads not to life, but to death.
The protective, selfish, grasping self cannot survive, cannot receive the greater,
richer life it was created for. It will go the way of all sin--it will be destroyed
so that nothing is left to get in the way of the full, complete, living life
Jesus came to give us.
Lastly, James accuses these people of condemning, killing the "righteous
man" and this one "does not resist you." What is he talking
about? Well, it seems to parallel his comments earlier in v. 4 about the laborers
who were exploited. Here also, there is someone who is taken advantage of,
indeed who is disposed of for the advantage or convenience of the wealthy.
This person is described as "righteous." It could be that the rich
were tempted to view themselves as the blessed of God because of their wealth
and so they were the “righteous ones.” If so, then James is setting
the record straight. The one or ones they have condemned were not deserving
of this condemnation, they were righteous. Further, no resistance was put up
to this injustice done against him or them.
You can't look at this description of the righteous man, who does not resist
and not think of Christ. He is ultimately The Righteous Man, the only truly
righteous One--living in right relationship with His heavenly Father. And He
was condemned and killed, by us!, and did not resist in order to give us life.
I wonder then, if James is saying, that this kind of living for oneself, this
building and hoarding of wealth, the refusal to be a channel of blessing but
rather only to bless yourself is what killed the righteous One, Jesus. Certainly
this terrible self-centeredness is what He came to destroy and rescue us from.
Living here on this earth is hard and often very painful, there is no doubt
about it. Often when we struggle, we long for the difficult circumstances to
be over. We are almost "holding our breaths" until we can "enjoy" life
again. God does not seem to be present and active because the struggle doesn't
resolve the way we want or just goes on with no clear end in sight. And at
these times we wrestle with the desire to cling to something other than God--something
which seems to guarantee security or the alleviation of our sufferings more
quickly or at least to simply feel superior to others.
James understands this struggle and wants to help his readers to continue
to hand their whole lives over to the "Father of lights"(1:17) James
deals with these three temptations we face when in the midst of trials, which
is really to say in the midst of living in this broken world. But even in discussing
these temptations, James always brings them back to their heavenly Father,
reminding them of who He is. In 4:11 and 12, James reminds them they can turn
from judging and speaking evil against one another because God is the One who
is our judge, the only One who truly knows us and knows our brothers and sisters.
We cannot see all that He can see. How silly of us then to speak a word of
judgment on another.
In 4:13-17 the reason we can turn from trusting in our own plans is because
God knows the future--He is the One who holds it. Next to His solid reality,
we are "mists." Finally in today's section, God is the one who is
listening to the cries of those treated unjustly. He is never unaware and He
is concerned about setting things right. That isn't just what He sometimes
does, that is Who He is!
As I have said before, what we need to remember in the midst of longsuffering
is that our true heavenly Father knows us, sees us, and is at work to bring
about our best. Whatever He is allowing in our lives, He allows it only to
redeem it and to redeem us through this time. He holds us and others, our futures
and our wealth, in His hands. They are ultimately not in ours. So we can turn
again to Him, ready to experience His peace and joy in whatever circumstances
we find ourselves dealing with now.
It is right to long for suffering to end because someday it will end once
and for all--it will not be a part of the full, rich life we are being prepared
to enjoy in and with Him. So our longings, now are not really just to have
our momentary struggles ended. Our longings are really for the deep love and
belonging we were created for by God. Those longings will not and cannot be
fully met here. That is the lesson we continually have to learn. Yet even in
our current struggles we can find joy and even count on joy because we anticipate
God's leading us through them to that final fullness of life, where we
are "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." Hold on to my own
small momentary expectations in the face of that greater final joy? Thank God
that He is helping us to grow all the time in our ability to count on Him and
the future He has promised we will have with Him.
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