As James ends chapter 4 and begins chapter 5 do not be fooled into thinking that James is finished with his critique of the wealthy. After condemning their pride and arrogance in 4:12-13, he continues in 5:1-6 by pressing the wealthy and criticizing their ungodly use of wealth. A quick glance over the whole of James reveals that there is no other passage quite like 5:1-6. In all of James this is without a doubt the harshest, most severe word James has for his community.
Be warned: I am going to talk about something today that will offend some of you. As James did with his community, so I must do so now, especially today on Black Friday. We’re going talk about Money today. But not only money, we’re going to talk about your money. And not only your money, we’re going to talk about how you use your money. But before we get to that point we need to walk through this text to see the reason James used such severe words against the wealthy here.
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. (James 5:1-6)
James criticizes the wealthy for being four things in this text:
Did you notice how James begins this second section on the wealthy in the same way he began the first one? “Come now, you rich” shows that James, again as in 4:13, isn’t afraid of the wealthy in the community. He could have been afraid of them and be tempted into thinking that because they have money they therefore have more power and must be treated differently. He does no such thing. Here in these first three verses James calls them hoarders. The language he uses here shows us this: their riches are rotting, their clothes are moth-eaten, and their gold and silver are corroding, and James even says the evidence of their riches rotting will be evidence against them, therefore they ought to weep and howl because judgment is coming. Rather than doing what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:19-20 (laying up treasures in heaven where moth and rust cannot destroy) they were laying up treasure here on earth, in what James calls the “last days.”
Moving into 5:4 James continues his harsh, but proper, treatment of these wealthy folks by calling them defrauders. They are called defrauders not because they have large properties but because on those properties they employ laborers who work and make a living by taking care of the property, and rather than paying them what have earned these wealthy landowners kept it back for themselves. These working class people need to be paid so they can make it and take care of their own families, but apparently some or most of the money that is supposed to be allocated for them is being used to pay for the landowner’s extravagant living. What happens to those who are overlooked? Who heard the cries of those who weren’t getting paid their fair share? God does. “Their cries have reached the Lord of hosts.” Not just “the Lord” but “the Lord of hosts” to show that God will avenge His own people when they’re mistreated with His own army, the heavenly host. This is no small matter. To take what rightly belongs to someone and use it to make your life more comfortable is disgusting.
James calls them indulgers in 5:5 because these wealthy landowners took the money they wrongfully kept back from their workers and used it to live in luxury, self-indulgence, and fatness. Notice here it in 5:5 it gives more context to when they did this? Earlier in 5:3 it says they did this “in the last days” and here in 5:5 it says they did this “in the day of slaughter.” What does that mean? Remember the context to which James is writing into. James 1:1 says he wrote this letter during the dispersion, meaning he wrote this letter when persecution hit the Church and spread them, or dispersed them all around the country. This is what he’s referring to when he says the wealthy wrongfully used the money due to others for their own gain “in the day of slaughter.” During the time when the wealthy could be using their own resources and money to care for the persecuted believers and congregations in the area, they didn’t care at all and went out and got fatter in luxury, freely indulging in whatever they so desired while their brothers and sisters were being put to death for preaching the gospel.
Because of all these things in 5:6 James says these wealthy landowners oppress the righteous by condemning and murdering them, and like Jesus these righteous men being condemned and murdered do not resist or avenge themselves. “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil, if anyone slaps you on the right cheek turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)
So as you can see, what these wealthy landowners were doing is nothing short of fantastically wretched. They turned their backs on their brothers and sisters in a time of need and lavishly turned to luxury and fatness. Now for the hard part for us: God is not saying riches are bad, he is not giving Robin Hood (stealing from the rich to give to the poor) a glowing recommendation. What God is saying is that we can sin grievously by how we use or don’t use our money. Are we hoarders, defrauders, indulgers, or oppressors? More than we know. And Black Friday reveals this.
Anyone notice the title to the blog today? A preposterous hypothesis for Black Friday? What is this hypothesis that sounds preposterous? Acts 20:35, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
The preposterous hypothesis for us is simple: giving and tithing.
Black Friday is a day for the Church to show themselves to be different, by using our money in a God-honoring way rather than spending it on our own comfort and luxury. May you use today to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth or rust can destroy.”