Warnings to the Wealthy
The Bible says riches are neither good nor evil. We find many wealthy people in the Bible who are not condemned for their prosperity – Abraham, Job and David, for instance. In Genesis, we find God created all good things so people could fully enjoy His glory.
The problem is not mere possession of things. The problem is our sinful desires, the world and evil. As Paul emphasizes to Timothy, wealth often incites and exposes sins such as discontent, greed, selfish ambition, gluttony and idolatry (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Tragically, we often get things by sinning against others. Consider how many harsh words and angry deeds result when people have too much or not enough food, clothing and money.
James 5:1-6 warns those who idolize (identify with) wealth. God sees their sin and will perfectly judge every injustice by His righteousness. They will face the same eventual destruction as the objects they worship and adore. James says that although judgment has not yet come, the day of reckoning is nevertheless certain.
Earlier in this letter, James condemned favoritism toward the rich. There, he mentions the rich were often exploiting Christians. Here, his words about the ungodly and their wealth ring out as powerfully as those of any Old Testament prophet. God’s Word condemns any pursuit or use of wealth that oppresses, or even ignores, less fortunate people.
Notice what God judges as evil:
- withholding proper wages – those who exploit, underpay or refuse to pay workers.
- self-indulgence and luxury – those who use all for self and refuse to help anyone less fortunate.
- corruption – those who gain by victimizing others in socio-economic, legal or governmental systems.
Christians are called to righteously confront injustice. Even destitute, downtrodden or underprivileged Christians possess power to act for justice. James calls believers to two acts of submission to the Spirit: be patient and pray. The good news is that God renews His children by authentic faith to become good stewards of His gifts as He directs for His glory.
James focuses on God’s promised and coming justice in 5:7-12. James encourages believers to persevere in trials of injustice. He does not say to be patient because it is all the poor can do. Nor does he suggest the rich will treat the poor better for their patience. James gives the illustration of a farmer waiting for rains and crops. Perseverance in faith looks to the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ. He will return with perfect judgment and produce a harvest of righteousness.
James also explains God’s judgment of Christians. God’s children sometimes seek to excuse themselves for sin by blaming the rich. They condemn the rich for sins they also practice: greed, covetousness and lust. God, the perfect judge, will examine both unbelievers and His own children. Christians will not be condemned but will face loss of reward.
Patience often appears entirely passive. But patience to stand firm in unwavering faith for the cause of Christ requires great effort. James commends the Old Testament prophets, “who spoke in the name of the Lord.” He refers to Job, the classic biblical example of standing firm.
The Bible is filled with examples of people who suffered for doing good. While suffering, they refused to blame God, deny truths about God or to seek a way out of suffering through sin. Through them, we learn patience is actively produced through submission to the Holy Spirit. He enables believers to hold on to truth and bear up under oppression in ways that show others the reality of the gospel.
God hears the prayers of the righteous. The prayers of those drawing near to God are “powerful and effective.” This statement does not mean people should expect to get everything they ask for. James already taught about how to make requests of God earlier in the letter. God delights to answer those who pray to be conformed to His will in every circumstance, whatever it may cost them.
Some people mistakenly view verses 14-15 as a guarantee of physical healing for sick Christians who pray in faith. God does grant spectacular healings, but nowhere in Scripture does God promise health in this world for every believer. James is writing about prayer in response to suffering brought about through injustice.
Verse 14 tells people in need to ask for help from the elders of their church. Their faithful elders would come, pray and anoint the sick with oil. James already spoke against a false faith that offers a prayer or blessing without meeting physical needs (2:16). Prayer within a faithful, fervent community also filled with active caregiving serves God’s will.
1.How do people abuse or misuse the privilege of wealth to commit injustices today?
INSIGHTS: Answers could include hoarding wealth, withholding wages or payments due, knowingly making a profit through law-breaking or mistreating workers, bribing people into disrespectful or dishonest actions or oppression of the marginalized.
2.What from James’ responses to injustice while anticipating Jesus’ return most encourages or challenges you?
INSIGHTS: Personal answers will vary, but all connect to James’ examples: standing firm, patience during suffering, refusing to grumble against one another, trusting God to deliver justice, perseverance in faith and prayer.
3.Which of James’ words about authentic faith followed by works motivate you to live out your faith?
James’ closing comments sum up his purpose in writing this practical and challenging letter. God inspired James to confront those straying from authentic faith. Through James, God urgently and lovingly intervenes. James has faith in the believers’ God-given faith. He trusts they will not only hear these words, but also take them to heart and live them out.
Believers overcome temptations and troubles from our old natures, the world and evil by cooperating with the Spirit through inward transformation. As God’s children absorb the Word of God and stay in communion with Him and His people, they work in faith to live out the Father’s good, pleasing and perfect will.
Let’s pause to reflect on what we’ve discovered to help us live for Christ in authentic faith. Reflect on the Scripture, your prayers and responses to the questions raised as you studied. Here are two final questions to guide you into putting God’s truth to work in your daily life.
1.What has this study of James shown you regarding: stop doing, start doing, or keep doing with authentic faith?
2.What truths about God’s character do you want to share with those around you to encourage them or to help resolve misunderstandings?