Hello Summit family!
Early in his letter, James approached the subject of wealth in chapter one, verses ten and eleven. He encouraged his readers to take pride in their humiliation, another topic he introduced throughout his short letter. The wealthy need to be reminded their wealth can quickly and easily fade away because it is due largely upon positive circumstances in a person’s life. He also reminded his readers that “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (4:6) And he has reminded his readers they should not show favoritism based on outward appearances. They were obviously perceiving someone’s value was based on the way they were dressed and their “golden” accessories.
It should be easy to conclude the issues of wealth, pride and humility were issues James felt he needed to address from a pastoral perspective. The issue of wealth leading to pride is prevalent in our world today. It seems throughout history there has always been an imbalance between the position of the rich and those who are less fortunate, at least based on worldly perspectives. That is probably why James continues to return to this subject as he begins chapter five.
“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire.” (5:1-3a)
The debate among scholars – who James is addressing in these verses. Since this is a letter to Christians scattered throughout the world, there are some who believe it is being addressed to those within the church who are wealthy and have allowed their wealth to become their obsession.
It is possible there were some Christians who fled to new societies only to become spiritually distracted with efforts to become financially successful. Maybe those efforts distracted their attention from being focused on spiritual matters. Humility is easily lost when one’s focus on being wealthy captures their heart.
It is also possible James is following a pattern established by many of the Old Testament prophets. They frequently addressed “absent audiences” in their prophecies. It was not unusual for Old Testament prophets to have messages for the foreign nations that were oppressing the nation of Israel. The Old Testament prophets accomplished several goals in addressing “absent audiences.”
- They reminded the nation of Israel the Word of God is powerful in its own right.Isaiah had this to say about the Word of God: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”(55:10-11) When the OT prophets delivered their “message” from God, they were actually delivering the most powerful blow against the enemies of the nation of Israel because what God said through His prophets WOULD and did come to pass.
- The people of God heard the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets against the nations oppressing them, which would have been a word of comfort to God’s
people. Isaiah shared this prophecy against Babylon:“Go down, sit in the dust, Virgin Daughter Babylon: sit on the ground without a throne, queen city of the Babylonians. No more will you be called tender or delicate. Take millstones and grind flour; take off your veil. Lift up your skirts, bare your legs, and wade through the streams. Your nakedness will be exposed and your shame uncovered. I will take vengeance. I will spare no one.” (47:1-3)
- By sharing the plan of God, not only for Israel, but for the other nations, the Old Testament prophets were actually discipling the people. They were learning how they could be pleasing to God.
Either way, if the “wealthy” being referred to were those inside the church or those outside the church, the message is the same: God opposes those whose wealth have kept them from being obedient to God! God also opposes today’s wealthy if their wealth prevents them from being obedient to God.
We know that God is not opposed to those who are wealthy simply because of their wealth. James has already reminded his reader of the relationship God had with Abraham, who was considered righteous before God and yet was very wealthy. We remember Joseph, Job, and others who Scripture records had great wealth. So, this cannot be a declaration against just being rich. There are no examples in scripture where accumulating wealth is listed as being sinful. It seems more reasonable to conclude this warning is being directed to those whose preoccupation with their wealth and the self-indulgence it can create served as a hindrance in their commitment of being faithful to God.
One might even question how the topic of wealth is related to James’ primary proposition. He has encouraged his reader to let all the trails we face in life result in the perfection/ completion of our faith through perseverance.
One could easily conclude he is intentionally directing his reader’s attention to the reality that great wealth can serve as a primary prevention in the maturation of one’s faith. Most with great wealth are tempted to put their trust, confidence and hope in their wealth as opposed to putting their trust, confidence and assurance in God. “Where a man’s treasure is, there is where his heart will also be”(paraphrase of Matthew 6:12) is true all the time. Unfortunately, when we put our trust in any other source except God, the continued growth of our faith will be hindered.
This week, we will examine James’ final word of encouragement against the pitfalls that easily accompany being preoccupied with being wealthy.
As followers of Christ, it is easy to conclude that all the “trials” of life are the result of difficult situations. There is wisdom though in realizing that every “trial” will not be associated with negative happenings. There are times when situations that appear to be positive produce some of life’s greatest “trials.” I believe the “trial” of being faithful with the resources God has given us is one of the most common trials that Christians have faced throughout history.
James’ audience most assuredly struggled with these issues or the topic would not have reappeared throughout his letter. Where are we today with the same struggles? Where is our faith as it relates to our wealth or lack thereof? Where is our treasure?