Hello Summit family!
James is nearing the end of his letter to his brothers and sisters who are scattered throughout the world. He has returned to one of his primary themes, the testing that comes from the various trials one faces in life and specifically the trails that come from being wealthy. Ironically, having great wealth can introduce “trials” that need to be overcome if one is to acquire a perfect/complete faith. I am sure many of us would like to have the opportunity of being tested in such a fashion – having great wealth. However, it is clear James found it to be a significant challenge for those he was discipling. That is evidenced by the amount of time he spent addressing this topic in a letter that only comprises five chapters of instruction!
In verses four through six, he exposes another challenge wealthy people should avoid – becoming fraudulent.
“Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who is not opposing you.”
James is drawing his reader’s attention to the fact those who were placing their trust, confidence, and assurance in their wealth were also demonstrating fraudulent methods in their professional dealings. Specifically, they were being dishonest in paying the wages their staff had earned. James is also noting their actions had not gone unnoticed. The Lord God Himself had heard the cries of the defrauded.
Scripture records that God always hears the cries of the afflicted and oppressed. The prophet Isaiah recorded God’s sensitivity to those who are distressed. “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah and the vines He delighted in. And He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.”(Isaiah 5:7)
“You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry; defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror.” (Psalm 10:18)
“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor.And do not scheme against each other.”(Zechariah 7:9-10)
“Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors him.”(Proverbs 14:31)
These passages and many more confirm God’s concern for the oppressed and His intentions that He will judge those who oppress. James then shares there is another element to this offensive action. This fraudulent activity is occurring in the last days – days that are clearly a prelude to the return of Christ!!! (This should be a strong message to the contemporary Christians because we believe we are living in the last days!)
In verse five, James continues his declaration that the rich have become so engrossed in their self-indulgence, it has resulted in their being “fattened” in the day of slaughter. The verse refers to those who have been so captivated by living for themselves in luxury and self-indulgence they have gravitated to a life of pleasure that focuses solely on extravagant enjoyment without regard to the fact that the day of judgment is drawing closer and closer – the day of slaughter.
Luke recorded Jesus’ teaching the parable of the rick man and Lazarus. During the rich man’s life, he lived in luxury every day. He had no concern for anyone beyond his own self-indulgence. The beggar, Lazarus, “longed to eat from what fell from the rich man’s table.”Both died. Lazarus was carried to Abraham’s side and the rich man also died and according to scripture was buried. However, the rich man’s final destination was Hades. The lesson learned – the rich man’s wealth, while providing good things on earth did not translate into eternal comfort! It is clear the rich man had a self-centered, self-indulgent attitude regarding his wealth.
In verse six, James brings this warning to the rich oppressors he has identified to a dramatic conclusion. The preoccupation they have with their wealth has resulted in fraudulent practices which have propelled them to be guilty of the ultimate betrayal. In many respects it is a return to the problem which has plagued the nation of Israel and all of mankind since the beginning of time – idolatry. The preoccupation with worldly wealth has result in betraying the innocent One! Their self-indulgence has resulted in their wealth becoming their idol. An idol is anything thing or one that replaces God as one’s object of worship.
One cannot read this verse without remembering the One who was betrayed for a mere 30 pieces of silver, betrayed for wealth. We know that Jesus Christ was wholly righteous and did not resist those who cried out for his death. That should not be interpreted as weakness on the part of our Savior. The point is that Jesus Christ wasn’t in a position where He did not have the power to resist, but that he chose NOT to resist. Unfortunately, during that period in history people were persecuted not because they were weak, but because they were righteous.
When people are blinded by wealth, they frequently fall into the temptation of oppressing and fraudulently mistreating those who don’t even oppose them. When people are blinded by the comfort and luxury of wealth, their concern for being righteous all too often diminishes and what prevails are the attitudes James has highlighted in this passage: hoarding, defrauding others, self-indulgence, and betrayal.
All of this is a reminder that worldly wealth is an area of high risk in our efforts to walk humbly before God. It is very difficult to be rich and humble at the same time!
James has provided a serious warning. The “trials” that accompany worldly wealth are just as prevalent in our world today!