Summary: An in-depth look at James chapter five with practical applications. This entire series is available as an ebook from itunes or for the Nook via Barnes and Noble for the nominal fee of $4.95. This book is a conversational commentary.
5:1-6 Superior Faith is not Found in Greed
Once again James blows his spiritual whistle and calls for the attention of a specific group. He leaves no question regarding the status of those wealthy people who have used their wealth as a sign of their supposed superior faith. In fact, James now emphasizes that not only are they NOT right with God, but that judgment is coming. Their greedy behavior is not bringing God’s blessing, but rather God’s righteous judgment. In fact, God’s judgment has already caught up with them. The wealth they have sought to use as a mark of superior faith have marked them for the exact opposite. Their gold and silver aren’t shining examples of superior faith but instead of dreadful sin. Their goods are already rotten and corroded. Their wealthy clothing was already ample testimony of their sinful behavior, but judgment would be passed against them. Their gold and silver was tarnished- it had lost its appeal.
James names four specific sins of these wealthy folks. First, they had hoarded wealth. They had failed to pay debts. They had lived in luxury and self-indulgence. They had murdered innocent men.
It isn’t wrong to have wealth, but it is wrong to hoard that wealth. However, they were acting in extreme selfishness. Obviously the idea that hoarding wealth was a way of refusing to submit their possessions and monetary goals to the Lord.
When we adopted my son, Joshua, he was sixteen months. He had already began speaking Korean. Once in awhile he would get angry about something and begin spouting off one word in a repetitive manner. I finally was able to ask someone who spoke Korean what he was saying. With a huge grin our interpreter told us, “He is saying ‘Mine! Mine! Mine!” Isn’t it human nature to try to lay claim to as much as we possibly can?
Maybe it is in the nature of a duck as well, at least if his name is Daffy. One of my favorite Warner Brothers cartoons features Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny running into a vast treasure trove of wealth. Daffy responds in greed claiming everything he can possibly see while Bugs continues to study the map trying to figure out if he really should have made that left turn at Albuquerque or not. Daffy quickly runs afoul of the treasure’s guardian, while Bugs remains focused on getting to Pismo Beach.
I think that wealth can cause us to lose our perspective. We can respond like a child claiming it is “Mine! Mine! Mine!” or we can submit all that we have to God the Father. We can act like Daffy Duck and become so distracted by the allure of wealth that we do not continue the journey we are supposed to be on. The sin of hoarding deals with both selfishness and distraction. These rich people wanted to use their wealth to display their righteousness but God was already judging them because of their selfishness and loss of perspective.
Personally, I cannot disconnect this selfish hoarding of wealth from their refusal to pay those who harvested their crops. It is one thing to find a way to earn money but entirely different to get rich at the expense of others. These people had not only accumulated wealth, but had done so by cheating others. James claims that the very coins that they have in their possession are crying out in testimony against them. They refuse to be silent. They are practically screaming “Cheat!”
The Jews considered inanimate objects to be in tune with God. Joshua calls for the building of a monument and warns the children of Israel that if they fail to keep their commitment to God that the very stones of the monument would testify against them. Jesus tells the complaining Pharisees at the triumphal entry that if he silenced his disciples the very rocks would cry out in testimony of his authority as the Messiah. James wants his readers to know that we cannot hide our sin. The coins themselves offered testimony by their presence.
The third charge that James placed on these rich folks is that they indulged themselves in wastefulness. In fact, they had fattened themselves up, much like cattle are fattened for the slaughter. They lived as if there was no tomorrow. In God’s kingdom, there is always a day of reckoning. The fatted calf’s only purpose is the slaughterhouse. He indulgences himself with no thoughts of the day when he is called to judgment. He eats and eats selfishly. He fills his belly and never seems to notice that he is in the fattening pen while his fellow calves are out on the pasture. He consumes the grain and the cracked corn with gusto without regard that every pound he puts on brings him closer to the slaughter. In the same way, this rich people indulged themselves day after day only bringing themselves closer to God’s divine judgment.