Summary: James warns rich believers not to abuse their wealth but to use their wealth for future spiritual gains.
What is your investment strategy? Generally speaking, when it comes to financial investment, the greater the potential return, the greater the risk. So, financial planners may recommend a strategy that is focused on Preservation of Principal.
But what about investing with the preservation of the other kind of principle?
James 5 addresses wealthy Christians who were abusing their wealth and taking advantage of the poor. James 5 brings us to a point of transition. This is the strongest exhortation in the book. This is the end of a lengthy section that began in James 3:13 - Earthly wisdom vs. Heavenly wisdom.
James’ is warning these Jewish believers who were wandering from their faith in Christ.
James 5:1. Who Were these Rich Christians? 5:1
“Come now, you rich.”
They had GARMENTS (5:2)
They had GOLD (5:3)
They had BUSINESSES (5:4)
They possessed the three greatest symbols of wealth of their day - elegant clothes, gold and fields busy with laborers. These Jewish Believers were EXCEPTIONALLY RICH. We might call them the 1%!
Remember that James was written around 45-50 AD. The timing of James’ letter corresponds exactly to a time of poverty in the Roman world. We read about this through the prophecy of Agabus. “And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).” (Acts 11:28, ESV) The reign of Claudius was 41-54. The writing of James corresponds exactly to the famine prophesied by Agabus.
The saints in Jerusalem were also scattered (Acts 8:1) about this time. This dispersion due to persecution was a cause of great financial hardship. The Apostle Paul would later bring a collection from the believers in Asia Minor to assist the saints in Jerusalem. Jewish believers were not wealthy at this time, but at great disadvantage. So, when James addresses Christians who were abusing their wealth and neglecting the needs of others, they were doing so during a time of great need. This makes their sin even more deplorable.
Does this apply to me?
Few of us think of ourselves as RICH.
There are no Bill Gates here
There are no Warren Buffet’s here
There are no rich Athletes or Business tycoons here.
We think that we are not the 1% obsession of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
BUT... If you live in America, you are in the top 10% of the world’s economy!
50% of the world’s population live on around $2,000 per year.
The top 10% around $61,000 per year
The top 1% around $510,000 per year.
The bottom 10% of the U.S. income distribution falls in the upper 30% of the global income distribution. Courtney Blair, http://mic.com/articles/2636/compared-to-the-rest-of-the-world-americans-are-all-the-1
1.2 billion in the hworld do not have access to electricity (Washington Post) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/29/heres-why-1-2-billion-people-still-don’t-have-access-to-electricity/
About 2.6 billion people – half the developing world – lack even a simple ‘improved’ latrine