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
1.1 billion people has no access to any type of improved drinking source of water. (World Health Organization) http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/mdg1/en/
So although you may not be “rich” in comparison to other friends, by simple virtue of the fact that we live in America, we are rich in comparison the vast majority of the world! If James were writing to the Church in America today, he would include this section. Perhaps he would make it stronger! “This section of James should send tremors through many American Christians, for the culture in which we live is fundamentally oriented toward leisure.” Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 213.
James 5:2-3 Their Confidence was in their Possessions. “Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.” (James 5:2–3, ESV)
Their SIN was confidence in their wealth.
James ECHOS what Jesus taught.
James 5:2 “”rotten, moth eaten” sounds much like Jesus when he said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19, ESV)
James 5:3 “You have laid up treasure in these last days” sounds much like Jesus when he said, “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20, ESV)
This passage in James reminds us of the parable of the rich man building bigger barns in Luke 12:13-21 . Jesus says, “fool, this night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”