Summary: James confronts those who pursue wealth to assess the cost to their spiritual health.
RICH CHRISTIANS IN A GILDED AGE
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 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. Behold, the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”
Standing on the street corner in New Westminster, the young man pleaded with people passing by to believe the message of grace. He had organised a group of young men to witness on the streets of the city because he believed God had called him to serve as a spokesman for righteousness. I remember quite well when he preached his first message to a congregation. He had given the message the title, “It’s All Gonna’ Burn.” Using 2 PETER 3:1-7 as a text, the emphasis of his earnest plea was that the things of this world are impermanent, and that we must focus on the permanence of eternity.
I had the joy of baptising that young man when he confessed his faith in Christ as Lord. He eagerly read the Bible and grew rapidly in the Faith. He had a heart for the salvation of lost friends and family members, frequently pleading with schoolmates to believe the message of life. When his father died unexpectedly, he asked that I present a salvation message at the funeral and extend an invitation in hopes that people might be saved. During prayer meetings, he often pleaded for us to pray for the salvation of his family. My assessment was that the young man was an eager evangelist because of the joy of his own salvation.
He began to date a fine Christian woman, whom he eventually married. She told me that she was looking forward to the joy of motherhood. Preparing for his future, the young husband enrolled in a course of study that would permit him to assume a position in a shipping firm. He became a businessman and eventually rose through the ranks of the business world until he was directing the firm. Suddenly, he was earning more money than he ever thought possible. However, as wealth increased, he had less and less time for Christ, or for reading the Word, or for prayer, and he certainly did not want to jeopardise his relationship with business contacts through speaking of his faith or being overly righteous.
Attendance at the services of the church at first became sporadic, and finally, he was no longer present at worship. Though his wife now had vast sums of money at her disposal, she felt unfulfilled and disappointed because he did not want children; his work occupied all his time and required him to be absent on trips overseas. He felt that children would hinder his advancement in the business world and require too much of his time.
To my knowledge, he has never again followed the way of Christ. In the eyes of the world he is wildly successful, living the contemporary dream. However, by the standard of the Word, one would be hard-pressed to say that he is successful. In fact, judging by his actions during the past couple of decades it is difficult to know if he ever knew the Saviour.
James confronts those who pursue wealth to assess the cost to their spiritual health. There is an argument to be made that he is addressing wealthy unbelievers who were oppressing impoverished Christians. There are equally valid arguments to be made that he is addressing Christians who have fallen into a trap of depending upon their wealth. I tend to come down on the side of those who say that James is continuing his confrontation of professing Christians. It would be odd for him suddenly to address outsiders when they are not likely to read what he has written. Moreover, it is evident that he is addressing professing Christians in JAMES 4:13, when he begins by saying, “Come now, you…” In the first verse of our text, the same words “Come now, you…” introduce the theme of censuring those who depend upon their wealth instead of God.
Whether James is addressing unbelievers or believers is of less importance than that we recognise the grave danger wealth poses to our spiritual health and take steps to avoid stumbling and becoming unproductive in the work the Saviour has assigned to us. James’ warning to the rich serves as a caution to all who seek to follow Christ in this day, for if we fail to understand the stewardship we have received with what we hold, we will surely come under condemnation.