Summary: The aim of this warning is to awaken all Christians who are tempted to adopt worldly goals & standards rather than God’s goals & standards. The secondary purpose is to assure suffering Christians of the Divine judgment coming upon their oppressors.
THE USE OF WEALTH / A Source of Spiritual Numbness
[Amos 5:11-27/ Mt. 6:19-21]
The last section dealt with arrogant self-centeredness. Arrogant self-centeredness is demonstrated by planning a future without placing God’s will first and it can lead to more dangerous possibilities. Those who begin to get absorb in a plan for future gain may become unjust, unscrupulous and unfair in order to fulfill their plot. Such a quest for wealth and power can consume all our energies and deaden us to spiritual and moral matters.
Nothing in the Bible exceeds the rebuke here unleashed against the selfish rich who live for material prosperity. He warns both the rich and poor concerning the numbing effects of total absorption in getting wealth and power. The prideful self-centered wealthy are anesthetized to the fact that Divine judgment will come upon them for their greed and misuse of wealth (CIT).
Neither money nor wealth is evil, but the love of money leads to all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). The aim of this warning is to awaken all Christians who are tempted to adopt worldly goals and standards rather than God’s goals and standards. The secondary purpose is to assure suffering Christians of the Divine judgment coming upon their oppressors.
I. HOARDING OF WEALTH, 1-3.
II. GREED GAINED WEALTH, 4-6.
James begins his warning in verse 1 with a forceful pronouncement of impending judgment. Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.
Having addressed the haughty self-confidence of merchants (4:13-17) James now sharply addresses wealthy landowners who live in arrogant disregard of God. Verse one indicates the severity and certainty of God’s coming judgment upon the self-absorbed rich. These rich (plouto, wealth and krateria, rule or power, thus meaning people ruled by the god of wealth-plutocrats) estate owners were not believers but were making life miserable for their victims, some of whom were Christians. They are called upon to weep and wail which represented a full and intense outburst at the realization that they have ignored God’s demands and now faced impending judgment. They would most certainly cry and howl if only they recognized their doom. (Howl is used 21 times in the O.T. to describe the violent grief of those who stood face to face with divine judgment).
The strong word miseries points to hardships, wretchedness, and difficult times which will strike the wealthy who had abused their financial power. The use of the present tense coming suggests that waves of successive judgment could be seen on the horizon. Like tidal waves, nothing could stop them.
James spoke with the authority and passion of an Old Testament prophet like Amos, Micah or Jeremiah as he sought to help oppressed Christians avoid the deceitfulness of riches.
Four sins precipitate severe judgment upon the wicked rich. They are condemned because their wealth was uselessly hoarded, unjustly gained, self-indulgently spent, and ruthlessly acquired. Selfish hoarding is addressed in verses 2-3. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. (3a) Your gold and your silver have rusted;
The ancient world accumulated wealth in three forms; food (Lk. 12:18), costly garments (Acts 20:33), and precious metals. From the stand point of God’s judgment (prophetic perfect) each had been already rotted, devoured and tarnished. James could see mildew rotting the people’s excessive food, moths gorging themselves on expensive garments and their precious metals tarnishing. Though gold does not literally rust it does lose its luster and should also be consider temporal.
These words are similar to Jesus’ who said, "do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Mt. 6:19-20).
"How dramatically life can cause money to lose its luster! Robert Hastings recalled the experience of American soldiers evacuating Cor-reg-idor during World War II. As they left the famous rock in the Philippines, everything that might have been of value to the enemy had to be destroyed, "including neatly stacked bundles of U. S. currency. The tired, battle-weary soldiers watched quietly. One soldier picked up a hundred dollar bill and used it to light a cigarette, saying, ‘I always wanted to do this.’ Time was running out on Corregidor, and money had very little meaning" in the face of the coming enemy.
Paul Geren’s Burma Diary detailed a similar situation of refugees escaping from Burma to India during the early days of World War II. Survival was their only concern. "Finding their money of no value, many of them threw it away." They realized that in order to escape, a given weight of food would do more to save their lives than the same weight of gold. As such, their precious riches rotted!