1. Story of Bill Gates. Today, at age 41, he is the richest private individual in the entire world, with a net worth of about 30 billion dollars.
2. That is the kind of a story we are interested in quite often isn't it? We like to read books and watch movies about people who in some way or another, either through hard work or just dumb luck, have their lives turned around. Countless rags to riches books and movies have been big sellers. We are fascinated by the super rich. We are even entertained by shows about the "rich and famous."
3. Today James again talks about one of the biggest problems in his society and in our society today. A problem that so easily can affect us all. And that problem is the wrongful attitude, accumulation and use of wealth.
1. Let us see what God has to teach us about wealth today.
2. The first thing we need to consider is whom James is talking to. As we said the book of James is written to Christians, but this passage does not seem to be. It is addressed to rich people - these could be Christians. But unlike other sections, it is not addressed to brothers. And there is no call to repentance but rather a statement of certain judgement. And so it seems to be addressed to rich unbelievers. However the letter is sent to believers.
3. Already they had been warned about showing favouritism to the rich, especially because they were persecuting believers and therefor going against God. In fact James again talks about how they abuse the poor. And so these words can serve as a word of encouragement to those believers who were being oppressed by the rich.
4. We need to remember that the words here do not apply to all of those who are rich. Some of the godliest of people in the bible were rich - Job, Abraham, David, Solomon, Philemon. But there are times when God is angry at the rich and James tells us when this takes place.
5. What those this have to do with you and me? It can teach us about the dangers of money - whether we have it or desire it. It teaches us how God views our use of money the riches we have as a nation. It teaches us how God deals with the sins of the rich.
6. James first declares that these people will be judged, then he tells how they will be judges, and then why they will be judged by God.
7. In verse one he tells them to weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. He doesn’t warn then to repent or else. He doesn’t suggest there is a way to escape what will happen. It is a sure thing, a fact that they will be judged - and that judgement will be in the form of misery. And so they may as well weep and wail already.
8. What is this misery or judgement that will coming? As James tells them what it is, he lets them see that this judgement has already begun. He makes four prophetic statements that will indicate that trouble is coming.
9. First he says, "Your wealth has rotted or are corrupted." Wealth in those days consisted of money, but also commodities such as grain, oil, and costly garments. That is why Jesus said in Mat 6:19:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
The rich had hoarded so much food and clothing that it was going to waste. I sometimes wonder how much food goes to waste in North America and how many starving people that food could feed. Is this a sign that God’s judgement is coming, that we face certain misery?
10. The second sign of misery is that your silver and gold are corroded. To be corroded means to be tarnished or rusted. Since silver or gold do not rust or corrode, James is probably referring to tarnished metal. The tarnish was an indication of how long the hoarded wealth had lain idle. That which they valued more than anything else will deteriorate before their very eyes.
11. The third judgement becomes more personal. James has been talking about what would happen to their wealth. Now he talks about those who have misused their wealth. He says that the corrosion of their wealth will testify against them. Their wealth will become as testimony that is given in court as evidence to substantiate charges. This evidence will be very incriminating and there will be no way to dispute this evidence.
12. And the misery continues to build up. For not only will their wealth corrode, but so will their very bodies. The corrosion will not just testify against them but will eat their very flesh like fire. Just as an unknown virusl can quickly destroy a body with the flesh-eating disease, so will their own greed corrode their body like fire. For the problem was not their wealth but that which was within them - their greed and sin. So they will first loose the result of their sin, their wealth, and then the cause of their sin, their very being.