Next on James’ list of behavioral issues, after warnings against worldliness and boasting about future events that we cannot ensure, James speaks now to the rich Jewish unbelievers who harass the church at Jerusalem, where James is the leader. This is truly a jarring, timeless passage. Buckle your seat belt!
“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” (Jam 5:1-3).
I have heard this taught as James speaking to the rich within the church, with the conclusion that riches are bad and must be forsaken. But James’ teaching to the church itself begins with James 5:7; stay tuned for the next blog.
To the unsaved rich, James tosses two metaphors, one for their fine garments and one for their valuable treasures. As we shall see in a moment, the unsaved rich have abused everyone else, with the result that their fine garments and precious metals like gold and silver are not what they think. In God’s eyes their clothing has rotted away and their metals are corroded, dripping with acid that eats their flesh:
“Behold, the wages of the laborers 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” (Jan 5:4-6).
If these rich people were believing Christians, they would have repented in perfect unity with God and encountered restoration to unity with God and the people they defrauded. The forgiveness flowing from the never-ending love of God leads to restoration with all sins forgiven. But since they have chosen God’s judgment, they are already well along toward a dead end, far from God forever.
This is not just a slap on the wrists of rich people. To the extent that they have treated workers badly and defrauded them as well, James says they are guilty of murdering righteous people – that is, the dearly loved children of God, who cannot even resist them. These rich will not finish well when they meet God face to face, half naked and dripping with sores all over them.
Hurry back for the next blog, where James lays out how believers in the church should endure in a world packed with the kind of people James has described, rich unbelievers and, unfortunately, some members of your church.
This does have a happy ending! Our choice is disunity from God or dignity in the presence of God.