The Book of JAMES
James J. Barker
A WARNING TO THE RICH
- James 5:1-6 is a strong warning to the rich.
- A preacher by
the name of William MacDonald said: "In one of the most searching and piercing
sections of his letter, James now launches into a denunciation of the sins of
the rich. The words fall like hammer-blows, blunt and unsparing. In fact, the
denunciation is so strong that these verses are seldom preached
- The Bible does
not say that it is a sin to be rich. There is nothing wrong with owning
property, nothing wrong with making a profit, or investing money, and so
- Genesis 13:2
says, "And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and
- Abraham is
referred to 74 times in the New Testament as a great man of faith. Of all of the Old Testament heroes, only
Moses is referred to more in the New Testament (80 times). And he "was very
- Joseph of
Arimathaea was a rich man. Matthew
27:57-60 tells us he was Jesus' disciple, and that he took our Lord's body and
laid it in his own new tomb.
- Luke 8:1-3
refers to "certain women" who supported Jesus financially. Luke 8:3 says they "ministered unto him
of their substance."
- Other Biblical
examples could be given. There is
nothing wrong with wealth gained honestly and used properly. James condemns
those who have gained wealth dishonestly and use it
- John Wesley
used to say: "Make all you can, save all you can, invest all you can, and give
away all you can."
- John Wesley gave away most of his money. The problem
with most rich people is that they give away very little of their
- John Wesley taught that when a person received an
increase in income, he should increase his giving.
- "What should rise
is not the Christian’s standard of living but the standard of giving" -- John
- This is Biblical.
Psalm 62:10 says, "If riches
increase, set not your heart upon them."
- James is not teaching a socialistic "soak the rich"
message, like we hear from the politicians, OWS mob, and the left wing
- James is not advocating a "distribute the
wealth--class-warfare" message, like we hear from the president and his allies
- James is preaching what the Old Testament prophets
- James is teaching what the Lord Jesus Christ (his
half-brother) taught (cf. Luke 6:24-26; 12:16-21; 16:13, 14;
- There is some disagreement among Bible teachers as to
who James is speaking to – are these rich people saved or unsaved? Personally, I
believe that they are not saved.
- Normally James addresses his readers as "brethren" (1:2;
2:1; 3:1). In 4:1 he says "among you," and the context indicates that they are
saved (cf. 4:11).
- However 5:1-6 seems different, and it is highly unlikely
that Christians could live like this. It appears to me that these are wicked
rich people who are oppressing God’s people (cf. 5:6), and then James goes on to
say to Christians: "Be patient therefore, brethren…"
- In this passage James refers to four specific sins of
FAILING TO PAY PROPER WAGES
CONDEMNING AND MURDERING THE JUST
- This message would seem to have little relevance to a
middle-class church like ours. However, there is plenty of application for us.
Also, most of the world would consider us rich by their
IT IS A SIN WHAT THEY DO WITH THEIR MONEY
- James says: "Go
to now" (5:1; cf. 4:13), an expression indicating disapproval. "Come now..."
- James summons
the rich to weep and howl because of the miseries which would come upon them.
Soon they would meet God and their money will not do them any
- Now the rich
are smug and arrogant. Consider
Donald Trump. It is sickening the
way the presidential candidates bow and scrape before him in order to get his
endorsement (and perhaps his money).
- Now the rich
have their great wealth, their fancy cars, their own private jets, their many
mansions – one on the east coast, one on the west coast, one in Europe, etc. –
but soon it will all be over for them, and then they will be filled with shame
and remorse (5:1).
- Now they are
living like royalty, but soon they will be weeping and howling (5:1).
- Revelation 6:15
and 16 says that during the coming tribulation, the kings of
the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the
mighty men will hide themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains,
and they will say And say to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us, and hide us
from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the
- Judgment day
will come for the rich man and he must stand before God like a dirty beggar. And
God will judge him for his covetousness, for seeking security and comfort in
material things rather than in God.
- The rich will
weep and howl in agony when they are reminded that they indulged themselves to
the full while others had not even the bare
- Most rich
people waste their money on frivolous and worldly pleasures while missionaries
are struggling to build churches, and millions of heathen have never even seen a
- Having wealth is not necessarily evil, it is what you do
with it that matters. People often misquote the Bible, and say,
"Money is the root of all evil," but the Bible says, "For the love of money is the root of all
evil" (I Timothy 6:10).
- Hoarding wealth is definitely wrong and God judges the
rich for that (cf. Matt. 6:19-21).
- In James’ day, wealth was generally in the form of
grain, oil, clothing, gold, and silver (5:2, 3). If James were writing today, he
might mention stocks and bonds and other investments.
- Grain will rot – "Your riches are corrupted" (5:2) –
perhaps there were worms in the grain; maybe the oil had become
- "…and your garments are moth-eaten" (5:2b). Their grain
and clothing had been hoarded to the point where they were
- Their food could have been used at one time to feed the
hungry; now it was worthless. Their garments could have been given away to those
in need, now they were moth-eaten.
- I remember years ago when it came out in the newspapers
that Imelda Marcos, the wife of the president of the Philippines, Ferdinand
Marcos had nearly three thousand pairs of shoes.
- According to Scripture, it is wrong to have more than
you need (5:2, 3).
- Nothing material in this world will last forever. The
seeds of death and decay are all about us. We need to remember: "`Tis only one
life. `Twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will
- "Cankered" (5:3) means corroded, discolored, tarnished.
The expression, "and shall eat your flesh as it were fire" means that their
failure to use their riches for the good of others would cause them the keenest
suffering and remorse.
- When their eyes would at last be opened to see the
cruelty of their selfishness and greed – costly jewelry, expensive clothing,
extravagant parties, luxurious homes, high-priced limousines, traveling all over
the world, etc. – when their eyes are finally opened to all of this, it will be
a painful, scorching experience.
- "Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days"
(5:3b) indicates the folly of their hoarding in view of their impending
judgment. James stressed that the coming of the Lord was near (5:8, 9). Saving
is wise, but hoarding wealth is bad.
IT’S A SIN THE WAY THEY GOT THEIR MONEY
- First, James
condemns them for what they do with their money. Next, he condemns them for the
way they got their money.
- The laborers
who reaped down their fields were deprived of their rightful pay. The rich were
guilty of fraud and the poor workers cried out in vain
- But God, "the
Lord of sabaoth (hosts)" hears their cries (5:4b).
- Here the Bible
clearly teaches that some rich people got their wealth through dishonest means.
Today many rich people not only cheat their workers, but they cheat on their
- Some use false
weights and measures (like the butcher with his finger on the scale). Some bribe
inspectors and other officials, falsify expense accounts and other reports, use
false advertising, etc. None of this escapes God’s
- While their
employees are being cheated, the rich are living "in pleasure" (5:5), i.e.
luxuriously, "high on the hog." James says they have "been wanton," i.e. they
have indulged themselves.
- These words
remind us of our Lord's story about Lazarus and the rich man. Our Lord said in Luke 16:19,
"There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in
purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every
WHAT THEY COULD HAVE DONE WITH THEIR
- They squandered
their wealth while others starved to death.
- In his
commentary on the book of James, John Phillips writes of a rich Arab sheik, who
built a huge multi-million dollar mansion. When the construction was finished, he didn't like it, so he bulldozed it
to the ground and built another.
- Dr. Phillips
then adds that this kind of wastefulness "goes on in a part of the world where
- While churches
are trying to build Christian schools, and get out the Gospel over radio and
television, the rich drive down the highway in their chauffeur-driven limousines
with the tinted windows, drinking their booze, on their way to another party or
fancy restaurant, oblivious to what is going on outside, concerned only with
- Wealth and
luxury have a way of ruining character. For example, consider the wretched
- Consider Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the very rich and very immoral
politician from France.
- James compares
these worldly, self-indulgent rich people to fat swine or cattle, stuffing
themselves right up to their time of slaughter (5:5b).
- James says that
they "have condemned and killed the just…" (5:6). This brings to mind the way
Ahab and Jezebel killed Naboth (I Kings 21).
- James concludes
this section of Scripture by saying, "Be patient
therefore, brethren..." (5:7; cf. 5:8).
A preacher preached a simple message one day from Pro.
"He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD;
and that which he hath given will he pay him again."
His sermon was brief and had only two
If you like the terms, then put down your
Money talks. What will it say to you at the last