“Faithlessness Condemned” – James 5:1-6


August 4th,  2013

James 5:1-6

“Faithlessness Condemned”

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Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. — 1 Timothy 6:17


Background Information:

  • At the end of chapter 4 James is talking about those who plan without regard to God.  The beginning of chapter 5 is talking about those who handle their money without regard to God.
  • In the first six verses of this chapter James has two aims.  First, to show the ultimate worthlessness of all earthly riches; and second, to show the detestable character of those who possess them.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 115)
  • (v. 1) After taking a deep breath, James turns his attention to the rich.  They have been hovering in the background throughout this letter.  Chapter 1 included the challenge to see that humble circumstances have distinct spiritual benefits (see 1:9-11) as opposed to riches, which require humility.  In chapter 2, James warned about the destructiveness of preferential treatment based on wealth.  At the end of chapter 4, James warned against being seduced by the world.  He begins chapter 5 by warning wealthy non-Christians of their hopeless end and the worthlessness of their riches.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 117)
  • (v. 1) There are also reasons to believe James is speaking to unbelievers.  First, he calls them “you rich” not “brothers” (cf. 5:7; 5:12).  Second, when he exposes their sin, he summons them to “howl,” not to repent (cf. 4:6-10).  Third, he anticipates their judgment, not their salvation.  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 165)
  • (v. 1) There is good reason to believe that the persons referred to in this section are not believers.  It might be argued that they are personally addressed in the same way other groups are addressed in previous sections (3:1; 4:13).  Since the epistle in general is written to Christians, it might be assumed that the rich of 5:1-6 are Christians just as the rich of 1:9-11 are.  However, there are significant differences between 5:1-6 and the rest of the epistle.  These individuals are not addressed as “brothers” (cf. 1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11; 5:6, 9, 10, 12).  Furthermore, they are not called on to repent and change their ways but only to “weep and wail” because of the judgment they are going to undergo.  It is, therefore, more reasonable to understand the section as similar to OT prophetic declarations of coming judgment against pagan nations.  It will be noted that the latter also are interspersed among sections addressed to God’s people (e.g., Isa 13-21, 23; Ez 25-32).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 199)
  • (v. 1) (Isa 13:6; 14:31; 15:2, 3; 16:7; 23:1, 14; 65:14; Amos 8:3).  We might well say that it is the word (NIV wail) which describes those undergoing the tortures of the damned.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 115)
  • (v. 1) The agrarian ancient world had three standard sources of wealth: harvested grain, clothing, and precious metals and jewels, and James points out that hoarding is ruinous to all three.  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 214-15)
  • (v. 2) The phrase “hoarded wealth” comes from the Greek verb thesaurizo, which means to store away in a safe place.  It is the root of our English word “thesaurus,” which basically means a collection, and this points to what James has in mind here.  He is thinking of those people who seem bent on hoarding together every penny they possibly can and yet who seem to have an insatiable appetite to get even more.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 329)
  • (v. 2) “Your wealth has rotted.”  The verb is sesepen, exactly the word one would use about food that falls to pieces as putrefaction sets in.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 335)
  • (v. 2) In the east garments were wealth.  Joseph gave changes of garments to his brothers (Gn 45:22).  It was for a beautiful mantle from Shinar that Achan brought disaster on the nation and death on himself and his family (Josh 7:21).  It was changes of garments that Samson promised to anyone who would solve his riddle (Jdg 14:12).  It was garments that Naaman brought as a gift to the prophet of Israel and to obtain which Gehazi sinned his soul (2 Kgs 5:5, 22).  It was Paul’s claim that he had coveted no man’s money or apparel (Acts 20:33).  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 115-16)
  • (v. 2) In the absence of preventive chemicals, a moth attacks clothing of both the rich and the poor. The poor, however, have no worry that their garments will be eaten by moths, for they wear the only clothes they possess.  The rich store their expensive garments and in time find them ruined by devouring larvae.  An insignificant nocturnal insect deposits eggs that are hatched in costly garments.  The garments are then ruined and worthless (Job 13:28; Isa 51:8).  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 157)
  • (v. 3) The hoarding of silver and gold simply for the sake of hoarding does not serve any meaningful purpose.  In a sense, these metals are as useless as if they were thoroughly corroded.  James speaks of corrosion to indicate the worthlessness of earthly possessions.  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 157)
  • (v. 3) “Your gold and silver are corroded.”  Here, James’ language is obviously metaphorical, because gold and silver do not in fact corrode.  The point he is making is that even gold and silver, those apparently imperishable status symbols of wealth, will be as worthless on the Day of Judgment as a heap of rusty metal.  The point about worthlessness is underlined by both the sense and the tense of the verb katiotai, which the Amplified Bible helpfully translates as “completely rusted through.”  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 335)
  • (v. 3) James may have meant that the gold and silver could literally become rusted; some evidence suggests the coinage of his day was not pure but contained alloys and could rust under conducive circumstances.  Or James may have been speaking figuratively, declaring that in the day of God’s judgment, gold and silver will be as useless as if they were rusted.  The utter inability of riches to deliver individuals from God’s judgment is a frequent theme in Scripture (e.g. Prv 11:4; Isa 2:20-21; Ezek 7:19; Zeph 1:18; Mt 16:26).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 244-45)
  • (v. 4) The phrase the Lord of Sabbaoth describes God as Commander of the armies of heaven (cf. 1 Sm 17:45).  He is the One who hears the cries of the defrauded poor and will call His angelic armies to act in judgment (cf. Mt 13:41-42; 16:27; 25:31; Mk 8:38; 2 Thes 1:7-8).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 247)
  • (v. 5) The word translated to live in soft luxury is truphein.  It comes from a root which means to break down; and it describes the soft living which in the end saps and destroys a man’s moral fiber.  The word translated to play the wanton is spatalan.  It is a much worse word; it means to live in lewdness and lasciviousness.  It is the condemnation of the selfish rich that they have used their possessions to gratify their own love of comfort and to satisfy their own lusts, and that they have forgotten all duty to their fellow-men.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 119)
  • (v. 5) The verb spatala  which James uses here is found elsewhere in Scripture only in 1 Tm 5:6 and in Ez 16:49 (LXX) where the people of Sodom are condemned for their “prosperous ease” and for not aiding “the poor and needy.”  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 165)
  • (v. 5) “Day of slaughter” speaks of the Lord’s coming in judgment (Isa 34:6; Jer 15:3; Rv 19:17-18), and is parallel to “the last days” (v. 3).  Those people were filling their lives greedily with all kinds of wasteful and worldly pleasures, seemingly oblivious to the imminent day of slaughter.  (Vernon Doerksen, Everyman’s Bible Commentary:  James, 119)
  • (v. 6) The selfish rich have slain the unresisting righteous man.  It is doubtful to whom this refers.  It could be a reference to Jesus.  “You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you” (Acts 3:14).  It is Stephen’s charge that the Jews always slew God’s messengers even before the coming of the Just One (Acts 7:52).  It is Paul’s declaration that God chose the Jews to see the Just One although they rejected him (Acts 22:14).  Peter says that Christ suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust (1 Pt 3:18).  The suffering servant of the Lord offered no resistance.  He opened not his mouth and like a sheep before his shearers he was dumb (Isa 53:7), a passage which Peter quotes in his picture of Jesus (1 Pt 2:23).  It may well be that James is saying that in their oppression of the poor and the righteous man, the selfish rich have crucified Christ again.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 120)
  • Not more than 10 years after James wrote this letter, Jerusalem fell to the Romans, and all this accumulated wealth was taken.  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 146)
  • These are the kinds of judgments and charges that likely turned the powerful wealthy against James and brought about his martyrdom.  (J. Michael Walters, James, a Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, 181)


The Rest of the Story on Wealth, Poverty, Riches, Etc. (Dt 8:18; Prv 10:4, 22):


The Bible never condemns a man for being wealthy; what it does condemn him for is gaining wealth by ungodliness and failing to use his wealth for the good of others.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 337)


Of course, there is nothing sinful about saving.  “For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children” (2 Cor 12:14).  “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tm 5:8).  “Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest” (Mt 25:27).  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 145)


There is not a word here against business, industry, ingenuity, skill, effort, a good commercial instinct or hard work.  On the contrary, the Bible says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise” (Prv 6:6).  What the Bible condemns is not industry but indolence.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 337)


James does not condemn riches per se, but rather the fact that the wealthy have not sought to use their wealth to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.  American evangelicals are wealthy, satiated, and at ease.  So the appeal of James resounds across the centuries to our ears.  We must open our eyes to the Scriptures and our ears to God, and we must prayerfully consider how best to use our money.  Our failure to act, says James, is a sin more grievous than we have imagined.  (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 283)



1 –            The Bible does not cast a dispersion or suspicion upon riches per se. (Job 42:10; Jas 5:11; witness the lives of Abraham, David, Solomon, Josiah, Joseph of Arimateha, and Lydia)

2 –            The Bible consistently warns against and condemns the vices which are the snares of  the rich (1 Tm 6:9-10, 17; Jas 2:5-6)

3 –            The Bible teaches us that godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tm 6:6)

Contentment is the opposite of covetousness

4-             The Bible teaches us that riches are an expression of God’s kindness (Jas              5:11; 1 Tm 5:17; 6:17)

5-             The Bible teaches us that there is a peculiar responsibility that falls for the             rich (Mt 6:16-34; Lk 12:48; 1 Tim 6:18-19)

6-             The Bible teaches that it is difficult for a rich man or woman to enter the                Kingdom of Heaven (Mt 19:23-26; Mk 10:23-27)

7-             The Bible teaches that God hasn’t ordained equality of distribution of gifts            or possessions. (1 Cor 4:1-7; 1 Cor 15:10)

8-             The Bible teaches us that God has a peculiar and particular concern for the            poor (Lv 19:9-10; Dt 10:18-19; 15:11; 24:14; Job 34:28; Ps 35:10; 113:7;      140:12; Prv 14:31; 22:22; 31:9, 20; Isa 11:4; 25:4; 41:7; 61:1-2; Jer 22:16;           Ez 16:49; Amos 4:1; 8:4-6; Lk 4:18-19)

9-             The Bible teaches that God’s people are to be equally concerned about the             poor (Jas 1:27)

10-           God’s judgment falls upon His people for trampling on the heads of the                 poor (Amos 2:6-8; Ez 16:49)

11-           The Bible teaches that it is sinful to show favoritism on the basis of finan              cial or social status (Jas 2:1-13) (Alister Begg sermon, “Listen, You Rich”)


The questions to be answered are . . . Why does James seem to be talking to unbelievers here?  Why is James so concerned about what we do with our money?  What does all this have to do with Jesus?


Answers:  James, like Jesus, the prophets and many other Biblical writers, speaks to unbelievers through believers.  Our money (as well as our time) is a clear indicator of the affections of our hearts.  Because we are created in God’s image, Jesus wants us to be like Him; using resources to help others.


The Word for the Day is . . . generous


What does James want us to see in these six verses?:

I.  Judgment and condemnation await those who pursue things at the exclusion of God.  (Jas 5:1-3, 6; see also: Lv 19:13; Dt 6:10-12; 15:9-11; 24:14-15;  Prv 3:27-28; 11:28; 30:7-9; Amos 3:10; Micah 2:1-5Lk 12:15-21; 1 Tm 6:6-10, 17-19; Heb 13:5)


Who would buy a lyre for an unmusical person or present an illiterate with a library?  Why then all this accumulation of wealth for the benefit of someone who has not been taught how to make use of it?  If you give wealth to a person who has been properly educated, you are handing him the tools for doing good; if you give the same to a person whose nature is savage and uncultivated, however, you are only providing him with the resources for living a wicked and irresponsible life.  Can anything represent greater heights of madness than a father who acts in this manner?  Such a father may ensure that his son suffers no physical harm and can perform his ordinary functions; yet at the same time he neglects the spirit, which is the driving force of all moral action.  (Richard M. Gamble, The Great Tradition, 361-62)


Wealth is to be accumulated strictly for doing works of mercy and spreading the kingdom.  Wealth is not to be stored up “for yourselves (Mt 6:19-21).  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 72)


Would we be surprised if only we could remember how often the Lord Jesus Christ has taken second place to possessions, and has been much less than Lord of our financial arrangements?

Worldly wealth is an area of high risk in the battle to walk humbly with God.  It is hard to be rich and lowly at the same time.  The use of money and the life of self-pleasing are never far apart.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 171)


Scripture warns that wealth can be a particularly strong obstacle to Christian discipleship.  Not for nothing did Jesus warn, “It will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:23).  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 160)


The words weep and wail were often used in the OT by the prophets to describe the reaction of the wicked when the Day of the Lord (the day of God’s judgment) arrives (see Isa 13:6; 15:3; Amos 8:3).  Jesus said that those who would be excluded from God’s kingdom would be weeping and gnashing their teeth (Mt 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 119-20)


Benefits of Saving

*    Demonstrates good stewardship of resources provided by God

*    Makes a person able to respond to the needs of others

*    Assumes that God sometimes provides for people through other people

*    Is responsible preparation for tomorrow

*    Promotes wise spending decisions


Dangers of Hoarding

*    Fosters a sense of earthly security and independence from God

*    Promotes a sense of superiority over others

*    Assumes that what a person gains is only for that person’s benefit

*    Is irresponsible indulgence for today

*    Promotes impulsive spending decisions

(Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 121)


“Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded” (v. 2).  The verbs here are in the perfect tense and it seems best to understand that as being in what is sometimes called “the prophetic perfect,” that is to say, to refer to events which have not yet taken place but which are so certain that they can be spoken about as if they had.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 334)


The rich are represented, not as bold and fearless champions, defending a cause against dangerous enemies, but as brutal bullies, picking as the victims of their outrages those who either cannot or will not resist.  (James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James, 188)


Riches are the instrument of all vices, because they render us capable of putting even our worst desires into execution.  –Ambrose


If we are facing oppression, faith requires that we remember God is our strength and our defender.  Temporary circumstances do not change the fact of God’s sovereignty.  God will protect us from spiritual evil in this life and give us the joys we desire in the next.  He will insure that justice will be done, and he will judge the oppressors.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 124)


The Bible’s constant references to hell as a reality mean that we dare not think of it as a fantasy.  Jesus spoke of a place “where the fire never goes out” (Mk 9:43) and even the gentle John spoke of “the lake of burning sulphur” (Rv 20:10) and “the lake of fire” (Rv 20:14).  The eternal, conscious punishment of the ungodly is clearly taught in the Bible and James joins his voices to those of many others in warning men of its appalling implications.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 336)


The whole passage teaches not only the madness but the menace of materialism.  As Thomas Manton says, “There is not a vice which more effectually contracts and deadens the feelings, which more completely makes a man’s affections center in himself and excludes all others from partaking in them, than the desire of accumulating possessions.”  There is a deadly danger in “things” and Paul is by no means overstating the case when he says that “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Tm 6:9).  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 337)


They are mistaken, as I think, who consider that James here exhorts the rich to repentance.  It seems to me to be a simple denunciation of God’s judgment, by which he meant to terrify them without giving them any hope of pardon; for all that he says tends only to despair.  He, therefore, does not address them in order to invite them to repentance; but, on the contrary, he has a regard to the faithful, that they, hearing of the miserable end of the rich, might not envy their fortune, and also that knowing that God would be the avenger of the wrongs they suffered, they might with a calm and resigned mind bear them.  (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of James, 342)


One of the marks of oppression is a dissatisfaction with merely abusing others or taking from them what is theirs.  Oppression demonstrates its demonic origin in its goal to destroy those being used.  James is confronting a mind-set that treats others without regard for their dignity, conspires to cheat them out of everything, defrauds them of possessions and wages, and disregards the very lives of those who have been mistreated.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 126)


Paul says Christians should use wealth in three ways: to meet basic needs for food and covering (1 Tm 6:8), to enjoy (6:17), and to be generous to others (6:18).  Saving is permissible, but hoarding contradicts all three points.  Hoarders trust in wealth rather than in God (Mt 6:19-21).  They brood over possible future catastrophes, but ignore the certain catastrophe of facing God’s judgment without faith.  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 170)


James holds a specific complaint against the rich: they have defrauded their field laborers of their wages.  As he says, “The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you.”  This could mean several things: (1) they pay, but after undue delay (Lv 19:13; Dt 24:14-15);  (2) they pay less than they agreed, less than a living wage; (3) they refuse to pay at all.  (Prv 11:24 and Jer 22:13 may address all three sins.)  Biblical law emphasizes the need to pay fair wages to day laborers and to do so at the end of the day, because a laborer and his family would otherwise go hungry.  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 170)


The verbs James uses mean “luxuriate” (tryphaō) and “indulge oneself” (spatalaō).  The word for “luxuriate” does not always suggest wickedness.  It appears in the Greek translations of Nehemiah and Isaiah to describe the life of abundance and ease that God provides for his people (Neh 9:25; Isa 66:11).  But the second word describes those who live for their pleasures, fat and unconcerned about others (Ez 16:49; 1 Tm 5:6).  The phrase “on earth” adds the thought that they think nothing of God in heaven.  They live for the pleasures of this age and forget the needy (Lk 16:19-31).  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 171)


The word “condemn” suggests the law court.  It is likely that the rich used the legal system to deprive the poor of their wages and lands.  We must remember that in most societies in antiquity, as in many societies today, there was little concept of rule by impartial law.  Those who had power and wealth on their side won in court, not those who had justice.  The courts were governed by patronage, clan, and tribe, not objective justice.  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 172)


The peasants die because they pour out their strength in their work, but the fruit of their work does not come back to them.  They cannot regain their strength because the rich withhold their salaries.  Therefore James accuses the rich of condemning and killing the just (5:6).  (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 166)


James commanded the wicked rich to weep and howl.  Weep is from klaiō, which means “to sob out loud,” or “to lament.”  It was used to describe the wailing that took place when someone died (e.g., Mk 5:38-39; Lk 7:13; 8:52; Jn 11:31, 33; 20:11; Acts 9:39).  It also depicted the outward reaction that sometimes accompanied intense shame and guilt (e.g., Mt 26:75; Lk 7:38).  James used it in 4:9 to describe the sorrow that accompanies repentance.  But where there is no lament of repentance there is no grace of forgiveness, so James adds another word, howlOlouzō (howl) appears only here in the NT.  This onomatopoetic word goes beyond mere lamenting and refers to shrieking or screaming.  Taken together, weep and howl picture an intense outburst of despairing, violent, uncontrollable grief.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 243)


One of the most fearful realities in all of Scripture is the truth that hell is a place of conscious (Lk 16:23-24), bodily (Mt 5:29; 10:28; 13:42, 50; Rv 14:9-10; 19:20; 20:15), eternal (Mt 3:12; 25:41; Mk 9:43-48; 2 Thes 1:9; Rv 14:11) punishment.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 245)


The last days encompass the period between Christ’s first and second comings (Acts 2:16-17; Heb 1:1-2; 9:26; 1 Pt 1:20; 4:7; 1 Jn 2:18; Jude 18).  James sharply rebuked them for hoarding their wealth without regard for God’s timetable, the flow of redemptive history, or the reality of eternity.  How utterly unthinkable to amass and hoard wealth as the day of judgment draws near!  Those who do so “are storing up wrath for [themselves] in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds” (Rom 2:5-6).  Wealth is to be enjoyed as a blessing from God and used to fulfill His will in meeting needs and advancing the gospel.  Those who fail to do that suffer judgment.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 245)


Jesus’ unrelenting point is, it is impossible for one who trusts in riches to get into Heaven.

Material possessions tend to focus one’s thoughts and interests on the world only.  Wealth gradually enslaves those who are attached to it and perverts their values.  The more we have, the easier it is to be possessed by our possessions, comforts, and recreations.  Jesus says, “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word” (Mk 4:19).  Most tragic of all, as with the rich young ruler, wealth can steel one against the objective requirement for entering the Kingdom.  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 213)


James alludes to the judgment of God that is coming upon them (see Dt 24:4; Isa 10:16-17; 30:27; Ez 15:7; Amos 5:6).  That judgment they cannot escape.  In other words, although everyone will eventually appear before the judgment throne, God’s wrath can strike the sinner even in this life, so that his physical body is destroyed.  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 158)


Jesus portrayed the rich man “who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day” (Lk 16:19) as a man deserving hellish punishment not for what he did but for what he failed to do.  That is, the rich man failed to love God and failed to care for his neighbor Lazarus.  That was his sin.  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 161)


The true meaning of this passage is that these rich people lived for the very purpose of their extravagance instead of for God.  They had become ungodly hedonists who lived for the pleasures that could be derived from wealth.  They trusted their money instead of God.  They lived for money instead of for God.  (Paul A. Cedar, The Communicator’s Commentary: James, 94)


Once we begin to give our hearts to our hoarded wealth, it takes control of us until we can focus on nothing else besides its preservation and multiplication.  (J. Michael Walters, James, a Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, 178)


The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is a trust in God for material provision.  “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously…And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”  (2 Cor 9:6, 8-9).  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 71-72)


II.  The temporal, depreciative nature of things make poor investments.  (Jas 5:2-3; see also: Prv 11:4; 23:3-4; 28:20; Eccl 2:4-11; 5:10; Mt 6:19-21; Mk 10:22-27; )


He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. — Jim Elliot


The way you can know you do not possess the life control illusion is your knowledge that you are who you are by God’s grace and thus you know that your money, your possessions, your time, is not your own but a gift from God to be used for His kingdom building and purposes. (Paraphrase of Tim Keller message A Community of Justice)


Andrew Carnegie once said, “The almighty dollar bequeathed to a child is an almighty curse.  No one has the right to handicap his children with such a burden as great wealth.  He must face this question squarely:  Will the fortune be safe with my child, and will my child be safe with my fortune?”  (Howard Dayton, Your Money Counts, 110)


Contentment is natural wealth; luxury is artificial poverty — SOCRATES.


The Greek word for riches (ploutos) is a general description of all that these rich people have.  But their money, security, lavishness, and self-indulgence are as good as rotted because they can do nothing for them in eternity.  In ancient times, wealth included, for the most part, hard goods such as food (as in crops), clothing, and precious metal.  Some could be lost because it had become rotten.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 121)


Let all that James has to say about the madness of materialism help to teach us the sanity of stewardship.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 338)


What God had created for the use of men, they destroyed, as though they were the enemies of mankind.  (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of James, 344)


Some social critics say “malls are our cathedrals.”  They are “utopias of consumption,” carnivals of commerce where customers chase two things: the satisfaction of their bodily desires and the creation of a persona based on clothes, electronics, and decor.  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 168)


Material wealth only temporarily quenches the soul’s thirst for meaning and acceptance.  Acquiring wealth to cure the problem of meaninglessness is like drinking coffee to solve the problem of exhaustion.  It can mask the problem, but it cannot cure it.  Riches cannot fulfill the quest for meaning, but those who live for wealth decide the problem is not wealth per se, but their insufficient wealth.  Thus, devotees of wealth work harder and harder at the wrong thing.  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 168)


Money, like uranium, is great if handled and used properly; but is disastrous if handled and used improperly.  — Pastor Keith


We cannot find permanent significance in impermanent things.  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 169)


Grateful people overflow a little, especially with thanksgiving and passed-on kindnesses.  But they do not therefore lack discipline.  In fact, self-indulgence tends to suppress gratitude; self-discipline tends to generate it.  That is why gluttony is a deadly sin: oddly, it is an appetite suppressant.  The reason is that a person’s appetites are linked: full stomachs and jaded palates take the edge from our hunger and thirst for justice.  And they spoil the appetite for God.  (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 35)


To choose to associate with humble things might also imply a rejection of the materialism in our world gone crazy over luxury and self-indulgence.  To accommodate ourselves to humble ways flies in the face of the upward mobility of our culture, and it certainly sets the Christian community apart as an alternative society following the downward pattern demonstrated by Christ.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 247-48)


The one who would have God’s power must lead a life of self-denial.  There are many things which are not sinful in the ordinary understanding of the word sin, but which hinder spirituality and rob men of power.  I do not believe that any man can lead a luxurious life, overindulge his natural appetites, indulge extensively in dainties, and enjoy the fullness of God’s power.  The gratification of the flesh and the fullness of the Spirit do not go hand in hand.  “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other” (Gal 5:17).  Paul wrote: “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor 9:27; see ASV, Greek; note also Eph 5:18).  (R. A. Torrey, The Baptism with the Holy Spirit, 75-76)


If we would know the continuance of the spirit’s power, we need to be on guard to lead lives of simplicity, free from indulgence and surfeiting, ever ready to “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tm 2:3).  I frankly confess I am afraid of luxury–not as afraid of it as I am of sin, but it comes next as an object of dread.  It is a very subtle but a very potent enemy of power.  There are devils today that “go not out but by prayer and fasting.”  (R. A. Torrey, The Baptism with the Holy Spirit, 76-77)


People can have so much to live on that they have nothing to live for.  — Rick Warren


People base their self-worth on their net worth and that is not worth a thing in the eyes of other people.”  — Chuck Colson


The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.  (George Grant, Carry a Big Stick: The Uncommon Heroism of Theodore Roosevelt, 129)


“Prosperity hardens the heart.”  —William Wilberforce


Someone asked the American Episcopal bishop Phillips Brooks what he would do to resurrect a dead church, and he replied, “I would take up a missionary offering.”  Giving to others is one secret of staying alive and fresh in the Christian life.  If all we do is receive, then we become reservoirs; and the water can become stale and polluted.  But if we both receive and give, we become like channels; and in blessing others, we bless ourselves.  American psychologist Dr. Karl Menninger said, “Money-giving is a good criterion of a person’s mental health.  Generous people are rarely mentally ill people.”   Someone wrote in Modern Maturity magazine, “The world is full of two kinds of people, the givers and the takes.  The takers eat well—but the givers sleep well.”     (Warren Wiersbe; Be Determined, 146-47)


Adversity makes men, and prosperity makes monsters.  —Victor Hugo


God is more concerned about our character than our comfort.  His goal is not to pamper us physically but to perfect us spiritually.  —Paul W. Powell


“It is a melancholy fact, that constant temporal prosperity, as a general rule, is injurious to a believer’s soul.” (J. C. Ryle; Holiness, 94)


Measure wealth not by the money you have

But by what you would not take money for.


III.  Our things, values, priorities and desires testify against us and seal our eternal destiny(Jas 5:3-5; see also: Ps 62:10; Prv 19:17; Amos 6:3-7; Col 3:5; 1 Tm 6:6-10, 17-19; Ti 2:12)


So when people begin to focus their lives more on amusement than on doing their work well, raising their children securely, gaining an education, and helping those in need, they begin to evade responsibility.  The problem is that the evasions are lots of fun and therefore very tempting to all of us.  It takes strength to resist them.  When we fail, when a whole society fails to resist, life turns around in such a way that consumerism and the hunger for unreality converge and spending our leisure time becomes our occupation.  Being a deft and knowing consumer of clothes (clothes that make a statement), films, sports events, pro wrestling, concerts, tapes, compact discs, and video games–and especially of the entertainment products in which these things combine–becomes a main goal of one’s life and a measure of its success.   (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 191)


If you are hoping and trusting in the Lord, and suddenly your health, wealth or future are taken from you and your hope is gone, then you need to confess that it was not the Lord you were hoping in.  It was in what you have just lost.  Hope in the Lord NEVER disappoints.  (Rom 5:4-5)


There is a bit of irony here:  the rich men saved their wealth to help them, but their hoarded riches will only testify against them.  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 149)


The end of their pleasure is grief and the goal of their luxury is death.  Selfishness always leads to the destruction of the soul.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 119)


Only the thin beast is safe in that day; the well-fed has made itself ready for the knife.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 168)


The more we surround ourselves with possessions which only minister to creature comfort, the less we are likely to cultivate the spiritual trimness of physique which keeps us fit in the battle for holiness.  Furthermore, when we allow such wealth as we possess to focus attention on ourselves and our satisfactions, we are ministering to that spirit of pleasure, desire and wanting for self which is the root of all unholiness and unfaithfulness to God (4:1-4).  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 171)


The hoarding of wealth is wrong not just because it demonstrates utterly false priorities; it is doubly sinful because it also deprives others of their very life.  This is another instance in which failing to do good is sin (4:17): “God has not appointed gold for rust, nor garments for moths; but, on the contrary, he has designed them as aids and helps to human life” (Calvin).  In this sense, James may intend the decay of the goods described in vv. 2-3a to be understood, at least in part, literally: the actual evidence of disuse will stand as a witness against the rich.  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 162)


He now condemns cruelty, the invariable companion of avarice.  But he refers only to one kind, which, above all others, ought justly to be deemed odious.  For if a humane and a just man, as Solomon says in Prv 12:10, regards the life of his beast, it is a monstrous barbarity, when man feels no pity towards the man whose sweat he has employed for his own benefit.  (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of James, 345)


And though the Lord allows them to live freely on what they have, yet profusion ought to be avoided and frugality practiced.  For it was not in vain that the Lord by his prophets severely reproved those who slept on beds of ivory, who used precious ointments, who delighted themselves at their feasts with the sound of the harp, who were like fat cows in rich pastures.  For all these things have been said for this end, that we may know that moderation ought to be observed, and that extravagance is displeasing to God.  (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of James, 346)


The whole purpose of James’ words is to bring out the great gulf in the society of that day and place, and the general callous failure of the rich to do anything serious for the poor: in the Judgment their wealth will not be an asset but evidence against them.  (James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James, 185)


Abuse of wealth is the final mark of a life of worldly “wisdom” James described in 3:13-4:3.  Abuse of wealth is another form of envy, coveting, strife, and grasping.  (Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary: James, 164)


God gave us wealth for another purpose than to spend it in pleasure.   –Thomas Manton


With terrible scorn, he sees these men resembling a herd of cattle grazing contentedly away in the fields, oblivious to the fact that in fattening themselves they are hastening the certainty of their destruction!  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 332)


Believers today find themselves participating in society’s tendency to consume as much as possible without regard to the conditions elsewhere in the world, or even what we will leave to our children and grandchildren.  Will not the corrosion of our accumulated waste testify against us also?  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 122-23)



When our lives begin to display the following characteristics, we are practicing self-indulgence (see the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Lk 16:19-31 for illustrations of many of these):

*    When we assume that wealth should always be used first to meet our needs

*    When we visualize wealth as a protection or insulation between us and the rest of the world

*    When we waste, destroy, or discard what others could put to good use

*    When we display smugness or pride at the differences between what we have and what others have

*    When we invest in things purely for status without considering their usefulness

(Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 125)


Surrounded by the poor while living on earth, these men had nevertheless covered themselves with wealth that could have been used to meet the needs of others.  Now, their rusted riches would be eloquent–evidence of their sinful stupidity.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 335)


Our vices have voices!  The day is coming when they will give testimony and point unerring fingers at the guilty.  The verb translated “are crying out” is krazei, which in context means they shriek to God for vengeance–a terrible illustration of the impending doom of all those who come to the Day of Judgment as impenitent sinners.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 336)


We have all heard the saying, “You can’t take it with you.”  Now that is obviously true, but James’ words about hoarded wealth testifying against us teach an even more challenging truth, and that is that all things to which men have clung selfishly here on earth will in effect be there on the other side of the grace–giving evidence against their previous owners on the Day of Judgment!  That is the chilling prospect facing those who have led greedy, self-indulgent lives.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 337)


James’ address of his readers in the second person indicates he was speaking to those who would hear his letter read in the churches.  James, then, aimed his rebuke at people who were in some way associated with the church.  He was wise enough to realize that, as in any church, some in the churches to which he wrote claimed to be Christians, but were not.  Though they may have outwardly professed faith in Christ, their focus on earthly treasure betrayed the falsity of that profession (Mt 6:21; cf. 13:22; 19:21-22).  Sadly, many in the church today are accepted as Christians because they talk about Jesus and claim a superficial allegiance to Him.  Yet an examination of their lifestyle reveals that they do not walk in obedience to His commandments.  Their lust for money and possessions betrays their true allegiance (Mt 6:24; cf. Jas 4:4; 1 Jn 2:15-17).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 242)


Those who pursue pleasure and luxury often descend into vice in a vain attempt to satisfy their insatiable desires.  A life without self-denial soon goes out of control in every area.  Paul described such people as dead even while they live (1 Tm 5:6) because, like the foolish son in our Lord’s parable, they squander everything on loose living (Lk 15:13).  Those with money frequently close their eyes to the needs of others and the work of God, living solely to gratify their selfish, sinful desires.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 247)


The NIV does not do justice to the force of the Greek text.  A better translation would be, “You have gorged your hearts in the day of slaughter.”  This conveys the sense of complete self-interest and indulging all lusts without thought of shame.  (David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary: James, 272)


James’ scathing words to the unregenerate must also find their mark in us.  There are times for sumptuous celebration–holidays, birthdays or anniversaries.  There are times to feast and lavish our loved ones.  But a life of conspicuous consumption–delicate, soft luxury–is not Christian.  Do not be fooled by the evangelistic gigolos who tell eager ears, “You are children of the king–live like it!”  (Kent Hughes, James, Faith That Works, 218)


In picturesque language James compares them to domestic animals that are daily gorging themselves without knowing their destined end.  As cattle being fattened for the day of slaughter, so the rich are indulging themselves in luxury and licentiousness and are unaware of the impending day of judgment.  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 161)


Oh to be a thin cow on the day the butcher comes.  — Alistair Begg


IV.  Rich Jesus became poor so poor us could become rich. (Isa 10:1-4; Jer 22:16; Ezek 16:49-50; Mt 6:2-4; 16:24; 25:31-46; Lk 6:21-24; 12:33; 16:19-31; ; 2 Cor 8:9; 1 Pt 2:21)



Obviously, Christians are to provide for their families (1 Tm 5:8).  But beyond that, Christians’ resources are to be used to advance God’s kingdom (cf. 1 Chr 29:3; Mk 12:42-44; Lk 6:38; 1 Cor 16:2-3; 2 Cor 8:2; 9:6-7).  Specifically, believers are to use their wealth to win the lost (Lk 16:9), care for those in need (Gal 2:10; 1 Jn 3:16-18), and support those in ministry (1 Cor 9:4-14; Gal 6:6).  Those who name the name of Christ are not to amass a fortune that is uselessly stashed away without regard for God’s will (cf. Job 27:13-17; Ps 39:6; Eccl 5:10-11, 13).  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 244)


When so many of our neighbors in the world are starving, when so many are poor and oppressed, what does valuing others more highly than ourselves mean?  Certainly it challenges us to sacrifice the luxury in our life-style in order that others might have enough.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 175)


To choose to associate with humble things might also imply a rejection of the materialism in our world gone crazy over luxury and self-indulgence.  To accommodate ourselves to humble ways flies in the face of the upward mobility of our culture, and it certainly sets the Christian community apart as an alternative society following the downward pattern demonstrated by Christ.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 247-48)


The only true and enduring motivation for the ministry of mercy is an experience and a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel.  If we know we are sinners saved by grace alone, we will be both open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 58)


Thoreau wrote that “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to the luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meager life than the poor… None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty.”  (Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor, 313)


In one generation, America has experienced a dramatic transformation from a producing society to a consuming society.  Thirty years ago, we measured our economy by what we produced.  Textile mills employed hundreds of thousands in the South, and the biggest problem of great industrial centers was pollution from the giant smokestacks.  America was the engine of the worlds’ economy.  Today we measure our economy by what consumers spend.  Watch how economists make their forecasts on confidence polls, how closely the market follows Christmas retail sales.

In the transformation to a purchasing instead of producing culture, we have completely reversed the Protestant work ethic, which fueled the great economic growth in this country in the nineteenth century.  At the heart of the work ethic was a belief that one should work hard, be thrifty, save, and produce.  Delayed gratification was a virtue.  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 46)


St. Francis of Assisi, in his earlier days was very wealthy; nothing but the best was good enough for him; he was an aristocrat of the aristocrats.  But he was ill at ease and there was no peace in his soul.   One day he was riding alone outside the city when he saw a leper, a mass of sores, a horrible sight.  Ordinarily the fastidious Francis would have recoiled in horror from this hideous wreck of humanity.  But something moved within him; he dismounted from his horse and flung his arms around the leper; and as he embraced him the leper turned into the figure of Jesus. “The nearer we are to suffering humanity, the nearer we are to God.”  (William Barclay; Commentary On Matthew: Vol. 2, 138)


Worship point:  We find it hard to be generous with our resources in direct proportion to how much we are trusting in things for our security and happiness.  Worship realigns us to a proper perspective in regard to God and things.


Spiritual Challenge:  Think about what you truly need.  Think about the futility of looking to things to bring contentment.  Think in terms of eternity when dealing with resources.  Think about how your excess could be a great source of help to those who do not have what they need.  What is God telling you to do?  What is preventing you from doing what you know you should do?


Quotes to Note:

Perhaps few weaknesses have marred the integrity of the witness of the church more than the partiality shown to the rich.  The church has compromised with their vices because it has feared the loss of their patronage.  —John Murray



It is possible to love money without having it; and it is possible to have money without loving it.  — J. C. Ryle



Christ: the poor rich man & The rich poor man

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