"THE EPISTLE OF JAMES"
When God Gets Angry At The Rich (James 5:1-6)
1. Compared to many people in the world, we are indeed blessed; in fact,
in comparison with most people who live now and who have lived in the
past, we are VERY RICH!
2. Now, it is important to stress that God does not condemn the rich for
a. Some of the godliest people in the Bible were rich
b. E.g., Job, Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon, Barnabas, Philemon
3. However, Christ does speak of the difficulty of the rich being saved
- cf. Mt 19:23-26
4. And there are times when God is very angry at the rich, as in our
1 Go to now, [ye] rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that
shall come upon [you]. 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your
garments are motheaten. 3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the
rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your
flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last
days. 4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your
fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of
them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of
sabaoth. 5 Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton;
ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. 6 Ye have
condemned [and] killed the just; [and] he doth not resist you.
5. As we consider this passage more carefully, we shall do so by trying
to answer four questions:
a. Who is James addressing in this passage?
b. What is in store for these rich people?
c. Why is God so angry at them?
d. What applications can we draw from this passage?
[We begin, then, with the first question...]
I. WHO IS JAMES ADDRESSING IN THIS PASSAGE?
A. ARE THEY CHRISTIANS?
1. Are these rich Christians who had been guilty of oppressing
2. Possibly, but unlikely for several reasons...
a. They are not addressed as "brethren" as is often done in
this epistle - Ja 1:2; Ja 1:19;
Ja 2:1; Ja 1:14; Ja 3:1; Ja 1:10; Ja 4:11
b. There is no call to repentance in this passage
1) As there is throughout this epistle in those passages in
which it is clear brethren are being addressed
2) Here there is only condemnation!
c. The brethren are not addressed until verse 7, in which
THEY are told to be patient in light of what has just been
B. MORE LIKELY, THOSE ADDRESSED ARE RICH UNBELIEVERS...
1. Who had been oppressing the Christians - cf. Ja 2:6
2. This tirade of judgment upon them appears to serve the purpose
of comforting the brethren who were being oppressed by them -
cf. Ja 5:7
a. The Lord has heard their cries - Ja 5:4b
b. Judgment is coming upon these rich oppressors
c. Therefore the Christians are told to be patient
[But even if this passage does not have direct reference to rich
Christians, there are still things to which we should give careful heed.
And so, we ask...]
II. WHAT IS IN STORE FOR THESE RICH OPPRESSORS?
A. MISERIES THAT WILL CAUSE THEM TO "WEEP AND HOWL"! (Vs 1-3a)
1. So certain are these miseries to come, that James speaks of
them already occuring!
a. Riches are corrupted
b. Garments are moth-eaten
c. Gold and silver are corroded
2. When this "corrosion" of their riches occurs...
a. It will serve as a witness against them (that they were
guilty of the things to be mentioned shortly
b. It will eat their flesh like fire
1) The anguish and misery of poverty usually affects the
hardest those who were once rich!
2) Thus, when poverty strikes, it will make them "weep and
howl" as though they were on fire!
B. THE MISERIES SPOKEN HERE MAY HAVE REFERENCE TO WHAT LATER OCCURED
IN THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM IN 70 A.D.
1. Not long after this epistle was written, Jerusalem was destroyed
by the Romans
2. Many of the rich Jews who had oppressed their Christian brethren
literally "weeped and howled"
3. What they had failed to realize was that they had heaped up
treasure "in the last days" (Ja 5:3b)
a. Like the man in the parable of the rich fool (Lk 12:16-21),
they thought they were laying up riches for their latter days
b. When in fact, it was the "last days" of the Jewish economy
when they were so busy storing up wealth!
c. Like some today, who store up for retirement and then die
before they retire!
[The miseries that came upon these rich people were terrible indeed (as
described by Flavius Josephus, an eyewitness of the destruction of
Even if it did not come in the destruction of Jerusalem, it certainly
came upon them when they died, as it did upon the rich man in the story
of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31)!
This leads us to the third question...]
III. WHY IS GOD SO ANGRY AT THESE RICH PEOPLE?
A. BECAUSE OF HOW THEY GOT THEIR WEALTH...
1. It was through wicked means - v4
2. Specifically, by withholding wages from those who had worked
3. Just as some people today get rich through dishonest schemes or
unjust labor practices!
B. BECAUSE OF HOW THEY USED THEIR WEALTH...
1. They hoarded their wealth - v3b
2. They spent it on themselves with pleasures and luxury - v5
(fattening themselves like cows for the slaughter!)
3. They used the power that comes with wealth to oppress "the
just" - v6
a. Possibly a reference to Christ
b. Or the Christian whom they also oppressed
[The manner in which they got their wealth and used it caused those who
were oppressed to cry out, and the Lord heard their prayers (v4).
Now, God who is just is about to bring judgment upon these rich oppressors!
Having examined this passage more closely...]
IV. WHAT APPLICATIONS CAN WE DRAW?
A. WE NEED TO BE CAREFUL HOW WE OBTAIN OUR WEALTH...
1. To do so at the expense of others will bring God's wrath upon
us! - cf. Deut 24:14; Deut 24:15
2. It is wrong to think that success can only come by stepping on
3. This might be an appropriate place to add what we learn from
Paul in 1 Ti 6:9-10
a. It is not riches that are wrong, but the DESIRE TO BE RICH
that is wrought with many dangers!
b. Riches are not wrong if they are the BY-PRODUCT of our
endeavors, not the GOAL of those endeavors!
1) I.e., one may desire to be a doctor to help the sick, or
a plumber because of one's skill or interest in such
matters, and receive riches as a by-product because of the
value society might place on such services
2) But to enter such professions solely because one's goal is
to get rich thereby, then we are ensnared by the love of
4. So how do we obtain our wealth?
a. If we do it honestly and in compensation for a job well done,
then God is not displeased
b. But if we do it by hurting others and by making wealth our
primary object, then we are in danger of God's wrath!
B. WE NEED TO BE CAREFUL HOW WE USE OUR WEALTH...
1. To spend it on luxurious living when others are suffering...
a. Is exactly what James has described in this passage
b. Is an indication of the lack of the love of God - 1 Jn 3:17
2. According to the New Testament, the purpose of working is not
to obtain wealth for our own gratification, but to help those
a. As commanded by Paul - Ep 4:28; 1 Ti 6:17-19
b. As exemplified by Paul - Ac 20:34-35
1. Living in this century we have much to be thankful for.
2. But we also have much to be wary of:
a. Americans live in a society where it is quite easy to become wealthy
b. Americans live in a society where covetousness or the desire to be rich
are not considered sins
c. Americans live in a society where heaping up treasures for our own
gratification is considered an inalienable right!
-- It is easy to be influenced by these values!
3. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves constantly: Are we laying up
treasure in heaven, or on earth?
a. Those who lay up treasure in heaven are those who use their wealth
to do good and help the poor and less fortunate - cf. Mt 19:21;
1 Ti 6:18-19
b. Those who lay up treasure on earth are actually storing up for
themselves miseries and wrath!
1) Miseries...when their wealth fails them in their time of true
2) Wrath...from God in the Day of wrath that is yet to come
c. At the same time we notice that America, as a nation founded on
Christian values, does much to fight misery and wrath!
1) Miseries...Volunteers come forth when disaster strikes
around the world
2) Wrath...Governments are admonished for failing to honor human rights
d. We cannot rely on the good will of others; we, as individuals,
can always do more!
These are sobering thoughts worthy of our careful consideration...Have
you even begun to lay up treasure in heaven by obeying the gospel of
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