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James 5:1-6: Is it a sin for a Christian to Drive a Mercedes?

“And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You’ll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment. All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You’ve looted the earth and lived it up. But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse. In fact, what you’ve done is condemn and murder perfectly good persons, who stand there and take it” (James 5:1-6, The Message).

“Would you like to be rich? Very few would say, ‘Nah, it doesn’t interest me!’ One wise guy said, ‘They say it’s better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable. But couldn’t something be worked out, such as being moderately wealthy and just a little moody?’ (Reader’s Digest, 9/82)” –Steven Cole

I used to say, “I would like to be rich for just a little while to see what it’s like, maybe, 75 or 80 years.”

Our society is filled with people who have dreams of getting rich: winning the lottery, hitting a daily-double at the race track, winning millions at a casino, or receiving a large inheritance from a person like Howard Hughes. Ours is a society that seems to believe that money will bring happiness and success. The will to succeed is overpowering for some, and the pressure can be all-consuming. Some will sacrifice anything for the almighty dollar: their family, home, church, friends, reputation, and ultimately God Himself just in an attempt to become rich and successful.

“James is not condemning riches. Riches in themselves are not immoral or moral, they are amoral. The Bible actually does not condemn money. A great many people have the viewpoint that there is something dirty about money; they call it, ‘filthy lucre,’ but the Scripture doesn‘t say that. What Scripture does say is that ‘the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’ (1 Timothy 6:10). The problem is not in money; the problem is in people’s hearts. It is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil. James was not condemning people just because they were rich but because of their wrong relationship to their riches. He was concerned with how they got their money and what they were doing with it after they got it.” Adapted and edited from J. Vernon McGee

Proverbs 30:8-9 NLT, “First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.”

The Wall Street Crash of 1929, began on October 24, 1929 (Black Thursday), and was the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States. It sent Wall Street into a panic and wiped out millions of investors. This Stock Market crash ushered in the Great Depression (1929-1939). In 1929, six hundred fifty-nine banks with total holdings of two hundred million dollars went out of business. The next year, two times that number failed. And the year after that, almost twice that number of banks went out of business. Millions of persons lost all their savings. They had no money left. By 1933, nearly half of America’s banks had failed, and unemployment was approaching 15 million people, or 30 percent of the workforce. Investors, including many of the super-rich, shot themselves, jumped from buildings, and gassed themselves, so as not to face their losses. During the height of the Great depression, 23,000 people committed suicide in one year – the highest ever.

1 Timothy 6:9-10, “But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.”

“I've been rich and I've been poor. Believe me, rich is better.” –Sophie Tucker

“Who is wise? He that learns from everyone. Who is powerful? He that governs his passions. Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody.” –Benjamin Franklin

“A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money.” –W. C. Fields

Matthew 6:24 NLT, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”

“James 5:1-6 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. By doing this he hopes to prevent his readers from placing all their hopes and desires on earthly things.” –Barclay

James is not concerned with actual riches, but our attitude toward riches, and our wrong priorities concerning riches.

Who is James addressing?

Unbelieving Jews: it cannot be presumed that James supposed that his letter would be read by the Jews, and it is not probable therefore, that he would in this manner directly address them.

Professing Christians who had been Jews: While there may have been some professing Christians in the churches to which James wrote who were guilty of the sins he confronts here, his main target was the ungodly rich outside of the church. But Why would James spend six verses denouncing those who are outside of the church, who would never read this warning anyway? It’s similar to when the Old Testament prophets pronounced woes on Israel’s pagan enemies.

Verse 1: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!”

This is to be taken literally, rich in worldly wealth: the same who were formerly mentioned as the oppressors of believers, “But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?” (James 2:6-7).

“The words are applicable to all the rich who are living without God in the world; and certainly the rich are under a peculiar temptation of setting their affections upon the things of this world. Riches are too frequently an obstacle to salvation, a weight which prevents the soul soaring upwards to heaven.” –Phillip Schaff

People weeping and howling is a typical Old Testament picture. The Moabites wept and howled at what was coming on them (Isaiah 15:2-3). The drunkards were to weep and howl in the coming time of judgment when the supplies of wine would dry up (Joel 1:5). Now the rich also were to weep and howl because of the miseries that were coming on them. It is a sign of total misery (in total contrast with those who rejoice because they suffer for Christ’s sake. (Compare Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 14:31; Isaiah 16:7; Isaiah 23:1; Isaiah 23:14; Isaiah 65:14; Amos 8:3).

“Miseries” - “hardship, trouble, calamity” –Thayer. “Wretchedness, distress” –Arndt.

“That are coming upon you.” The idea is of certain destruction, “but certain fearful expectation of judgment…” (Hebrews 10:27).

“The misery that is experienced by the rich will rise from the very things they value. Property values depreciate. Stock and investment values fall. They will have, at the end of this life, lost those things that they consider of greatest value. What is being stated here is literally that those things of value will be revealed as valueless.” –Michael Fronczak

Verses 2-3a: “Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded…”

In James day there were 3 main indicators of wealth,

1. Grain, which was stored in large bins, James writes, “You’re riches are corrupted (rotted)…” as grain will do if not properly stored.

2. Garments, which were certainly evident in the rich. James lived in a world where most of the poor only had the clothes on their backs, it was a sign of wealth to have more than one change of clothes (Genesis 45:22; Joshua 7:21; Judges 14:12; 2 Kings 5:5, 22). The apostle Paul could claim that he had coveted no one’s money or clothes (Acts 20:33). James echoes Jesus, who warned that clothes are subject to the ruin of moths (Matt. 6:19).

3. Gold and silver. “When God brings judgment, even these precious metals will be doomed to corruption. What good were all the gold and silver in the world in A.D. 70 when Titus destroyed Jerusalem and slaughtered a million Jews?” –Adapted and edited from Steven Cole

“In Oriental lands, riches, in addition to gold, silver, and precious stones, consisted of highly perishable goods, such as grain, oil, food, and garments of many types and kinds.” –Woods.

“Eastern people have always reckoned collections of raiment among their choice treasures, and estimate them in the accounts of their wealth along with silver and gold.” –Freeman.

Verse 3b: “You have heaped up treasure in the last days.”

When James writes, “In the last days” he is referring to the entire church age, the time period between Jesus’ ascension and His second coming that period in which we are now living (2017). It is the time period between Jesus’ ascension and His second coming, and also consider that death is the last day on earth for us! Listen to Jesus’ parable of the rich fool:

“Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).

Some wise sage has aptly said, “It is okay to have money, as long as money doesn’t have you.” And never forget, the wealth of this world is not lasting.

Verse 4: “Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.”

The day laborer was dependent for his very survival on the wages he received each day. The Scripture requires that he be paid at the end of each day (Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14,15). Wealthy farm owners who had extensive land holdings exploited their harvest workers by cheating them out of their wages.

The “Lord of Sabaoth” occurs one other time in the New Testament, as a quotation of Isaiah 1:9. It is one of the most majestic titles for God in the Old Testament, expressing not only His majesty and power as creator and ruler of the world, but also as commander of the hosts of heaven. It means, “the Lord of armies,” especially in the sense of heavenly and angelic armies. It describes God as the warrior, the commander-in-chief of all heavenly armies.

David confronted Goliath in the name of the “Lord of Hosts” or the “Lord of Sabaoth”. “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, (“Lord of Sabaoth”), the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Samuel 17:45). Just as assuredly as the Lord of Sabaoth struck down Goliath in the Valley of Elah, he will also strike down these ungodly rich for the sin of fraud.

Verse 5,6: “You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.”

James may have had the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-3 NLT). It is a narrative about a rich man “who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury” (16:19), while at his gate was “a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores” (16:20,21). “Then Lazarus died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the heavenly banquet.” (16:22). “The rich man also died and was buried, and he went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side” (16:23). The point Jesus is making is not that the rich will end up in torment after death, and that only the poor will go to heaven. The Bible is very clear that only those who have rusted in Jesus Christ for salvation. Jesus said, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Even at a time when many were dying around them, either as a result of the famine or as a result of violence, or even partly because they had not received their wages, the hearts of the rich continued to be nourished, and they fattened themselves up. In other words with death all around them, they have continued with their luxuries unconcerned.

James comments on the luxury of the wealthy. For them, each day was like a “day of slaughter” (or feasting), for in places without refrigeration one eats one’s fill of fresh meat whenever an animal is slaughtered, since the rest will have to be dried or salted to be preserved.

Christ is referred to as “The righteous one” several times in the New Testament (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14 NLT), but the structure of the sentence, and the connection in which it stands, seem to require that we should consider this as applying to the righteous in general, who were persecuted and murdered by those oppressive rich men; and their death was the consequence of their dragging them before the judgment seats, James 2:6, where, having no influence, and none to plead their cause, they were unjustly condemned and executed.

Let me close with some statistics provided by William E. Berkeley’s expository files (

America controls nearly 20 percent of the world's wealth. There are around six billion people in the world, and there are roughly three hundred million people in the U.S. That makes America less than 5 percent of the world's population. And this 5 percent owns a fifth of the world's wealth.

One billion people in the world do not have access to clean water, while the average American uses four hundred to six hundred liters of water a day.

Every seven seconds, somewhere in the world a child under age five dies of hunger, while Americans throw away 14 percent of the food we purchase.

Nearly one billion people in the world live on less than one American dollar a day.

Another 2.5 billion people in the world live on less than two American dollars a day.

More than half of the world lives on less than two dollars a day, while the average American teenager spends nearly $150 a week.

Forty percent of people in the world lack basic sanitation, while forty-nine million diapers are used and thrown away in America every day.

1.6 billion people in the world have no electricity.

Nearly one billion people in the world cannot read or sign their name.

Nearly one hundred million children are denied basic education.

By far, most of the people in the world do not own a car. One third of American families own three cars.

One in seven children worldwide (158 million) has to go to work every day just to survive. ...

Americans spend more annually on trash bags than nearly half of the world does on all goods.

Rob Bell, Jesus Wants to Save Christians (Zondervan, 2008), pp. 122-123

Let's thank God for what we have . . . use what we have unto Him . . . while we trust and obey Jesus Christ.

“In a Turning Point Daily Devotional, David Jeremiah writes, ‘CNN carried a story of a 62-year-old man who was rushed to Cholet General Hospital in France, suffering stomach pain. His family told doctors the man had a history of mental illness and a penchant for swallowing coins, but nothing could have prepared the doctors for X-rays of the man’s stomach. It was filled with 350 coins he had swallowed. The doctors performed surgery to remove the mass, but the man died of complications twelve days later.’

Few men swallow coins, but millions of people are gorging themselves sick with money and materialism. The Bible warns that the love of money is a primary root of all evil, causing people to stray from the faith in their greed and pierce themselves through with many sorrows. Take inventory of your life. Are you sacrificing much time away from your family and church because of money? Are you losing needed rest for the sake of a job? Are you working too hard for material gain?

God wants us to be faithful to our work, and He gives us the power to gain wealth. But He doesn’t want you to wear yourself out to get rich. Have the wisdom to show restraint.” –Michael Duduit

In other words, It’s okay to have money as long as money doesn’t have you

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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