James 5:1-6: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.”
In Part 1-An Introduction, we began to see how misplaced priorities are a sign of immaturity. The first misplaced priority we must deal with is wealth.
How someone spends their time and money is a sure-fire way to examine their priorities. Not the priorities they may say they have, but genuine priorities.
There were three types of wealth in the ancient world: produce from the ground, clothing, gold/silver. The rich people James addresses were experiencing misery and watching their wealth rot. It was being damaged by decay. It was becoming unused and useless.
Jesus (remember that James’ is Jesus’ brother) told this story in Luke 12:16-21:
16 Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’
21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”
Not only has their wealth rotted, but their clothes are being destroyed. Their closets were too full, and moths were getting in there and eating away. I guess they didn’t know about mothballs. In those days, most folks only had a half-dozen or so changes of clothes their entire lives. Our stuffed closets would be a considerable sign of wealth.
Wealth rotting, clothes being destroyed, and their gold and silver was corroding! The signs of their materialism were wearing away, diminishing gradually. Their return on investment was negative!
With great wealth, there are stewardship responsibilities. Jesus clarifies in Luke 16:10-11: “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. 11 And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?”
We are not to be hoarders where we store things for future use out of selfishness or fear. We don’t want to collect a bunch of crap just to build a museum to ourselves. One of the most disgusting shows on TV is Extreme Hoarders. But before we point the finger at someone else, take a look around and see what you have that you haven’t used in years. My wife and I have moved 17 times in 15 years of marriage; I’m pretty sure I have some boxes that have never been opened from that first or second move. Ouch.
A living illustration of this is the Dead Sea. It is called the Dead Sea because there is no life in it. This is because it has water flowing in but nothing going out. This messes up the physical property of the water, making life impossible. When water (wealth) flows into your life, let it flow through! Be a blessing.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t save and plan for the future. Saving isn’t hoarding if it is tied to biblical purposes and causes more significant than you.
In verse 4, James shows how our misplaced priority of wealth cries out against us.
Some questions to consider:
-How much unused wealth do you have?
-Where are you spending your wealth? Your time, talent, and treasure?
-How can you watch out for greed? (“Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’” – Luke 12:15)