Peace to you Beloved in the Name of Christ.
Today we are continuing with our study in the book of James. We are in chapter five which is the final chapter. I think maybe one or two more studies after today’s study. This is study number twenty. Please open God’s Word to James chapter five. I will read from James 5:1-6, hear the holy and perfect word of the true and living God – read.
James 5:1. Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted, and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! 4 Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.
Before we pray, I recommend for your study Psalm 73 the psalm of Asaph. He speaks to what James speaks to as well.
Let me read for us a portion of a prayer from a Reformed liturgy. It is known as a “prayer of illumination”. We want God to illuminate (to shed light) upon our understanding in the study of His Word. Here it is. May we pray in light of these truths.
Guide us, O Lord, by your Word and Holy Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Please pray.
What we have in our passage today is the denunciation of the wealthy unbeliever. (Isa.6:10)
Let me give the definition of the word denunciate.
To denunciate or to denounce a person means to announce or to report publicly the evil or the sin of another and also to judge against it. Our case here is not in a personal way or informal way. This is not an offended person publicly criticizing their so-called offender.
This idea of denouncing is a formal or an official or a legal announcement of wrongdoing by God or by God’s herald. This is God’s public condemnation of these sinners and their sin. This is a precursor of the final denunciation of all unbelieving sinners at the Day of Judgment.
Before we proceed let me give us one example that Christ gives us to illustrate the denunciation of wealth-loving unbelievers.
You remember one day when Christ was out preaching the Good News of salvation found in Him, He being the atoning Lamb of God that takes away sins, in that very occasion of speaking about salvation, reconciliation with Holy God, and everlasting life with God in glory that a man in the crowd said, Master tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me!
Oh, how telling. How this reveals the true nature of man. (Rom.3:9-18) We are so in love with self and this world that apart from saving grace we have no interest in God, or Christ, or salvation, or heaven. Imagine being in the immediate presence of God-in-the-flesh and the only thing that you are thinking about is money! Stunning.
Christ then told a parable to denounce rich and want-to-be rich unbelievers.
Christ told a story about a man that had a super abundance of the world’s goods but was poor towards God. (Lk.12:13-23, see also Luke 16:19-31, Lk.14:16-24, Lk.17:26-30)
One night while the man was imagining within himself all the good days ahead of him with all his good things that God said to that rich unbeliever, you fool this night your soul is demanded of you! What terrifying words. What would a man give in exchange for his eternal soul? (Mt.16:26) Many people worship a few pieces of silver and turn their backs on Christ. It is foolish to worship mammon or wealth and hate God in Christ. Listen to the psalmist.
Psalm 62:9. Men of low degree are only vanity and men of rank are a lie; In the balances they go up; They are together lighter than breath. 10 Do not trust in oppression And do not vainly hope in robbery; If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them.
Oh, beloved our true and eternal life does not consists in an abundance of things. It consists in a reconciled life with God. (Lk.12:15, I Tim.6:19, Gal.3:1-14)
Well, that is what we are going to consider here from our passage.
Let’s determine who the rich are here in our passage. This is not the first time that James has written about rich people.
The rich Believer.
Back in James 2:1-4 James introduces the two classes of the rich and the poor.
In that instance we were told that rich people, presumably Believers, were coming into corporate worship on the Lord’s Day and they were given the best seats in the church. Professing Believers were sinfully smitten with the wealth and the position of their fellow rich Believers.
Here as I say I believe these rich people are professing Christians going to church. Money and material wealth are not sinful in themselves. Inanimate objects cannot be sinful. Sin is an ethical idea. Only angels and human are ethical or moral creatures governed by the moral law of God. At least people are governed by God’s law, perhaps God governs angels differently. I am not certain.
It is the love or the idolatry of money that makes money or wealth sinful. (I Tim.6:10, Eccl.5:10, 2 Tim.3:2, Lk.16:14, 2 Pt.2:15, Heb.13:5, I Tim.3:3)
So, how we as responsible moral agents respond to wealth is what makes the difference before God. Included in this is how we use the wealth. But we will get to that further in our study.
But first let’s consider some reasons we can conclude that wealth in itself is not sinful to possess. God creates wealth. God gives wealth. (I Chron.29:12-16, I Sam.2:7, Ps.112:3, Eccl.5:19, 6:2)
Deuteronomy 8:18. But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
Some of God’s eminent saints have been wealthy, such as Job and Abraham and David. (Job 1:3, 42:7-17, Gen.13:1-6) The man who buried the body of our Lord Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, appears to have been wealthy. (Mt.27:57-60, Mk.15:43-45, Lk.23:50-53, Jn.19:38-42, Isa.53:9)
Also, for us as modern American Christians we would do well to remember that even if we are not considered “rich” in relationship to our fellow Americans that we very much would be considered rich in relationship to a great many other people. How many people in India or China or Africa would consider the life of an “average” American to be wealth beyond imagination?
The rich unbeliever.
Now let’s move from speaking of Believers with wealth to speaking about the rich unbeliever.
As I say this, there are two kinds of unbelieving rich people.
The non-Christian unbeliever.
There are the unbelieving rich that are outside of the church. These unbelievers consciously reject Jesus as the Christ, and they verbally profess themselves to be Christ-rejecters.
The (professing) “Christian” unbeliever.
Then, there are the (rich) unbelievers within the visible church. These unbelievers profess themselves to be Believers in Christ but by their deeds they prove they have no true faith and life in Christ. These are the dry and dead branches that are formally connected to Christ and His church by water baptism and confession, but they are not spiritually and savingly united to Christ by Spirit-wrought faith in Christ.
Think of Judas. He was a professing disciple of Jesus. He was a hand-picked apostle of Jesus, a minister in the church we might say. But for all these externals, Judas loved wealth and hated Christ. For thirty pieces of silver, he sold Christ to be murdered. Such is the horrible sin of wealth-worship. (Mt.26:14-16, Zech.11:12-13)
Jesus says that you will know true Believers by their fruits. (Mt.7:16-27) Worshiping wealth is a deed of the flesh and not a fruit of the Spirit. (Gal.5:16-26) Worshiping wealth evidences no saving faith in Christ and or a dead “faith” in Christ, which is the same thing. (James 2:14-26)
Beloved, let us be convinced that we cannot serve God and Mammon. Only one can have our heart. (Mt.6:24-34)
Also, in James chapter two James says that the rich were taking the poor Believers to court and abusing them. Here is that passage.
James 2:5. Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
I cannot dogmatically say that these abusive rich people in chapter two were unbelievers. My sense is that they were, especially because James says they blaspheme the “fair name” by which the poor Christians were called, namely disciples of Christ.
But you do not have to be a Christian and or a member of a Christian church very long before you will learn experimentally that Christians can and do hurt other Christians sometimes worse than unbelievers. Christians sometimes take other Christians to court. (I Cor.6:1-11, Mt.18:15-17) Sad but true. May God have mercy. May we repent of our un-Christlike behavior.
Now back to chapter five, here also James is speaking about the rich unbeliever.
James 5:1. Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!
These people are certainly unbelievers because he tells us that they are in danger of damnation on Judgment Day. (WCF 32, 33) That brings us to our next point.
The arraignment of the rich unbeliever.
What we have here is the arraignment (formal reading of a criminal charge) of the rich to come before God in a trial.
God will call.
James says, “come now you rich”. James has used this language earlier in his epistle. (James 4:13)
God is calling them away from their sinful and selfish pursuits and their idolatry of their wealth to stop what they are doing and to be confronted with the word of God against them. The sinner thinks that life will always go on as it does. (2 Pt.3:3-4) They do not stop and think one day God will call them. And when God calls them, they must, and they will go. (Acts 17:24-32, Job 1:6-8, Lk.12:20, Eccl.12:7)
You see unbelievers are unbelievers. (Rom.8:7, I Cor.2:14-16) They do not believe the God of the Bible is God. Oh, by natural revelation they know that He exists. (Heb.11:6) But in their unbelief and sin they deny that He is, and they corrupt what they know about Him. (Rom.1:18-32) Unbelievers live as if the God of the Bible was not God and having all the attributes the Bible says He does. (WCF 2.1-3)
The sinner will come.
We learn (and they should learn) that God is and He knows all and He knows all sins committed against Him and He is holy and He hates and judges all sin. And that in the blink of an eye all unbelievers will hear a call to cease from their sin and present themselves before God to give an account of themselves before God. How terrifying. (Rom.14:12, Mt.12:36-37, Rev.20:12, Mt.25:14-30)
Oh, Beloved how silly to think that transient grass will remain forever. (Jas.1:10, I Pt.1:24, Ps.103:15-16, Ps.90:5-6, Isa.37:27, Isa.40:6-7, Isa.51:12)
As I said earlier this is shades of the final judgement.
The preacher must preach.
God through His apostle calls sinners “sinners”. God has His herald use hard or harsh language. Beloved, while I think it would be wrong for a minister-pastor to regularly thunder from the pulpit and be inordinately hard.
I also think it is equally wrong for the pew to demand that the minister only preach peace-peace sermons and never to denounce sin in the terms that God uses. (Ezek.13:10, Jer.30:19-24, Mt.7:13-14)
Beloved it is not loving to God or to man to not tell a sinner that he or she is a sinner while there is still time to find salvation in Christ. Peace-peace sermons to stubborn sinners is a positive evil. In a way it seals their damnation.
Many preachers are mute watchdogs. They are useless to God and to man. (Isa.56:10-11, Ezek.3:17-19, 33:1-33, Isa.62:6)
Woe to such heralds that give in to the unfaithful wishes of any man or woman. This is the fear of man trying to control the word of God. Pray that God’s heralds remain faithful to preach God’s law and Gospel. (2 Tim.4:1-5, Prov.29:25, Dt.1:17, I Sam.15:24, Isa.51:12, Jn.7:13, Lk.12:4) Remember John the Baptist? (Mt.3:7, Lk.3:7) Christ commended his preaching. (Mt.11:7-15) Let’s pray for such preachers. (Eph.6:18-20)
The law thunders against sin.
In our modern day even in conservative Bible believing churches is it not considered altogether polite to call those that break the moral law of God law-breakers or sinners. (I Jn.3:4, Rom.7:7-25, Gal.3:19-26)
The law thunders against the sin of greed.
And if we do, we often reserve our denunciation for sexual sins and not sins dealing with material wealth.
Beloved if I could use the language of the women singers, sexual immorality has killed its thousands, but greed has killed its ten thousands. (I Sam.18:7, 29:5)
Most of us would see the human paramour (virtual or actual) as dangerous. The harlot appears dangerous to the thinking husband. But wealth, that is another thing. Wealth does not often appear to be spiritually dangerous. Wealth appears most often to be something desirous, even good and helpful and necessary.
In the right portion material wealth is necessary and good. But wealth worshiped is condemning.
You see the devil tempts us to take a lawful thing such as wealth and to use it unlawfully. Perhaps this passage is so applicable to us as modern American Christians because we live in a land and in a time of such affluence. Oh, how we need to watch and to pray that we do not fall to this temptation. (Mt.26:41, 2 Jn.1:8, Col.4:2)
Listen to what Jesus says on this.
Mark 4:18. And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
Luke 12:15. Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.
Beloved, Jesus tells His disciples that earthly riches are not always a sign of God’s saving blessing upon a person as our flesh is inclined to think. No. Jesus says God’s ways are markedly different than the way that fleshly man thinks. Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to go to heaven! (Mk.10:25) Oh, how this should cure God’s people and Christ’s lambs from lusting for perishable things destined to be destroyed.
Listen to what God tells us through the apostle Paul about the rich and about the poor as regards to those with true faith in Christ.
I Corinthians 1:26. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God.
James says the same thing.
James 2:5. Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
You see Beloved, unbelievers love wealthy people, they worship them in hopes of receiving from their wealth. Unbelievers heap honors and praise upon wealthy people, even if the wealthy are notoriously sinful. Beloved, it does not matter what man says about a person. It only matters what God says. (Isa.55:8-9, Ps.73)
This is one of the proper uses of the moral law of God. (WLC 93-98) The broken moral law of God thunders out against the sinner as the holy presence of holy God thundered out to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. (Exod.19:16-25, 20:18) The broken law restrains others so inclined to like sins. The law preached warns sinners to flee to Christ from the judgment of God to come. (Gal.3:21-29)
The misery of the rich unbeliever.
V.1. See the language that the Holy Spirit inspires, weep and wail. This is language similar to that of some of the OT prophets.
Isaiah 13:6. Wail, for the day of the LORD is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. 7 Therefore all hands will fall limp, And every man’s heart will melt. (Isa.15:3)
Amos 8:3. The songs of the palace will turn to wailing in that day,” declares the Lord GOD. “Many will be the corpses; in every place they will cast them forth in silence.” 4 Hear this, you who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land, 5 saying, “When will the new moon be over, So that we may sell grain, And the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market, To make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger, And to cheat with dishonest scales, 6 So as to buy the helpless for money And the needy for a pair of sandals, And that we may sell the refuse of the wheat?” 7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob, “Indeed, I will never forget any of their deeds.
The change of status – wealth cannot thwart.
The rich unbeliever who enjoys all the pleasures that his or her idol-wealth can provide in this life is being told that their pleasure will be turned into abject misery and horror.
You see, there are pleasures associated with all forms of sin. The pleasures associated with immoral uncleanness are obvious. Pleasures with all sin will one day turn into weeping and howling. Temporal (sinful) pleasure will be exchanged with eternal (judicial) pain.
Beloved beware of the deceitfulness of wealth. (Mt.13:22) Wealth promises life and goodness, but it is a lie. Life and goodness are only found in God in Christ.
Beloved beware of the snares of wealth. Wealth promises only pleasures but there are many unforeseen pains associated with a super abundance of the worlds good. (I Tim.6:7-10)
The wrath of God – wealth cannot thwart.
These things are associated with the miseries of Judgement Day for those found apart from Christ Jesus, for those that die in their sin and in their unbelief.
Apart from faith in Christ the wrath of God abides upon all sinners. (Jn.3:36) Here God’s wrath is being poured out on the wealth-worshiper, the pleasure-worshiper, the greedy, covetous man.
And we are told in V.2 and V.3 that the various idols that the greedy man trusted in will like his person also be destroyed.
James 5:2. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!
As an aside, it has been remarked that technically silver and gold cannot rust, but that misses the point. Silver and gold can be destroyed (by God) and they will be. (Ezek.24:6-12)
God says to wealth-worshipers, your wealth will rot, your precious metals will rust, and your body by which you enjoyed all of these sensuous pleasures will burn with fire. All of the idolatrous things will be destroyed. All the sensuous capacities to enjoy these things will be destroyed.
Oh Beloved, this is overwhelming language. It is so frightening because it is the very word of God. And it most certainly has come to pass on countless persons, and it will be exacted on countless to come.
The sins of the rich unbeliever.
Now in this final section we have some of the sins of the rich unbeliever being proclaimed to them.
The first thing all wealth-worshipers will be told is that God has witnesses of their various sins or crimes against Him.
James 5:3. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!
Here God anthropomorphizes inanimate objects such as clothes and metal and gives them a human voice to testify that the wealthy unbeliever has committed idolatry with them.
The English Puritans would sometimes do this with nature and have nature speak to God (like a man speaking to God) against the sinner. For example, the ground will say to God, Oh God do I have to support such a notorious sinner against You? Say the word and I shall swallow him up. Or even food speaking to God, oh God why must I nourish the one that hates you? And things like these.
On Judgment Day when sinners stand before Christ their judgment for their sins will be just, many witnesses will prove all of the charges against those apart from Christ. Even though the unbelieving sinner (including those that worship wealth) often escape the judgment of man, they will not escape the judgment of God.
V.3. Next God says that their sin of wealth-worship is aggravated before Him because of the time in which they commit their sin.
James 5:3. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! (Jer.23:20, Ezek.38:16, Hos.3:5, Joel 2:28, Jn.11:24, 12:48, Acts 2:17, 2 Tim.3:1, Heb.1:2)
Sometimes we do not think of this, but time and place can and do aggravate our sins before God, that is to say to make them more offensive before God. I recommend that you study Westminster Larger Catechism #151 on this.
What James is getting at is these sinners, these idolaters are committing idolatry in the fullness of time. Christ has come in the flesh. He has suffered and died and risen and ascended. The clearness of Christ’s gospel has gone forth and the canon of Scripture is coming to completion. They are sinning in the time of maturity and not the time of infancy. (Gal.4:4)
And they are sinning just before Judge Christ returns for Judgment Day!
V.4. Now God accuses these wealth-worshipers of being thieves. This would be a breaking of the 8th commandment against stealing but also of the 10th commandment against coveting. And really all of this is a breaking of the 1st and the 2nd commandments, wealth being their false god.
These wealthy landowners withheld the lawful pay of their workers. This is theft. This is abuse of the working poor. God hates this. (Prov.10:15-16, 14:20, Lk.19:13, Mal.3:5)
And God hears the cry of the poor against those that defraud them of their just wages. You see their cries are cries for justice. And God will bring it. (Gen.4:10, Dt.24:14-15, Lk.18:1-8)
Another charge brought against these wealth-worshipers is that they lived in luxury while their workers lived in poverty. Imagine watching a glutton gorge themselves on dish after dish in the very faces of those starving and dying for just one morsel. That is the picture. (Lk.16:19, Jer.12:3, 25:34)
V.6. Then God charges the wealth-worshiper that defrauds the working poor with murder! How is this possible? Is being a thief the equivalent of being a murderer? It is if you steal the daily necessities away from a human being that needs those daily necessities to stay alive.
James 5:4. Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.
Beloved, be on your guard against the deceitfulness of wealth. Be content with Christ and what God in Christ has given you. Be content with your daily bread.
Remember, naked you came into this world, naked you will leave. (Job 1:20-22, I Tim.6:7-10)
Value your true riches in Christ. (Rom.5:1-10, WSC 36-38, Lk.6:20-27)
- What are some things that you learn about wealth or being wealthy in the following passages? (James 5:1-6, Lk.12:13-23, Lk 16:19-31)
- Why is material wealth in itself not sinful? (I Chron.29:12-16, I Sam.2:7, Ps.112:3, Eccl.5:19, 6:2, Dt.8:18, Job 1:3, 42:7-17, Gen.13:1-6, Mt.27:57-60, Mk.15:43-45, Lk.23:50-53)
- What makes material wealth sinful for a person? What is the deceitfulness and the danger of wealth? (James 5:1-6, I Tim.6:10, Eccl.5:10, 2 Tim.3:2, Lk.16:14, 2 Pt.2:15, Heb.13:5, I Tim.3:3, Mk.4:18-19, Lk.12:15)
- Is the rich person in James 5:1-6 a professing Christian or a professing non-Christian? Are there any professing Believers in the Bible that by their money-worship prove that they were in reality unbelievers? (James 5:1-6, Mt.26:14-16, Zech.11:12-13, Mt.7:16-27, Mt.6:24-34)
- God as Judge calls the wealth-worshiper to appear before Him to hear God’s judgment on him. Will all sinners appear before God on Judgment Day to answer for theirs sins? What do we learn about God and about man by this? (James 5:1, 2 Pt.3:3-4, Acts 17:24-32, Job 1:6-8, Lk.12:20, Eccl.12:7, Rom.14:12, Mt.12:36-37, Rev.20:12, Mt.25:14-30)
- Why it necessary to preach the Law and also the Gospel? In preaching the Law must the preacher warn the sinner? Of what should he warn him? What does God say about the preacher who preaches peace-peace sermons to unrepentant sinners? (WLC 92-97, Gal.3:21-29, Ezek.13:10, Jer.30:19-24, Mt.7:13-14, Isa.56:10-11, Ezek.3:17-19, 33:1-33, Isa.62:6, 2 Tim.4:1-5, Prov.29:25, Dt.1:17, I Sam.15:24, Isa.51:12, Jn.7:13, Lk.12:4, Mt.3:7, Lk.3:7)
- Why does God call the wealth-worshiper to weep and wail? Is the status and the experience of health and wealth permanent? In what ways does the Believer experience hardship in this life as compared with the experience of the wealth and ease of the unbeliever? (James 5:1-6, Ps.73, Isa.15:3, Amos 8:3-7, I Tim.6:7-10, Mt.5:1-16, Mt.23:13-39, Lk.6:20-26, Lk.16:13-15, Lk.19:19-31, Col.3:1-3, I Cor.4:16-18)
- What is God teaching the wealth-worshiper by telling them that their fine clothes will rot and their precious metals will rust and their bodies by which they enjoyed their sensuous pleasures will burn? (James 5:1-6, Ezek.24:6-12)
- Why does committing the sin of wealth-worship in the Last Days aggravate this sin? How can the time of our sin make them more heinous before God? (James 5:1-6, Jer.23:20, Ezek.38:16, Hos.3:5, Joel 2:28, Jn.11:24, 12:48, Acts 2:17, 2 Tim.3:1, Heb.1:2, WLC 151)
- In what way is wealth-worship theft and murder? How does the luxury of the wealth-worshiper aggravate his sins against the working-poor? (James 5:1-6, Prov.10:15-16, 14:20, Lk.19:13, Mal.3:5, Gen.4:10, Dt.24:14-15, Lk.18:1-8, Lk.16:19, Jer.12:3, 25:34)
- What is the answer against the sin of unbelieving wealth-worship? (Rom.5:1-10, Job 1:20-22, I Tim.6:7-10, WSC 36-38, Lk.6:20-28, Jn.3:16)