The Rich Life! – James 5:1-6
By pastor Lee Hemen
August 10, 2014
In the movie Little Orphan Annie the bad guys sing a song called “Easy Street.” They sing about a pie-in-the-sky place they think only rich folks enjoy. They blame all of their hard times on their not getting rich quick and how the wealthy keep them from doing so. Social Democrats have used class envy since the Great Depression. However, this is nothing new. There are several false theologies regarding distribution of wealth that are rampant in today’s world. One comes from the days of Jesus and James whereby folks incorrectly thought that if you were well off, then you were being blessed by God. This false doctrine still exists in the teachings on so-called Christian television. They teach that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to their ministries will always increase one’s material wealth and health. It has been called health and wealth, name-it-and-claim-it, blab it and grab it, or positive confession. Based on false interpretations of the Bible, often with emphasis on the Book of Malachi, they teach that the Bible is both a spiritual and material contract between God and man. If we have enough of the right kind of faith in God, he will deliver on his promises of security and prosperity. Confessing these promises to be true is perceived as an act of faith, which God will honor. Robert Tilton, Joel Osteen, Kenneth Hagin, TD Jakes, Joyce Meyers and Paula White are just a few of the false heretics that promote this kind of ungodly theology.
Then there are those within some denominations, such as Unity, Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, and Disciples of Christ that teach Liberation Theology. Most churches and denominations that belong to the National Council of Churches support Liberation Theology. It is also seen as a political movement that began in the Roman Catholic Church in South America in the 1950s. It is a theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ as liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. It has been described as, “an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor”. It promotes open borders, illegal immigration, and redistribution of a nation’s wealth through political or forceful means. Detractors have called it Christianized Marxism, which it often is. It secularizes the teachings of Christ and deems him as a liberator for the poor and downtrodden. Liberation theologians specifically target the disparities between rich and poor in the existing social and economic, political and corporate structures. They believe that Jesus’ gospel taught the redistribution of property and wealth. Nothing could be further from the truth. On August 4th the Vatican announced it was lifting its 29 year old ban on several radical priests who promoted and taught Liberation Theology. Pope Francis himself is a Liberation theologian and proponent.
Then there is also Black Liberation Theology which seeks to liberate people of color from multiple forms of political, social, economic, and religious subjugation and views Christianity as a theology of liberation. It views people of color as an “oppressed community” and the Gospel as a means to social, economic and political liberation. According to James Hal Cone, one of its founders, if God is not just, if God does not desire justice, then God needs to be done away with. Liberation from a false god who privileges whites, and the realization of an alternative and true God who desires the empowerment of the oppressed through self-definition, self-affirmation, and self-determination is the core of Black Liberation Theology. Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago is the church most frequently cited by Cone and others as the best example of a church formally founded on the vision of Black Liberation Theology. The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, President Obama’s pastor for decades, who married him and Michelle and baptized his daughters has preached racism and anti-Americanism in his sermons, articles, and statements, and finally under public scrutiny caused then-Senator Barack Obama to distance himself from his former pastor. Sadly, to the detriment of our Nation, and the alienation of diverse groups, much of its theological teachings have found their way into recent public policy.
Why do I bring these examples up for your consideration today? Simply because many over the centuries have misused the passage of Scripture from James we will consider today. James wanted his readers to live the rich life in Christ not as a means of material, political, or social liberation but of personal stewardship. Let’s discover what James wrote and why.
“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 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. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you. (James 5:1-6 NIV)”
If we just focus on these verses of James we will come away with a convoluted view of what he was trying to teach his readers. It is well known that Martin Luther had problems with this book. He called it a “right strawy epistle.” But it is only “strawy” to the degree it is tough in its teaching. Like Jesus’ teaching on the mount, there are enough needles in this haystack to prick the conscience of every dull, defeated, and decadent Christian in the world. Here is a “right stirring epistle” designed to exhort and encourage, to challenge and convict, to rebuke and revive, to describe practical holiness and drive believers toward the goal of a faith that works. James is severely ethical and refreshingly practical. Lest we forget, the purpose of James is to exhort the early believers to Christian maturity and holiness of life. This letter deals more with the practice of the Christian faith than with its precepts. James told his readers how to achieve spiritual maturity through a confident stand, compassionate service, careful speech, contrite submission, and concerned sharing. He dealt with every area of a Christian’s life: in what he is, in what he does, in what he says, in what he feels, and in what he has. This is the rich life for James.
Notice that the first three verses here describe what has occurred to all of their ill-conceived schemes and hording of their wealth: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 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. (James 5:1-3 NIV)”
James bluntly rebukes his readers by saying, “Now listen, you rich people!” Instead of rejoicing at how intelligent or practical they had been they should “weep and wail because of the misery” that was about to happen to them! They had spent their entire lives plotting how to get rich and stay rich but their “wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten” their fine clothes! James knew that no matter how hard one tries to take it with them, they cannot do so. And for the believer in Christ to not use what he has been blessed with in life for the glory of God, was a sin for James. James is not preaching some redistribution of a person’s possessions, but rather the good stewardship Christians are supposed to practice in life! A person’s wealth is not good to them after they are dead, only the pagans believed that! We are not only to reap what we have sown in life; we are to sow what we have reaped as well! We are to share the goodness of God that we enjoy with fellow believers around us. Christians are to take care of one another. A holy life is marked by a servant’s heart. There is a reason why Jesus taught, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)” True liberation in life does not come from the redistribution of another’s wealth but from our own liberation in Christ whereby our hearts are changed! When our wealth has rotted, our clothes have been eaten by insects, and our gold and silver wasted and corroded what good are they? James warns, “Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire.” Like Paul, James knew we should be careful how we build our lives in Christ. Paul would warn, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. (1 Corinthians 3:11-13 NIV)” James would warn his readers, “You have hoarded wealth in the last days.” James is implicitly asking them, “What in the world are you doing with your wealth now to further the kingdom of God?” Jesus, in the Apostle John’s vision in Revelation, remarked to the church at Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:15-18 NIV)” Now, let me ask you, “Are you living the rich life God desires of you?”
James continued his warning by relating, “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you. (James 5:4-6 NIV)”
We forget that our sins will find us out. We will have to give an account of all that God has blessed us with in this life and how we used it to further for his kingdom or not. Proverbs reminds us, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow’– when you now have it with you. (Proverbs 3:27-28 NIV)” the neighbor here was fellow Hebrews, for us it would be our brothers and sisters in Christ. However, lest we forget, Jesus reminded an expert in the law, after he correctly answered that we are to love God completely and our neighbor as ourselves that our neighbor is the one whom God lays in our daily path that could use our assistance. It is the parable of the Good Samaritan where a man is robbed, beaten, and left for dead in a ditch. Both a priest and a Levite passed him by after seeing him. But the Samaritan, an outcast himself from Jewish society, saw him and took pity on him. Took him to an inn and paid for his recovery. Jesus asks the expert in the law, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Now, let me ask you “Have the cries of your neighbors reached the ears of the Lord Almighty?” Rich living, liberation in a believer’s life begins when we willingly use what God has given us to invest in the lives of others who do not know him!
This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.