Today’s Little Lesson is a continuation of our previous Little Lesson, talking about the potential of being righteous and at the same time being rich. We’re trying to do our best to answer that question, not from one verse taken out of its context in the Bible, but by looking at a little bit more context.
Looking at James’ Condemnation in Context
Currently, we’re looking in James 5, which starts off with James saying in verse 1, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.” This seems like a carte blanche condemnation of anybody who has any degree of wealth.
As we continue reading, we see that James is targeting a specific group of wealthy people, those who have had no concern for the poor. They have not used their richest to help the poor. They’ve got rotting food. They’ve got moth-eaten garments. They have food and clothing that could have helped the poor, but they didn’t care. They just let it rot. It benefited the bacteria. It benefited the moss.
And the same thing with their gold and silver. It’s piled up and it’s not being given to anybody. It’s not being invested to help anybody.
Getting Rich from Extortion
It gets even more clear what kind of wealthy people James is condemning in verse 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.”
Now, we find out James is condemning wealthy people who gained their wealth on the backs of the poor whom they employed and never paid. Well, that’s wrong.
But what a blessing it would be if they had paid them and provided those folks with an opportunity to earn money. And that would have been totally the opposite of what they did do: employ but not pay them. This is the one thing that the wealthy do have the blessing of being involved in is providing opportunities for other people and to help an economy to grow by giving people chances to be employed and to use their skills and to pay them what they’re worth as is determined by the marketplace of their hard work, and so forth.
Using Money Selfishly
Again, the condemnation continues in verse 5, “You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure.”
These are the guys sitting on their couches plucking the grapes and plopping them into their mouth as somebody fans them. The type of rich people living luxuriously in wanton pleasure because they happen to own some lands so they don’t have to work. They can just cash in on employing other people who they don’t ultimately pay.
“you have fattened your hearts,” James continues in verse 5, “in a day of slaughter.” No doubt these are the kind of folks that Jesus was also condemning when He talked about “Woe to you who are rich and well fed and laughing now” (see Luke 6:24-26).
The Height of Evil
James continues, finally verse 6, “You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.”
Here we have the height of evil in these wealthy people whom James condemns. They have been condemning righteous people to the degree of casting their vote against them. I suppose during their jury duty or, in some context. “Putting to death the righteous man, and he does not resist you,” as James says.
You can see just to carte blanche condemn all wealthy people would be a mistake based upon what James wrote in James chapter 5:1-6.
A Wealthy Man James Complements
Now, interestingly, reading in the wider context of James, we find that James is very complementary towards two very wealthy people who are not like the wealthy people he described in his fifth chapter. In James 2, well, James talks highly about Abraham who is a perfect example of a man whose faith in God showed up in the actions and the deeds and the works of his life.
James goes so far to say, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? … and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God” (vv. 21 and 23).
There’s a guy who was righteous and rich. In fact the Bible talks about how God made Abraham rich. and James goes on, “He was called the friend of God.” He says very complementary things about a very wealthy man. He was righteous in God’s eyes, declared righteous by God’s eyes even in his wealth, and he was called the friend of God.
An Absurd Objection
Now some folks say, “Well, of course, the New Covenant, that’s all changed.” Come on now, use your brain, please! To say that fundamental moral ethical principles change from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant is utterly absurd.
It’s like claiming that God himself has fundamentally morally changed. God cannot look at something as respectable a hundred years ago that He abhors today, right? Right. Because God doesn’t change. He’s perfect in His morality and in His justice and His ethic.
Another Wealthy and Righteous Man
Well, another guy whom James complements rather highly, a real rich guy, is in the same chapter that we read about his condemnation of the unrighteous rich guy. Look at James again at James 5. He’s encouraging his readers to endure their trials and so forth. And he says,
We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. – James 5:11
Well, if you read the Book of Job, in the end, he had twice as much as what he had in the beginning and, in the beginning, he was a millionaire. But read Job’s testimony very closely in the Book of Job and you see that he was a guy, a righteous rich man who had no need, like the rich ruler, to liquidate because he was liquidating all the time, taking care of orphans and widows and those who are less fortunate than the poor. Plus, employing perhaps hundreds of people in his business and with all of his livestock and so forth, he couldn’t take care of it himself.
These are some things to think about. Can you be righteous and rich? You can, but you’ve got to love God all your heart, you’ve got to love your neighbor as yourself. And, if you do, it’s going to show up in what you do with your money. Thanks so much for joining me. Until next time, the Lord bless you.