What a gloomy picture of rich people James portrays! While admittedly the description fits nicely for some, there are also plenty of “rich” people who have done very good things for the church and for the world with their wealth. James’ idea of rich people is rather tainted, isn’t it?
I found it interesting that while James harshly calls out rich people here, he doesn’t deliver any sort of direct call to change. He is simply telling them to lament their status before God. “Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you.”
James goes on to let them know what to expect will happen to their wealth. It’s not a pretty picture. We all know “you can’t take it with you,” but I don’t think with proper planning that wealth will “rot away.” Perhaps in James’ context. He must have been a witness to such things or been deeply hurt by a wealthy person or two. Rich people are not immune to trouble or misfortune. Haven’t we all known wealthy people who have lost it all because of some bad circumstance?
I think it does us good to also take counsel from what Jesus says about those with great riches. In Matthew 6:24: “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.” Jesus also used parables about rich people to make his points.
Remember the story of the rich man asking how he could obtain eternal life? It was one of the scenes we included in the rendition of “Godspell” our youth group performed around eastern Iowa back in the late 70s. (Yes, I’m dating myself!) It comes from Matthew 19:16-30. Jesus said to the man, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Jesus and James both understood that rich people are likely to be distracted by their wealth and thereby turn away from God. The warning has it’s place and should help us remember that whether we are wealthy or not, God desires us to be in relationship with him. That’s my take-away. Money is just another distraction or even “idol” that can separate us from God.
Maybe you consider yourself rich. Did you feel threatened by James’ words? Maybe you were just surprised because you know how much good you can do for the kingdom with your wealth. You know how blessed you feel by God for what he has given you that you overflow with gratitude. You know how good it feels to be a giver and give back to God what is his. Those are the reactions God cherishes.
God knows our hearts. Rich or poor, short or tall, young or old, we are all precious in God’s sight. How are you responding to the treasures God has given you?
Let’s pray. Father God, thank you for how you have richly blessed me in my life. Help me to be a good steward with the gifts you have given me. I want to make this world a better place by helping others get to know you like I know you. Thank you for being so loving and forgiving. In Jesus’ name. Amen.