Final Thoughts on James 5:1-6
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you. NKJV
The original recipients of James’ letter appear to have developed an infatuation with the rich. This seems to be clear from the many passages that offer warnings to the rich, or criticize the church for giving preference to those who were wealthy (James 1:9–11, 2:1–13, 4:13–17). In the face of great trials, it seems that many in James’ audience either placed great hope and trust in their own riches, or had a strong desire to run in the same circles that the rich did.
In our text, James condemns the greed of the rich. It is a bit uncertain as to whether the rich people that James is condemning are believers or unbelievers. It is likely that James is addressing unbelievers, since this passage does not speak of repentance, and because its style is similar to passages from the Old Testament that are clearly addressed to the unbelieving enemies of Israel (Example: Isa. 13). But even if this is the case, we as believers must also pay close attention to these severe warnings from our Lord. This passage not only tells us that the wealth of the oppressive rich is only temporal, but it gives us a stern warning as well not to envy the material possessions of the rich.
God condemns the rich and greedy landowners in our text for trusting in their riches, and for earning their money as a result of fraud and oppression. He warns that the material possessions that they have stored up are wasting away, and cannot save them in the day of judgment. They have oppressed the poor by depriving them of the wages that that the poor have earned, and by their wealth they have fattened themselves for the day of judgment as a calf is fatted up just before it is slaughtered. The worldly wisdom that looks to material possessions for security will fail in the end, for all that is not of spiritual and eternal value will be destroyed.
Hopefully, wealthy Christians would never be guilty of withholding pay from their employees. However, there are many other ways in which wealth can be misused. For example, one can sin by fulfilling his desires for comfort and luxery without giving to help support the ministry of the local church, or contributing to the spread of the Gospel messge. Whether you are wealthy or not, have you prayed and asked the Lord to show you how your material resources, which are only on loan from God, can be used for His kingdom and glory (I Cor. 10:31).