Since our dating days, my husband and I had entertained the idea of moving back to my home country. We loved the people and the culture, but more importantly, we saw clearly the gospel opportunities—people were becoming more open to the gospel due to changes in the political climate.
God provided, and our savings inched up and up. Eventually, we had a couple of months’ worth of living expenses squirreled away. It seemed like a good time to move, but for whatever reason, we started having second thoughts. Have we really saved up enough? Should we wait a tad longer? It became tempting to stay put and continue building up our wealth, and holding on to a stable job would promise financial stability for the family. Surely, we could spread the gospel without moving, we rationalized. If we were to uproot ourselves and move across the world, who knew what would happen? It could be years before we saved up this much again.
The Bible is very clear about how wealth could prevent us from drawing close to God. Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). My husband and I are not exactly rich, but we knew the temptation to rely on our own wealth instead of looking to God.
In his letter, James issues severe warnings against specific sins that wealthy people are prone to. His tone of moral outrage warns us to take extreme care not to tolerate the sin of greed (in a self-indulgent lifestyle) and the sin of injustice (in the use of wealth affecting others)—in ourselves.
In verses 2, 3, and 5, James indicts those who “[hoard] wealth in the last days,” and warns us not to live “in luxury and self-indulgence.” With vivid imagery— “wealth has rotten”, “moths have eaten your clothes” (v. 2), James reminds us that wealth cannot last, and we will be judged according to the way we live.
James’ words echo those of Jesus, who had urged us, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21).
Though we are to work diligently at our jobs (Colossians 3:23), our aim should not be to store up comfort and pleasure for ourselves. My husband and I are constantly reminded that no matter how much money we save—it ultimately means nothing in the face of eternity. Instead, if we can use our wealth for the sake of the gospel, it may produce eternal fruit.
James’ second set of accusations are against those who take advantage of the poor. He indicts those who defraud their workers and accuses those who commit murder (vv. 4-6). According to many Bible commentators, “murdered” probably refers to the act of wealthy land owners using the courts to take away the property of the poor—who were defenseless against such systems.
In this age, too, it can be easy to take advantage of those without resources. Sometimes employers might overwork or underpay employees. James reminds us to be careful when earning a living, and to make sure not to take advantage of others in the process.
In the Old Testament, God also commanded the Israelites to take care of the poor instead of looking after their own interests (Deuteronomy 24:19-22). This was the reason He gave for such laws: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.” (Deuteronomy 24:18).
Just like He rescued the Israelites from Egypt, God has saved us from our slavery to sin. How can we then go on to enslave others by taking advantage of them? Instead, let us demonstrate love for others in how we use our material possessions—simply because God has first loved us.
—Christine Emmert, USA
Questions for reflection
1. Do you ever put too much trust in your own wealth?
2. Have you taken advantage of anyone less fortunate than you, in the way you earn or spend money?
3. What are some ways in which you can use your possessions for God’s purposes?
Christine is a follower of Christ, and a lover of good books and food. Life is good, she insists, and each new breath is a reminder that whatever the circumstances, God is still good. Her husband and her are trying to build a family that seeks Christ and serves as light and salt among the nations. Ezra 7:10 is her favorite verse.