When wealth becomes the measure of our success, our measuring rod becomes faulty and everything else in our life can fall out of place without us even realising it.
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)
Then suddenly in chapter 5 James turns his focus on a social ill in the community. Rich merchants who use their power to deny their labourers a fair wage and even commit murder in an attempt to retain their privileged position (5:4-5). It is far too easy to dismiss this outburst as an attack on the ungodly unbeliever. Yet if James 4:13-17 is aimed at the rich believer why should we doubt the warning in James 5:1-6 is equally aimed at the believer?
Let's be frank. In our contemporary day, we still witness unscrupulous financial behaviour among believers in power and authority. Acquiring wealth from other people, no matter the method, and storing it up for our own personal wants, on the pretence that it is 'for the work of the Lord' does not make fraud acceptable. It simply shows we have a faulty measuring rod.
Riches are not wrong. James does not condemn riches. Rather, James is appalled at the diabolical attitude of the rich. When wealth becomes the measure of our success, our measuring rod becomes faulty and everything else in our life can fall out of place without us even realising it.
Listen to the potent warning of James 5:3.
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 5:3 (NIV)
Let me make this clear. James 5:3 is not a quote to use on a Sunday morning to encourage people to give more. Rather, it is a rebuke of those who have acquired wealth and have fooled themselves into believing it is evidence of God's approval of their lifestyle and attitude. The fact that these people have no concern for the ills in the society, nor compassion for the needy, should have alerted them to the fact that something is seriously wrong in their heart - yet does not.
James provides the life of Job as an example of the error that we can all fall into (James 5:11; Job. chaps. 1-2). Job lost everything. His friends erroneously assumed this was proof that God had forsaken him (Job 32:1-3). God however has a different measuring rod that he uses to assess people (Job 42:7-9).
God measures us by the content of our heart not the value of our wealth.
Poverty is not the issue here. The heart is. God desires to supply our need. He did not create poverty. Greed empowered by sin is a root cause of the pain and suffering in the world. Poverty does not please God, nor is it a symptom of humility as wealth is not evidence of God's approval.
Assess yourself by Godss measuring rod, not the faulty measuring rod of this age that perceives riches as proof of God's approval of our conduct and attitude.
I leave us with another word from James.
My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. James 5: 19-20 (NIV).