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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

December 12, 2012

James 5:1-6

Summary of notes by Bob Deffinbaugh.

  1. James had much to say to the church concerning the rich. We must understand that the community is being taught to live like Christ and not the culture. The culture allowed the rich to play outside of the rules and take advantage of their status to the detriment of the poor. The community of faith is being taught that how society has allowed some who were rich to use their wealth unjustly is not the way of those who are in the faith. God’s ways apply to the rich and the poor. James is inspired by the Spirit of God to correct the cultural influence on the church with regards to the wealthy who use their wealth unjustly. James teaches the church that their hope and trust cannot be placed in the temporary nature of wealth. The sinful rich are warned that both they and their wealth will all too quickly pass away, and that their hoarded wealth will not do them any good beyond the grave. James tells us why the wealth of the wicked will not last and how the wicked rich are condemned.

  2. Verses 1-3. The judgment that awaits the wicked rich is graphically described. First of all, the wealth that they have accumulated will not endure, but will perish. Wealth, we are told, was measured in several forms. Their agricultural wealth – like that of corn or grain – would rot. Second, their elegant clothing, which was also a form of wealth-would become moth-eaten. Third, their silver and gold would rust. Notice that in each case the wealth that perishes does so by virtue of being hoarded and not being put to good use. Grain would not have rotted in the hands of the poor. It rotted in warehouses, where it was hoarded. Moths do not attack clothing on our bodies; they attack clothing that is left in storage unused, and the same goes for rust. Things that are left idle and unused rust not things that are put to use. It is the hoarding of wealth that is evil, when there are needs that it could have met. The picture is one of a stockpile of unused wealth, all of which is now worthless by virtue of non-use. It is this stockpile that testifies against the wealthy in the Day of Judgment, evidence that they did not use their wealth to minister to the needs of others. How different things would have been had these goods become converted to treasure laid up in heaven. (Matthew 6:19-21).

  3. Verse 4. Wicked wealth will not last. First, they have obtained their wealth by means of injustice. Specifically, they have increased their profits by refusing to pay their laborers in a fair and timely fashion, and these people are the ones whose efforts have produced the riches the wealthy enjoy (James 5:4). The cries of the oppressed workers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. Just because one creates ten jobs does not mean one can do all ten jobs. One still needs ten people who have the skill to do the job. This is where those in our current society fail to see the delicate balance that there is between job creators and those who actually do the job. One can design a great automobile or finance a great project, but nothing can be done without many who can fulfill what the job requires. The Old Testament law was very clear on this matter,( Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Proverbs 3:27-28; Jeremiah 22:13; Malachi 3:5.) and those who are indicted appear to have knowingly brushed God’s Word aside (remember that these were Jews to whom James was writing). The rich have power to help or to harm, while the poor are powerless. These rich folks have abused their power by oppressing the powerless. (Proverbs 22:16) (Proverbs 11:4-6) (Proverbs 11:28) (Proverbs 18:11).

  4. Verse 5. Second, the wicked rich have used their wealth wrongly, only to indulge their own desires. James began chapter 4 with a warning against the obsession of satisfying one’s passions. The rich have far more capacity to do this than the poor. While it is not wrong to enjoy the good things of this life, (1 Timothy 4:4-5; 6:17), riches are a stewardship, and the wealthy are encouraged to be “rich in good deeds” (1 Timothy 6:18). Those whom James indicts are only using their wealth in a self-indulgent way, and thus they are abusing their stewardship. Luke 12:16-20

  5. Verse 6. Third, the wicked rich have used the power of their wealth to condemn and to kill the righteous person who does not resist them. We are certainly reminded of the story of Ahab and Jezebel, and Naboth, whose field Ahab desired (see 1 Kings 21). Ahab and Jezebel were able to use their wealth and power to have Naboth falsely charged and then executed. Some see this as an indictment against those wealthy Jewish leaders who brought about the death of our Lord (see Isaiah 53:7; Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; 1 Peter 2:23; 3:18). While the wrongful execution of our Lord is certainly one example of the misuse of wealth and power, I believe James means it to be understood more broadly, for the wealthy may oppress godly saints knowing they will not resist.

  6. If we are correct in concluding that the Book of James was written quite early, then it was written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. At least a partial fulfillment of these words can be seen in the siege of Jerusalem, for we are told that when the Romans stormed the city, the Roman soldiers knew that many of the Jews were wealthy. The people who were poorly clothed and skinny were somewhat overlooked by the soldiers, but those who were “fat and sassy” were tortured and robbed, because the look of wealth was apparent.

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