Calvary Road Baptist Church

“LIVING FAITH VERSUS RUTHLESS RICHES”   Part 1

James 5.1-6

Since we always have a number of folks who were not a part of our initial study of this letter written by James, the half-brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, allow me to spend a brief amount time to review just a few pertinent facts. Of course, the Lord Jesus Christ was the virgin born Son of God. However, after delivering the Christ child, Mary went on to be the normal wife of the normal man Joseph, and bore at least six children by him, according to the gospel of Matthew 13.55-56: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?” One of their sons, our Lord’s half-brother James just mentioned, was along with his brothers not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry.[1] It was not until after the resurrection that James was converted, according to the Apostle Paul, at which time he came to be greatly used of God and was the senior pastor of the church in Jerusalem, the first and most prominent congregation of early Christianity.[2] A number of years after our Lord’s death on the cross for our sins and glorious resurrection there arose a great persecution of those Jewish Christians in the region and they fled from Jerusalem.[3] Therefore, no longer having James as their pastor, or even a church to attend in some cases, many young believers understandably became quite discouraged. Who would not be challenged by the loss of family, the loss of livelihood, and the loss of possessions and friends that was so much a part of early Christian life of that day?

This letter written by James to those who had trusted Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, almost certainly the first of the New Testament letters to be written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was circulated to these tragically discouraged Jewish Christians, most of whom had been in the church he pastored in Jerusalem. How encouraging it must have been to hear from him, to be challenged by him, and to consider how James put into proper context the issues of life that troubled his beloved Christian brethren. Apparently, from the text which is before us this morning, many of the Jewish Christian believers had fallen on hard times and were under the thumb of ruthless Gentiles of considerable wealth. This is not surprising. James’ audience were refugees, ripe to be taken advantage of, and all the more so since they were Jewish, and especially since they were Jews who were Christians, a minority group of a minority group. Few men of stature and position understood them or sympathized with them, many no doubt convinced they were rabble-rousers and troublemakers.

For consecutive Sunday mornings that I am preaching, the Lord willing, I will examine the topic of living faith versus ruthless riches, what happens when real Christians are faced with wealthy and powerful adversaries. Concentrating on James 5.1-6, we see that portion of God’s Word written by James strongly condemns such rich and ruthless men. Trusting you have located our text, stand and read the passage silently while I read aloud:

1      Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

2      Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.

3      Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

4      Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

5      Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

6      Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

Is it not interesting that though this letter is written primarily for the benefit and encouragement of Jewish Christians, ruthless and unethical men of means are addressed in it and warned by it? The implication, of course, is that they have been warned by this letter, just as other portions of God’s Word serve as vindicating warnings even to those who refused to read God’s Word. Just as ignorance of the law is no excuse for law breakers, so ignorance of God’s Word is no excuse for those who have been warned by God in His Word.

There are three observations inspired James makes in relation to God’s condemnation of the ruthless rich:

First, BY REASON OF THE PROPHECY ABOUT THEM

In verse 1, there is urged upon these wicked men weeping in anticipation of their predicted miseries: “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.” Who is to weep and howl? The rich. Now, don’t get me wrong. Scripture does not teach that it is more holy to be poor than to be rich. However, neither is it more holy to be a person of great wealth. The danger is this: There is power that accompanies wealth, and when the power that accompanies wealth is abused and people suffer at the hands of the ruthless rich, God will set Himself against them. Why will the rich need to weep and howl? Because miseries shall come upon them. And don’t think James refers to just miseries like those the rich can inflict upon the poor. Oh no. Some ungodly men live their whole lives out without anything “bad” happening to them. Then, after they die . . . misery. Not the end of all things, mind . . . misery. “The very apprehension of such miseries as were coming upon them is enough to make them weep and howl. Rich men are apt to say to themselves (and others are ready to say to them), Eat, drink, and be merry; but God says, Weep and howl. It is not said, Weep and repent, for this the apostle does not expect from them (he speaks in a way of denouncing rather than admonishing); but, ‘Weep and howl, for when your doom comes there will be nothing but weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.’”[4] Why are these men prodded to weep and howl? Again, because of the judgment that awaits them: “weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.”

In verses 2 and 3, there is witness against these wicked men who laugh now but who will weep and howl then:

2      Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.

3      Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

This is not witnessing as in telling folks how to be saved from their sins. James is not evangelizing here. He is denouncing men who have too much money to worry much about their souls. This is James functioning as an observer who realizes what is going to happen come Judgment Day, and bears witness to God’s future dealings with these men: First, there will be a decay of their possessions. James uses the words corrupted, moth-eaten and cankered to describe the end of all the finery of the ruthless rich. The Lord Jesus said it this way: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”[5] Work for possessions if you will, but none of your possessions will last. Second, there is the danger of their possessions. The decay of their wealth will be a witness against them. To be blessed of God with possessions is one thing. However, to forsake worshipping and serving God so that you might acquire wealth is an offense to God. He will hold it against ‘em that do that. The principle by which we are to live our lives and by which God will judge every one of us is found in Matthew 6.33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Careful that you are not distracted by material possessions, or the pursuit of wealth. Finally, the denunciation of their practices. “Ye have heaped treasure for the last days.” Here James is condemning the practice of withholding from others so that you can stockpile wealth for yourself for a rainy day. Nothing wrong with saving and being a good steward. However, there is something wrong with spending money only on yourself or your own future and hanging everyone else out to dry. What those who provide for their own future on the backs of those they oppress need to understand is that what they are really storing up for the future is God’s wrath. Do you really think God’s plan for His own in anticipation of troublous times is hoarding? There is sometimes a fine line between being prudent and preparing for the coming evil day and trusting in wealth to see you through, rather than trusting God. After all, if you have food that the hungry need, will God be pleased for you to withhold that food? That is exactly what the ruthless rich were doing who James is here addressing. Be wise, my friends.

Second, BY REASON OF THE PERSECUTION BY THEM

Verse 4:  “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.”

James is telling the ruthless rich that the laborers they have hired to harvest their crops are lamenting. Why are they lamenting, crying out in sorrow? Because they are suffering fraud and injustice, that is why. They are being taking advantage of by unprincipled and powerful men who are interested only in maximizing their own profits and not helping the people who work for them. Not that there is anything wrong with profit, since the person who takes risk has a right to the reward due him for his risk, for his creative effort, and for the exercise of skills that others perhaps do not possess. Additionally, returning a profit to those who own the company is the legal obligation of those who run the company. However, there is no place for denying an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work to get that profit. There is no place for the cruelty sometimes heaped upon the helpless and impoverished souls who work for the rich. The question should be, who are these downtrodden children of God crying out to? Watch out. They are crying out to the Lord of Sabaoth. This means the Lord of hosts, the Lord of armies. Be careful now. Keep in mind that when the Lord Jesus Christ returns in power and great glory as the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the armies of heaven will follow Him.[6] Living under the Law of Moses, the Jewish laborer of that era, though he was poor, always had recourse to Law and to God:

Leviticus 19.13: “Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.”

Pay each worker at the end of each work day.

Deuteronomy 24.15: “At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.”

Jeremiah 22.13: “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work.”

Malachi 3.5: “And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts.”

James informs the powerfully brutal that those they oppress cry out in their suffering, and their cries “are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.” Thus, though Christians do not live under the Law of Moses or under a theocratic government governed by God’s laws, as did Jewish people of the previous era, the LORD of hosts still hears the cries of His own when we are oppressed.

Allow me to restate this so the impact of it sinks into your thinking. Notice what else James is telling the ruthless rich. When the poor lament, the Lord of hosts listens. God is not so much interested in poor people bellyaching just because they are poor. Poverty is not always an indication of injustice. However, when the boss is cheating the poor out of their just wages, God begins to take a keen interest. Understand, the Lord of hosts has always listened when the powerful and privileged take advantage of His poor. He listened when the children of Israel suffered at the hands of their Egyptian taskmasters. “And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows,” Exodus 3.7. He listened during the times of the Judges, when His people were oppressed by foreign invaders.[7] And He will hear you and me when we approach Him and ask for relief from those who oppress us for no good reason. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” Hebrews 4.16. Wealthy men who abuse the power that comes to them from their wealth and riches, or privileged men who abuse the power that comes to them from their position? You have been warned by God. Oh, that there were men of God in our country that would lift up their voices in the presence of the rich and powerful who oppress us, to tell them of God’s judgment that will come upon them lest they repent of the evil they do.

Finally, BY REASON OF THE PLEASURE OF THEM

Notice the experience of their pleasures, verse 5: “Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.” Consider this first phrase, “Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth.” Reminds me of the rich man Jesus talked about in relation to Lazarus in Luke 16.19-23a:

19     There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

20     And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

21     And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

22     And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

23     And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments . . . .

James continues, writing, “And been wanton.” It refers to giving yourself over to pleasure.[8] Reminds me of the prodigal son who wasted his substance on riotous living.[9] Thankfully, we are told in the parable that he eventually came to himself.[10] Verse 5 concludes, “Ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter,” with “nourished” translating a Greek word that can refer to fattening.[11] Sounds like James is telling them, “You guys are fattening yourselves up for the slaughter by doing what you’re doing.”

Some would say, “what’s wrong with living like that?” Why criticize the lifestyles of the rich and famous? For one reason, it is wrong because of the expense of their pleasures, verse 6: “Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.” The rich were gobbling up the poor just because they could. Those poor people you are taking advantage of are doing you no harm, posing you no threat, and bringing to you no grief. Yet you mistreat them, bully them, harass them, and take undue advantage of them as you grow rich on their stooped backs. Ever know someone whose attitude was, “This is business. Never let sentiment interfere with business”? That seems to be what James is addressing here. These rich may have been religious, just as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie were churchgoing men, but God will still hold men with power and wealth responsible for their mistreatment of the poor. Why should the rich and powerful pay any heed to James’ warning? Why should they be careful how they treat the poor and the helpless? Because, particularly in the case of we who know Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, we who by faith in Christ have been adopted into the family of God, our heavenly Father has our back! If He does not stop the rich and powerful from oppressing us now, you can be sure that He will punish the rich and powerful for oppressing us come Judgment Day. What could the rich and powerful have done? What should they have done? They lived so large that it is quite obvious the ability to treat their workers fairly was well within their means. They easily could have treated their laborers better, rather than being on the whole inhumane.

After hearing this message, you might be prompted to wonder, “Is it wrong to be rich, Pastor?” Not necessarily, but it is wrong to be rich and ruthless. It is wrong to depend upon wealth instead of depending upon God. It is wrong to love money.[12] It is wrong to mistreat and abuse those who work for you, merely so you can squeeze a bit more money out of their labor to make your own style of life more plush than it is. Three thousand years ago a wise king named Solomon wrote such things as, “The rich and poor meet together: the LORD is the maker of them all,” and “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”[13] There are different levels in every society. However, the LORD is the maker of us all, so each man and each woman should be treated with dignity and courtesy.

Can a person sometimes find himself impoverished? Yes. Is it necessarily the result of some conspiracy or societal injustice, so that someone who is poor should see himself as a victim? Long before Solomon’s time on earth, the patriarch Job declared in the midst of his poverty and affliction, “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”[14] Thus, it is not helpful for someone who is lacking in means and opportunity, for someone who is poor, to necessarily see himself as a victim of either circumstances or powerful and ruthless men. That occasional rich and powerful man or woman with real faith will use wealth to glorify God, not to glorify self, to serve God, not to be self-indulgent. Therefore, if God has or should He someday bless you with great wealth, realize your grave responsibility toward those who have less. Help the poor, don’t hurt them. And thank God for giving you the opportunity to use your wealth and influence to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, let me draw your attention back to verse 4, where the Lord listens to poor Christians who are being oppressed by the ruthless rich. Such does not always happen to those who are poor, but it sometimes happens to those who are poor . . . and with more frequency than it happens to those who are better off. The question you should ask yourself is if the Lord has your back? If you cry out, will the Lord listen to you as hearing the voice of His child crying out? Things happen. People will sometimes wrong you, on occasion they will grievously wound you and oppress you. What recourse do you have, should such a terrible thing happen to you? If you are a lost man, your only recourse is a court of law, like that will do any good against a brutal rich man with expensive lawyers. Can you cry out to the Lord of hosts with confidence because He is your own personal Savior? If the answer to that question is no, I urge you to come and speak to me about it as soon as possible. I am so thankful that when I suffer injustice at the hands of men who are powerful, individuals I cannot influence, I can cry out to my heavenly Father, Who cares and Who will respond. If you do not have such a heavenly Father, because you do not have a Savior, come and speak to me, and let me tell you what He offers you.



[1] John 7.5

[2] 1 Corinthians 15.7; Acts 15.15-31

[3] Acts 12.1

[4] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com

[5] Mark 8.38

[6] Revelation 19.14

[7] Judges 3.15; 4.3; 6.7;

[8] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 740.

[9] Luke 15.13

[10] Luke 15.17

[11] Rienecker, page 740.

[12] 1 Timothy 6.10

[13] Proverbs 22.2, 7

[14] Job 1.20



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org