Chapter 5:1-6 (ESV) - Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
Question to consider: What is a steward?
The chapter break here is rather unfortunate because James is talking about the same group as at the end of chapter four - those who lived for their personal wealth and business dealings without considering God. Those who are bondservants of Christ aren’t counted among “the rich” here because they are stewards and not owners of what has been provided for them. A steward is a servant of the household who is put in charge of the master’s wealth. A faithful steward protects and even seeks to grow his master’s wealth. Although a steward personally benefits by managing this wealth, it does not belong to him.
James was referring to those whose god is their money and possessions. In our society, we have several examples of "the rich" who have built earthly empires in their own name. They are the picture of Christ’s statement, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37) Their wealth is built on things that rot and corrode, and James is clear here that it will ultimately be the source of their misery as it burns away. For what remains is the fact that they fraudulently gained their wealth by exploiting their workers and used it to live in luxury and self-indulgence.
As I mentioned at the beginning of chapter two, the language here is similar to the time of Malachi when the rich were exploiting the poor such that the poor were withholding their tithe, and the priests allowed the injustice to go on because they survived off the gifts of the wealthy. When the poor cried out to God about the injustice, God exhorted them for feeding into this cycle by withholding their tithe, and He promised that He would open the windows of heaven and bless them if they would trust Him in this.
In today’s passage, James is an example of what the priests at that time should have done - exhort the rich who exploited their workers instead of accepting their money. This would have been remarkable because the Jerusalem church was already feeling the effects of the persecution and facing extreme poverty. Ultimately, God would open the windows of heaven at the faithful preaching of James by inspiring the Gentile believers in Antioch to take up a generous offering for them.
Dear heavenly father, stir up in us a desire to be faithful stewards of Christ to the world and give us joy as we take part in Your kingdom. Help us to be honest in our work and business dealings and bring glory to the name of Christ as we generously share what You have given us. Amen.