• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for Oct. 6 focuses on James 5:1-11.
We had to shut the water off at our house a few hours this afternoon. I couldn’t do laundry or wash the dishes. The potty-training toddler couldn’t flush. I couldn’t make macaroni or mix up lemonade for lunch. I knew it was only a matter of time until the leak was fixed, but the episode made me remember the number of people for whom the lack of water is more than a passing inconvenience.
More than 780 million people worldwide—more than twice the population of the United States—do not have access to clean drinking water. If $40 a month is enough to provide food, water, education and medical care for a child through a sponsorship program, the contents of my closet could get an entire family through high school.
If nearly half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day, what our family spends on a movie is more than many people make in a week. We may not feel rich, but compared to the rest of the world, we are incredibly blessed.
The Bible never describes being wealthy as a sin. Wealth is described as a blessing from God, and Jesus’ ministry was supported by wealthy women (Deuteronomy 8:18, Proverbs 10:22, Luke 8:3). However, the Bible does warn about the love of money. Scripture also speaks out against hoarding wealth instead of sharing it.
James included hoarding wealth in his prophetic outcry against the rich: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on 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” (James 5:1-3).
Hoarding wealth was a significant social sin in the New Testament world. One of Jesus’ parables was about a rich man whose fields yielded a bumper crop. The man decided to tear down his barns and build bigger barns. His decision proved foolish. Newer and bigger barns would be no help to him when he faced death (Luke 12:14-21).
As E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien point out in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, the man’s sin was not filling his barns. His sin was hoarding his wealth instead of sharing his abundance.
James rebuked the rich for their sin of selfish hoarding. For James, the “last days” began with the coming of Christ. Jesus’ coming turned the world upside down. Believers were to be about the work of spreading the good news of the kingdom of God. In this new age of God, seeking personal profit over kingdom interests revealed an uncommitted heart. Kingdom citizens should be concerned about building God’s kingdom, not their own.
James also rebuked the wealthy for oppressing the poor. Custom dictated that workers were to be paid at the end of the day for that day’s labor (Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14-15). This allowed a worker to buy food for his family before returning home. If a wealthy landowner withheld his worker’s wages, it meant the worker and his family would go hungry that night.
Poor laborers could do little to protest against wealthy landowners who abused their power. James warns the wealthy God is the defender of the poor. God heard the cries of the oppressed, and he would act to bring justice. By living in greedy self-indulgence, the rich had only prepared themselves for the day of slaughter. They would face God’s judgment (James 5:4-6).
God a defender of the poor
Before we dismiss this as not applying to us, we might want to ask ourselves why so many waiters and waitresses complain about serving the Sunday after-church crowd. There also are other questions we might ask. Should I be concerned that the woman who sewed my $30 shirt is only paid pennies for each one she completes?
If the coffee, tea or cocoa I consume was harvested in part by children working in unsafe conditions, should that matter to me? What are my responsibilities in making sure my employees earn a fair wage and have safe working conditions? How do I live justly in a global economy that maximizes profits for the rich and leaves the poor in their poverty?
We are responsible to live as good stewards of the resources God has given us. We may not be able to do it all, but we can do something. We can resist the cultural pressure of living beyond our means. We can set giving goals for our families.
We can learn to consume less, so we can give more. We can learn about fair trade and give preference to products produced justly. We can sponsor a child, volunteer for disaster relief or give to the world hunger offering. How we use our wealth should reflect the priorities of the God we serve.