In the beginning of chapter 5, James returns to a topic he introduced in chapter 1 – the temptations and dangers of wealth. In 5:1-6, he offers a practical commentary on the many teachings of his brother Jesus on the topic:
Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, 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 pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.
“According to John Wesley, wealth is dangerous because it can corrupt and lead to sin. Whatever our level of income, desiring more than is necessary is morally destructive. Riches lure us from sharing with those in need and toward exploiting and isolating the poor for selfish financial gain. The dangers of wealth also harm the rich by leading into a false sense of moral superiority, a distorted understanding of divine favor, and to the destruction and negligence of those in need. These traits are in absolute opposition to God’s character and God’s expectations of God’s people.” – Wesley Study Bible
A question comes immediately come to mind: How much is necessary – how much is “enough?” In a culture that exalts excess, that teaches consumerism as a form of patriotism, and makes coveting a positive attitude, how can we learn the difference between what we really need and what we want?
One of the challenges of this passage is that we are called to live in it, not just analyze it. If we think “I’m not rich, therefore this doesn’t apply to me,” we will set it aside and never learn what it has to say to us. Instead, let’s live in it for awhile. Ask yourself this question – “What if this does apply to me? How can I live differently because of the truth found here?”