Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. 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.
James introduces this chapter with a bit of a warning. He is writing to those with more than they need to live. James doesn’t condemn them for being wealthy. He condemns them for misusing their resources.
Unlike the believing rich in other congregations, these are the wicked wealthy. They profess the Christian faith. They have associated themselves with the church. But their real god is money. Furthermore, their love of money has led them to wrong the poor for more gain.
James writes in what seems like rage. He tells them to “weep and howl” at what is coming. James tells them to go ahead begin repenting as if the judgment has already arrived. Go ahead and repent now instead of waiting. He says that misery would come upon them. He writes to them as “ye rich men” not as “brothers”.
This “misuse” of wealth left James doubting their conversion. Whatever appearance these people had that suggested Christian faith, their actions were so worldly and destructive that the truth about them couldn’t be so. James here is willing to speak to believers as if they were not believers, their actions toward their brothers contradicted their own professed faith.
What does James’ warning mean if these people are still regarded as believers? Were they in danger of missing salvation? No. But they would learn that real believers do not act in the ways he lists ahead. James says, “Listen up…you claim to be saved, but your actions look otherwise.” “Judgment is coming for your actions. If you are saved you should go ahead and repent and begin to get this right.”
Your wealth is corrupted
This group was getting “ill-gotten gain” and hoarding it. We will discuss their methods, but just know it wasn’t through hard work it was fraudulent. Showing their lack of trust in God and further their complete trust in self, riches, things they hoarded. They hoarded: money, clothes, precious pieces. These things are all fine to have. The issue here is twofold:
- How they got it.
- What their intentions were: “Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.”
James writes to them to say that their “gain” is already beginning to waste away. Riches are corrupted. Garments are moth-eaten. Gold & Silver is cankered.
James was angry: First, due to their trusting riches before God while claiming to be people of faith. Second, especially those in the church, due to their stepping on and over the poor, to continue their gain.
He writes here to say this gain is fading. Right then wealth and possessions were going. It could be that literally, the very things they were working so hard to get were just decaying away. Also, by saying their “wealth is corrupt” James is letting them know that he knows how they obtained it. This type of gain is never permanent.
More likely he was looking ahead. You all are building up great wealth that will do very little for you in eternity. “You have heaped treasure together for the last days.” In fact, due to the corrupt manner in which you’ve gained this wealth, it probably will do very little for you much monger in this life.
Pastor Chance Strickland
Harpeth Baptist Church
Kingston Springs, TN