James 5:1-6



Most of us don’t want to be filthy rich, but most of you wouldn’t mind winning the lottery or the Publisher’s House Sweepstakes.  Some of us, like myself, don’t play the lottery, but wouldn’t mind winning the money.


In James 5:1-6 we find James attacking the rich with the zeal of an Old Testament prophet.  In fact he seems to use a technique that some of the Old Testament prophets.  He was probably talking to people who couldn’t hear him.


The Old Testament prophets would sometimes address nations and pronounce judgments on them.  It wasn’t likely that these nations were even going to hear these pronouncements, but they were written for the benefit of God’s people, so God’s people would understand what was going to happen to these ungodly nations.


The people James addressed in James 5:1-6 were probably unsaved wealthy Jewish landowners, most of which, were not involved at all with the church.  The chances of them hearing this pronouncement against them were unlikely.


So why did God have James include these verses in his letter?  I think that there are at least two reasons.


First of all, many Christians might have secret desires towards becoming wealthy.  It is possible to love money without being wealthy. 1 Timothy 6:10, Matthew 6:24


By addressing the rich, James was also giving warning to those in the church who wanted to be rich or had the love of money.


Secondly there were many in the congregation who were poor and suffering under the hand of the rich.  These words would have encouraged them that the rich would be judged and were really in bad shape.


So, as you and I approach this passage, it should serve as both as warning for us if we happen to love money and lifestyles of the rich and famous.  It should also be an encouragement for us if we feel oppressed or intimidated by the rich people that are around us.


In these warnings for the wealthy I find James giving us five specific problems that the rich have.




The interesting thing here is that this is not a call to repentance.  James is simply telling the rich that they should “weep” or “cry aloud” and howl because of the impending judgment that they would receive.

Remember that they will not be punished for being rich. They will be punished because their riches kept them from God and because they trusted their riches and not God. Luke 12:16-21


The unsaved rich man will be miserable.  Although the rich often suffer misery in this life, it is nothing compared to the life that is to come.  Luke 16:19-31, Revelation 20:15 


The future is miserable for the unsaved rich and any person who is not a born again Christian.




There are three kinds of wealth alluded to here in these two verses. These were ways of measuring wealth in the ancient world.


Vs. 2 – It is possible that food stuffs is alluded to here. A standard of wealth would be how much grain one would have laid up in store.  But James says that their riches were corrupted or “rotted”.  Food eventually rots.


Vs. 3 – Another standard for wealth was clothing. Fancy and ornate clothing was a sign of wealth.  But when these garments were in storage they were susceptible to moths.

When the garments were moth eaten they became worthless.  


Gold and silver are mentioned next.  They literally don’t rust.  But they do in a figurative way.  If they are not used for the right reasons in this life, they, in a sense rust. Matthew 16:19-21 


The rust of horded or misspent wealth will be a witness against them and eats at them as if it were fire. Fire often represents judgment.   It is the last days.  Jesus could come at any time. Instead of investing in God’s kingdom because time is short, they were hording.




Not only were the rich hording, but they were abusing the poor.  They were keeping back wages that belonged to the poor.


There were day laborers who worked by the day and got paid by the day.  They were probably already poor.

In the time of harvest when there would have been plenty of food and wine available, the poor were being cheated of their rightfully earned income. This was clearly a violation of the Old Testament Law.

Leviticus 19:13, Deuteronomy 24:14-15, Malachi 3:5


James says that the cries of those who have been oppressed are heard by the Lord of sabaoth, the Lord of hosts. God will be their judge.


This is a good reminder to all of us.  We are not to cheat, or hold back funds from another when it is rightfully theirs, whether it be salary, or money that you have borrowed, or an inheritance that is rightfully theirs. Proverbs 3:27




The rich lived in the lap of luxury, and made this their lifestyle, what they lived for.  There was no concern for the well being of others. 1 John 3:17


I don’t think it wrong to have nice things, especially once in awhile.  But I do think that it is wrong to live for these things and make them the goal of our lives.   


And notice what the person who lives for luxury accomplishes.  He fattens his heart, just like as you might fatten a pig or an ox before slaughtering it.


The slaughter that the heart is being fattened for is the slaughter of judgment.


Solomon called the self indulgent life “vanity” or empty. Ecclesiastes 2:4-11




As it is today, the rich often have the advantage in the courts.  Only it was worse in those days.


The rich could condemn and kill the righteous or just and the righteous or just would not oppose them.


That might be because the righteous had no way of fighting back. The odds were stacked against them.


But James might also have the Christian poor in view here.

When they were abused by the wicked, they were instructed not to fight back. Matthew 5:39


Before we abuse anyone, it is good that we remember that the Lord sees everything and doesn’t miss any abuse that we dish out in any way. Proverbs 5:21, Proverbs 15:3


The ways of unsaved rich people can certainly be wrong.

We should not want to imitate them, nor should we set our heart on being rich.