Lost in the perishable: Devotional commentary for August 9-15
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
1Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.
2Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten.
3Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!
At the outset, it seems that James is abruptly shifting his focus from the issues he has been addressing in the previous chapter to a completely different subject matter here in this passage. However, James is addressing the same sets of issues, yet from different angles of the human experience. That is, man's response to God's sovereign prerogatives. The sinner's reaction to God's Grace. Man's answer to the Redeemer's directives and the Lordship of Christ. The believer's response to the Spirit's convictions.
In this particular passage, James addresses the rich who are so impressed with themselves that they give little or no attention to God and His mandate on stewardship. He warns the rich of the distress that would come upon them for placing their trust and security in the abundance of their wealth. He tells them to weep and howl because of the misery they would experience due to their exclusive dependence on the perishable.
Taking his cue from Jesus, James reminds the self-impressed-rich that their treasure is earthly and temporal. Their riches would decay. Their exquisite garments would be fodder to moths. Their gold, silver, and precious metal would lose their value and luster to rust and corrosion. In the end, their decaying wealth would convey them to a consuming misery because they will not find peace, happiness, and security in the ruins of a fleeting glamor. They invested their life building up the perishable. Time is up. Now, they must answer the God Whom they disregarded. The wealth they amassed is the evidence of their godless ways, idolatry, greed, and contempt against God.
James does not condemn wealth in itself. He knows it is the abundance of the Lord’s riches entrusted to the care of an individual, a family, a group of people, or a nation, for His Purpose and His Glory. He simply warns those who presume upon God's blessings and disregard His Lordship. There is no lasting blessing in anything apart from God. There is no security in anything perishable.
Those who look for security in earthly treasures would find themselves meandering in a spiritual void. Such a betrayal by what is highly valued would consume them from within like a raging fire. Ironically, the riches that is expected to provide security for the wealthy becomes the greatest source of distress because of greed and ungodly stewardship.
4Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
5You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
6You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.
James' concerns about the ungodly ways of the rich goes beyond examining how they arrogantly and presumptuously view themselves. He speaks of their fraudulent dealings with their workers and the needy around them. He condemns them for depriving laborers of their just wages in order to enrich themselves unjustly. Such magnates were so consumed by greed that they were willing to acquire riches at the expense of those whose labor was instrumental in generating their wealth. They have become calloused and insensitive.
James seems to be shocked by their incredible defiance of the One Who owns all things, God the Almighty. Every fraud devised and perpetrated to exploit the poor is an open book before God, the Lord of Sabbaoth before Whom all things are visible and known. He is LIGHT! Defrauding laborers is not only a manifest sin, but also a brazen disregard of God and His Law. Choosing to nurture greed and luxuriate oneself in a promiscuous extravagance by defrauding hired labor is utter rebellion toward God.
Not only did the rich continued to squander God's blessings on their corrupt pursuits, but also shunned the needy and crushed those who worked for them. Their hearts, hardened and conceited by the contempt of their fraudulent ways, converted the temple of the Lord in their hearts to a chamber of lustful appetite. But there is more. They even condemned and murdered the righteous and the defenseless simply to get them out of their way.
Their greed was fueled by a heartless indifference. They forgot the God Who blessed them. They disregarded the Lord Who entrusted them with abundance. They prostituted their redeemed heart to the love of money. They compromised their allegiance to God for personal gain in temporal wealth. So they lived in covetousness, dishonesty, and fraud. They lost their first love and their soul went cold toward God. Such is a life inundated with misery, devoid of joy, peace, rest, and satisfaction.
As remarked in the opening paragraph of our meditation, the text before us gives the appearance that James has been taking an excursion through a series of disconnected passages. But the truth is that he courageously exposes the assorted variations of consequences suffered by Christians when believers pursue self-serving objectives through ungodly ways. So he opens chapter four by affirming that conflicts and strife among Christians come from the turmoil within the restless souls of factional believers.
He then develops his admonitions step by step addressing some of the debilitating consequences of complacency and passionate disobedience resulting from pride, selfishness, contempt, presumption, judgmental attitude, greed, dishonesty, and fraud. Each of these ungodly attributes causes damaging disturbances within the Body of Christ by souring up relationships among brothers and sisters in the Lord.
The disparaging remarks of a judgmental individual defames or denigrates a fellow believer created in the image of God and redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. The covetous practices of the greedy impoverishes the needy who share the same faith in the same Lord. The fraudulent and the dishonest would dishonor the Name of God by living without integrity.
James exhorts us to be humble, selfless, honest, and godly in all our ways. He tells us to submit ourselves to god and draw closer to Him. He exhorts us to rid ourselves of any idolatrous disposition toward wealth or other selfish pursuits.
But James is not satisfied with passive submission. He urges us to draw closer to God and submit to Him with an active allegiance—surrender to the Spirit of God without reservation. That is, not only do we abandon our old ways, but we actively renounce them deliberately withholding our attention from such practices. We do not become merely less fraudulent, less dishonest, less presumptuous, less greedy, less prideful, or less ungodly. We completely, willfully, and consciously surrender our ways and ourselves to God so that we can actively decrease clearing the way for our Lord's glorious increase in our lives.
As we have repeatedly noted in past meditations, our struggle may stem from a misguided perspective. When we view life as a continuous privilege of rights, we tend to take matters into our own hands and become presumptuous. Our life included, everything we have is a gift of God given to bless us yet for His Purpose and Glory.
When we value our responsibilities and privileges more than God's sovereign Grace over us, we tend to unleash the full force of our assumed power to get things accomplished the way we see fit. We proceed without seeking God's wisdom. We forget that God's Grace and His sovereign Authority are unassailable, inviolable. When greed grips the best of us, we tend to excuse covetousness and dishonesty as mild dysfunctions of our emotions and persist in actively engaging them to fuel our insatiable drive for more.
James' call for repentance is so compelling that he urges the guilty to come to God weeping and howling with tearful penitence. However, such repentance cannot be offered with passive submission. One must humbly come before God with active allegiance. That is, a commitment which commands our body, soul, and spirit as well as our intellect, disposition, passion, and yes, even our ego. Then we will bask in God's Favor because He gives His Grace to the humble, to the selfless, to the honest, and to the faithful, enabling us to persevere to the end.