In the book of James we find good examples of God telling rich believers that they are have gone astray and not living for Him and not taking care of those in need. It is the same today. The same principles apply when God is admonishing the wealthy believers of today, those primarily self-absorbed and essentially backslidden. He is giving the selfish wealthy a wake-up call to get their priorities in order to stop living for the world and start living for Him.
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.
Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabbath. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you” (James 5:1-6).
The rich that James is railing against are believers not unbelievers. Read James 4.1-4 below, and understand that these believers were committing murder and fighting with each other over worldly possessions!
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4.4).
At the beginning of the Church Age rich believers had a hard time understanding that their wealth was a gift from God, and not something they earned through hard work. Many rich believers today still do not understand this simple fact of life.
God gives some believers more wealth than others to further the spread of the gospel and to help the poorer brethren along with widows, orphans and the poor in general. He does not give them riches so they can buy big homes, drive expensive cars, buy luxury boats, planes, or other toys, and spend it on their petty lusts. We are to be good stewards, and use our wealth for His glory rather than spend it to satisfy our petty lusts (Luke 10-14). Believers who use their wealth only for themselves run the risk of being judged in this life.
The riches of the wealthy eventually are destroyed. Everything wears out over time, especially fancy clothes. The only exceptions are precious metals like gold and silver, and gems. Yet gold and silver rust, and they along with gems can be lost and stolen (Matthew 6.19). The deterioration of valuables is a testimony to the rich that nothing in this world is eternal.
The lust for riches consumes everyone who puts their trust in them. It burns their body like fire causing ill health. It is the worry of keeping one’s riches that can cause poor health. Medical experts understand that one’s emotional state can have a positive or negative effect on their health and anxiety about anything negatively affects one’s health.
If you are rich and you have a love for your riches turn loose of them. They are causing you to be a useless vessel for the Lord’s service. You would be better off giving your excess wealth to the poor and the church you attend, and live on just what you need. If you have large bank accounts, loads of stocks and bonds, gems, precious metals, etc. see how you can help others in need while still providing for your family. If you are good at investing money continue to do so. Remember that it is God who makes you prosperous and not yourself. Everything you make is His and it is to be used for His glory not to satisfy petty lusts.
In James 4:5 rich believers were taking advantage of the poor by not paying them for their work and they cried out to God who took notice of it. Rich believers should never take advantage of anyone who is poor, especially not their spiritual brothers. Wealthy believers who do this will lose rewards and make it into heaven “so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3.15).
In James 5:5 the rich believers James rebuked were extremely self-indulgent. They lived “high on the hog” and indulged in every lust they could think of. They reveled in their carnal way of life and had no desire to serve God. They also did not realize that they would face a day of judgment if they did not repent.
Today there are far too many believers who are living just as these backslidden believers were living. They spend virtually all their money to fulfill their lusts and put a couple dollars in the offering plate. Some even tithe, but when you make a high six-figure income or more a year and all you give is just enough to say you did something, then you are not giving as the Lord asks us to.
The rich believers in the First Century were actually condemning poor people, and having them put to death. This sounds incredible, but that is what went on in that time. Take a look at James 4.2. Believers were committing murder.
“You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4.2).
Some believe there were non-believers in the churches that James wrote to, and it was these who he wrote to in this passage, and the one in James 4.1-4. This is possible, but it creates a problem. If certain passages apply to unbelievers, then any passage in the Bible can be understood to apply to them. This allows one to custom fit the Scriptures to one’s needs. (This is what the cults do.)
It is sound exegesis to understand this applies to believers. It does not contradict 1 John 3.15 for that passage says no practicing murderer has eternal life abiding in him. It is possible for a believer to commit murder once, but if he continues to murder on a regular or irregular basis it is proof he is not born anew. King David committed adultery and then committed murder to cover it up, but he repented and did not do it again (2 Samuel 11.4, 15; 12.9-14). If you hold to the belief that one murder proves a person is not saved you must believe that if you hate a brother just once for even a short period of time you are not saved, for “everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3.15).