At the end of chapter 4, James has just finished establishing the importance of depending on God even in one’s business plans, a seemingly non-spiritual aspect of one’s life. James emphasizes that God’s people should not forget Him even in this. Another way humanity sometimes deviates from God is depending on security devised by their own hands. A common source is wealth; in many ways, the world makes it look like the best safety net out there! Perhaps it is the best worldly security, but it is still woefully inadequate when compared with true security. James himself points this out: riches become corrupt, gold and silver corrode, and moths can destroy beautiful clothing (5:2, 3). Even the things the world trusts most will always be inadequate and disappoint.
It’s easy to gloss over passages like this, particularly if the rich are always “someone else.” The interesting thing about money, though, is that character can be revealed even with a small amount of it. Patterns are established and revealed with the smallest opportunities (Matt. 25:14–30). Alongside the rich, people of all economic statuses should consider two important questions:
- Where are you gaining your riches? Does it come from honest hard work or defrauding others? Are you gaining through wisdom or through hoarding?
- What are you doing with the money that you have (great or small)? Do you use it as an opportunity to love, serve, and bless others? Or do you use it to inflate your own self-importance, taking the opportunity to wield your influence in a harmful way?
Both questions can be summarized as: What does your money reveal about your character?
Beyond how it affects others, hoarded and ill-gotten gain hurt the possessor too. It reveals an unhealthy trust in riches, maybe for security, but also for happiness. When does enough become enough? The rich described in this passage are withholding wages from people who mow their fields—is what they have not enough? They have used their influence (likely using bribes too) to condemn and murder the just—is what they have not enough? They continue to heap up treasure in the last days, when they are surrounded by opportunities to love others—is what they have not enough? The issues here aren’t about the possession of wealth; they’re about how wealth is being used to harm the possessor and those in their sphere of influence. It reveals a pattern of greed, a scarcity mindset, and a distrust in the One who gives all gifts. Money, like other gifts, is simply another opportunity to reveal the character of the one who holds it.