Scripture: You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. James 5:5-6 ESV
Observation: James begins chapter 5 with a severe warning to the rich who have criminally accumulated wealth at the expense of the well-being of others who are unable to defend themselves—even to the point of their very lives (5:1-6). The Greek language in verse 5 concerning a day of slaughter does not support an end-times perspective but addresses the wealthy’s imminent demise for their unabated sins. Similarly, in verse 6, the original text, correctly translated in lower case as the righteous person, does not have Messianic implications (pointing us to the Cross) but refers to the persecuted who are righteous before God. Still, as Jesus taught his disciples, how we treat the poor, the imprisoned, and the thirsty in effect shows our regard toward him (Matthew 25:31–46).
Takeaway: So, how do most of us who live in economically developed countries respond to such a stern warning? Much of our favorable lifestyle stems from low-cost goods and services imported from underdeveloped countries where manufacturers neglect fair labor and trade practices. And when we borrow beyond our means without a payback plan, we rob future generations. Thus, we are culpable when we knowingly and willfully participate in a system that exploits those who cannot defend themselves.
From a positive standpoint, our gain of wealth can serve God’s purposes when we dedicate our resources and profits to him. Truett Cathy (founder of Chick-fil-A) is one such example. Cathy lived within his means while investing in the well-being of his employees and the welfare of his community. Others like 19th-century philanthropist Paul LeTourneau (who tithed 90% of his net income to grow God’s kingdom) or 20th-century entrepreneur David Green (who donates half his pretax earnings from Hobby Lobby to evangelical missions), also provide us godly examples of appropriate gain and use of wealth.
Thus, in sum, if we engage in fair business practices and use our riches to bless others and grow God’s kingdom, rather than “live on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence,” then we can take satisfaction in knowing that we have blessed Christ.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you that our well-being is not dependent on accumulating worldly wealth. Would you please rescue us from any notion that monetary gain brings contentment and joy and instead help us use riches to bless others and glorify your Son? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling