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James 5:1-6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
5 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in sensual indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned, and you have murdered the righteous one; he does not resist you.
Unlike many others, we are not going to deny the benefits of riches. Money is not the problem, and it is the love of money to the exclusion of our spiritual needs. Money will buy food, clothing, medical care, housing, and many other necessities of life. However, to become obsessed with money is when we cause ourselves many pains.
Before beginning. The author writing this book has been poor 70% of his life, and 50% of that was abysmally poor, even homeless for extended periods, and yet, he has never envied the rich or wealthy. He has worked extremely hard to become very wealthy in his life. But it has not been for the love of the money itself. It is with the altruistic desire to give the poor and disadvantaged a helping hand out of poverty. It has also been the desire to help educate the churchgoer about the Bible he carries.
What lies below is exactly what the Bible says about wealth and riches. At the end of the article, we will address the prosperity gospel explicitly and the recent attacks on John MacArthur. But first, let’s begin with some general thoughts based on Scripture. Is money the root of all evil? “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have been led astray from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”—1 Timothy 6:10.
So what we see from the Bible is that “the love of money,” money in and of itself does not cause “many pains.” In the Old Testament, King Solomon who was extremely wealthy, more than even Jeff Besos, recognized three kinds of injurious things that regularly happen to those who love money. Worry; anxiety: “Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.” (Ecclesiastes 5:12) Dissatisfaction: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity [futility].” (Ecclesiastes 5:10) The Attraction to violate the law: “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.”—Proverbs 28:20.
What purpose does money serve? “For wisdom is protection just as money is protection, But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom keeps its possessors alive.” (Ecclesiastes 7:12) Anyone who says money cannot ‘make you happy’ or ‘buy happiness’ is a fool and is wealthy and has never been poor. Money literally brings you security and happiness. The wealthy do not worry about whether they can buy food for their children, which utility they can do without because they do not have enough to pay for them all, will they lose their home or apartment, can they get their child good medical care, and so on. These and many, many others are the worries of the poor on a daily basis. Money can also help you to take care of yourself and your family. In fact, the Bible states: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, [I.e., relatives] and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”—1 Timothy 5:8.
A Church Run Like a Business? Business is not a dirty word, just as religion is not a dirty word, nor is church a dirty word. All three of those words are only dirty if the one running them is unclean. A business is an activity that someone is engaged in to be successful and profitable. My goodness, if a ministry is not successful and it does not make a profit, its reach will be stifled in the extreme. The average Christian does not fathom that you need an organized religion, church, run like a business to carry out the great commission. The preaching of the good news, teaching, and making disciples is to be done in all the inhabited earth.
How can you use money wisely? “First sit down and calculate the cost.” (Luke 14:28) Use the money in such a way that it has God’s approval. (Luke 16:9) Be sensible, careful, wise, honest, and responsible when using your money (Hebrews 13:18) To avoid the burden of living beyond your means, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have.” – Hebrews 13:5.
The Bible does not say that we cannot get loans, use credit cards, that is, take on debt, but it does warn us: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7) Pause and ponder at the moment before purchases because “everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5) Instead, save enough money that you would have enough money to pay all of your bills for a year if you lost your job tomorrow. God’s Word urges us to give generously out of love. “God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) Hence, “do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:16) All Christians should plan as though Jesus Christ is returning in 50 years but live as though he is returning tomorrow. What does that mean? It means that you can make relatively long-term plans such as going to a college or university, buying a house, having a career, or starting a business.
But we need to live daily with a righteous standing before God by living a Christian life. We need to study our Bible, have a family Bible study for an hour once a week, go to all church services, and prepare for the Bible study class. After we have taken in a fair amount of Bible knowledge, we need to evangelize in your community. If we are a man, maybe become a deacon, assistant pastor or even a pastor, or a Christian author or educator somehow. If we are a woman, there are many ways to evangelize and teach women and children Bible study classes at the church. A woman cannot carry out some teaching role (deacon, assistant pastor, or pastor) in the church as a whole, but she can do the things mentioned, plus a Christian author. Below is Baker Encyclopedia for a deeper dive into the biblical terms.
Wealth. Abundance, usually of money or material goods, whose value is ordinarily expressed in terms of some understood unit, such as a national currency. It is virtually synonymous with riches, and both may refer to family, friends, or even moral qualities, in addition to material possessions.
The Bible has much to say about material wealth and makes it clear that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk 12:15). Obviously, God owns all wealth, for he is the creator and possessor of all that exists (Ps 50:10–12).
In the OT riches are a mark of favor with God (Ps 112:3) and he gives power to acquire wealth (Dt 8:18). Both the piety and the wealth of Job are well known (Jb 1:1–3). Solomon was perhaps the richest man who ever lived; God granted him “riches, possessions, and honor” because Solomon had asked for wisdom and discernment rather than material things (1 Kgs 3:10–13; 2 Chr 1:11, 12).
Not all rich men were good. Nabal was “very rich,” but he was “churlish and ill-behaved,” stingy, and wicked (1 Sm 25:1–38). The affluent king of Tyre was the object of God’s judgment (Ez 28), and many other rulers of the world fell under the same condemnation. In Isaiah 53:9 the prophecy concerning the Messiah links the wealthy with the wicked: “they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death.”
In the NT wealthy men are often seen as godless, for example, the rich farmer (Lk 12:16–21) and the rich man with Lazarus (16:19–31). The wealthy are condemned for oppression and greed (Jas 5:1–6). Luke 6:24 pronounces woe against the rich, and all three synoptic Gospels speak of the dangers of riches (Mt 13:22; Mk 4:19; Lk 8:14).
Not all rich men were bad. Jesus was buried in the tomb of “a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph” (Mt 27:57). Nicodemus, who provided lavishly for the burial of Jesus (Jn 19:39), was “a ruler of the Jews” (3:1) and probably a man of means.
Riches. Wealth measured in money, or the amount of property owned—whether land and buildings (Is 5:8–10), livestock (1 Sm 25:2, 3), or slaves (1 Sm 8:11–18). Great riches brought great influence and power, as the Hebrew word for “wealth” implies.
The Bible seems to speak with two voices on the subject of riches, sometimes describing material wealth as a sign of God’s blessing and approval (e.g., Gn 24:35), at other times virtually identifying the rich with the wicked (e.g., Ps 37:7, 16). Jesus, in particular, is very stern in his denunciations of the wealthy. “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mk 10:23).
God made all things for people to enjoy (1 Tm 6:17). That is why being rich is a matter for thanksgiving, not embarrassment. Every possession that a person can possibly own comes from the Creator (Ps 24:1), so all wealth can rightly be counted as a blessing from God. It was in this spirit that Abraham’s servant could say, “The Lord has greatly blessed my master” (Gn 24:35) and David could pray to God, “Riches and honor came from thee” (1 Chr 29:12). Even when wealth is earned by hard work, the Bible reminds its readers that both their talents and their resources are God-given. Jesus illustrates this important lesson in the parables of the 10 talents (Mt 25:14–30) and the 10 minas (Lk 19:11–26).
Nowhere, then, does the Bible say that having possessions and becoming wealthy are things that are wrong in themselves. There would be no point in the Ten Commandments’ ban on stealing and envy if it was wrong for God’s people to own anything at all. Jesus himself never taught that it was sinful to be rich.
Some have tried to show from the life-style of the early church that Christians ought to live without private possessions or personal wealth of any kind. “No one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own,” Luke tells us: “they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). This example of sacrifice is a challenge to all Christians, especially the affluent, but it does not teach that private ownership is wrong. The terrible fate of Ananias and Sapphira makes that clear (Acts 5:1–11).
The OT is particularly positive in its attitude to wealth. “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Prv 14:23). But the Book of Proverbs also paints in the darker side of the biblical picture. Riches may be a blessing, say the wise, but they can also lead to broken relationships and personal disaster (Prv 18:23; 22:16).
These practical warnings anticipate Jesus’ teaching about the dangers of becoming rich. Affluence, he taught, can destroy peace (Mt 6:24–34), blind people to the needs of others (Lk 16:19–31), stand between individuals and the gateway to eternal life (Mk 10:17–27), and even bring God’s judgment (Lk 12:16–21). He told his disciples not to accumulate personal wealth (Mt 6:19), and praised those who gave up their possessions (Mt 19:29).
These strong words suggest that Jesus was against wealth, but his sharp warnings are not in fact directed against riches in themselves. What he condems is the wrong attitudes many people have toward acquiring wealth, and the wrong ways in which they use it. Longing for riches, not having them, chokes the spiritual life like weeds in a field of grain (Mt 13:22). The greedy desire to have more doomed the unforgiving servant (Mt 18:23–35). And the rich man’s selfishness, not his wealth, sealed his fate (Lk 16:19–26). Paul captures the main lesson in these parables exactly when he writes to Timothy, “For the love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tm 6:10).
The greatest danger of all arises when riches gain the mastery in a person’s life. The whole Bible warns against this idolatrous attitude to material things (e.g., Dt 8:17, 18; Lk 14:15–24). Satan tempted Jesus to put material wealth and power in God’s place (Mt 4:8, 9), and Jesus delivers the clearest warning against making money into a master (Mt 6:24). In this light Jesus instructs the rich young ruler to sell everything (Mk 10:17–22). Here was a wealthy man who had allowed his possessions to possess him. Jesus’ aim was to make him recognize his bondage so he could escape from his self-made prison. The fact that he turned away from Jesus demonstrates the powerful pull of riches.
These blunt warnings are the most striking aspect of Jesus’ teaching on wealth. But alongside his exposure of wrong attitudes he was careful to sketch in the outline of right attitudes. Those who recognize that they are God’s trustees (not owners) of their possessions, he taught, will find many valuable outlets for their riches in the Lord’s service (Lk 12:42–44). Instead of coming between him and them, their possessions (great or small) can be used as aids to worship (Lk 21:1–4; 24:50–53; Jn 12:1–7). Instead of making them tight-fisted, their riches will allow them to express neighbor-love in many practical ways (2 Cor 8:2). And instead of having their inward peace ruined by anxious greed, they will find the secret of serenity in an increasing sense of dependence on their heavenly Giver (Lk 12:29–31; 1 Tm 6:17).
According to the Bible, then, the morality of riches depends entirely on personal attitudes. And nowhere does this come out more powerfully than in the frequent comparisons Scripture draws between material and spiritual wealth. Those who make material riches their goal in life have wrong values. However wealthy they may appear, they are poverty-stricken in God’s sight (Mt 16:26; Rv 3:17). In his view, the truly rich are those whose main aim in life is to serve him as King (Mt 13:44–46). Their wealth lies in the currency of faith and good works (1 Tm 6:18; Jas 2:5)—a heavenly bank balance which no one can steal and nothing can erode. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:19–21).
Poverty as a Bad Thing. At times the Bible gives a very simple explanation of why people are rich or poor. If a man delights in the Law of the Lord, “wealth and riches are in his house”; “in all that he does, he prospers” (Ps 1:3; 112:3). With regard to Israel in OT days, these ideas are not quite so naive as they might seem. There is indeed a connection between sin and poverty. Israelite society was built on rules laid down by God, and if there was poverty in it, that must mean that somewhere the rules were being broken. The prophets often denounce those sins of men which impoverish their neighbors (Is 10:1, 2; Jer 22:13; Ez 22:29; Am 2:6; 5:11, 12; 8:4–6; Mi 2:2).
Whether a man’s poverty was due to his own sin or to someone else’s, the OT saw it as an evil to be combated, and the law made many provisions for the relief of it (e.g., Ex 22:21–27; Lv 19:9, 10; Dt 15:1–15; 24:10–22). God cared for the needy, and expected his people to do the same.
During the period between the Testaments, that care continued to be exercised within Jewish communities scattered round the Mediterranean, and it was in due course taken up as a practical responsibility by the Christian church (Acts 11:29; 24:17; Rom 15:26; 1 Cor 16:1; Gal 2:10; Jas 2:15, 16; 1 Jn 3:17); for Christians also, the giving of alms was a duty plainly expected by their Lord (Mt 6:2–4; Lk 12:33). It was not really a primitive communism that the early church practiced, for had they renounced personal possessions, they could not have done what they in fact did—namely, to give in cash or in kind “as any had need” (Acts 2:45; 4:35; emphasis added).
Poverty, then, although it provides the wealthy with a chance to show the virtue of generosity, is in itself (in the NT as in the OT) a bad thing. It is therefore quite appropriate for Scripture to use wealth, its opposite, as a metaphor for something good—in fact, for the supreme good—“the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8; see 2 Cor 6:10; 8:9).
Poverty as a Good Thing. As we can see, there is a certain sense in which righteousness will make a man prosperous and sin will make him poor. But ordinary life is more complicated than that. Psalms 1 and 112, referred to above, show only one side of the matter. What about “the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps 73:3) and its corollary, the man who is righteous yet poor? The answer of Scripture (e.g., Ps 37; 49; 73; see Jb 21) is of course that the wealth of bad men is a fleeting thing, and that the righteous, though poor in worldly goods, have spiritual riches.
This thought—that so far from being prosperous, the good man may often be poor—is sometimes curiously inverted. The righteous may be poor, but Scripture sometimes appears to reckon that to be poor is to be righteous. Of course it is not automatically so (Prv 30:8, 9), but such references are frequent enough, especially in the psalms (e.g., 9:18; 10:14; 12:5; 34:6; 35:10; 74:19), to deserve careful consideration. And on reflection they are not so strange. As God is specially concerned about the poor, so the poor may be specially concerned about God, for two good reasons. If there is poverty in Israel, it is because those with power are misusing it; so the poor will claim God’s help first because it is his rule which is being flouted, and he must vindicate himself, and secondly, because in the circumstances there is no one else to turn to. In this way “poor” becomes almost a technical term. “The poor” are the humble, and the humble are the godly (Ps 10:17; 14:5, 6; 37:11; Zep 3:12, 13). Just as being rich can foster self-indulgence, self-confidence, pride, and the despising and oppression of one’s fellows, so being poor should encourage the opposite virtues.
Instead of being an evil to be shunned, poverty thus becomes an ideal to be sought. Following the OT use of “the poor” and “the pious” as almost interchangeable terms, personal property was renounced by many Jews during the period between the Testaments. Among them were the sect of the Essenes, and the related community which was set up at Qumran near the Dead Sea. The latter actually called themselves “The Poor.” This tradition continued into NT times. Possibly “the poor” at Jerusalem means a definite group within the church there (or even the Jerusalem church as a whole; Rom 15:26; Gal 2:10). Certainly there emerged later a Jewish-Christian sect called the “Ebionites” (from a Hebrew word for “poor”).
The NT teaches clearly, of course, that what really matters is the attitude of the heart. It is quite possible to be poor yet grasping, or rich yet generous. Even so, with the OT background outlined above, the general sense of these words in the Gospels is that rich = bad, poor = good. On the one hand, the Sadducees are rich in worldly wealth and the Pharisees in spiritual pride, and men of property are selfish, foolish, and in grave spiritual peril (Mk 10:23; Lk 12:13–21; 16:19–31). On the other hand, it is devout and simple folk like Jesus’s own family and friends who generally represent the poor.
In truth, therefore, the two versions of the first beatitude amount to the same thing. Matthew’s has the depth: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5:3). But Luke’s has the breadth. When he says simply “Blessed are you poor” (6:20), he means those who in their need—in any kind of need—turn to the Lord (6:17–20). It is to bring the gospel to such people that Christ has come into the world (Mt 11:5; Lk 4:18).
Christ himself embodies the same ideal, showing in his earthly life what it means to have nothing to fall back on except his Father’s loving care (Mt 8:20), and finally allowing himself to be deprived even of life (Phil 2:5–8). In this way both lines of teaching converge on a passage mentioned earlier: “Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Our helpless poverty is an evil from which he comes to rescue us; his deliberately chosen poverty is the glorious means by which he does so.
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 I.e. Hosts
 Lit., nourished
 Or put to death
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Wealth,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2134.
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Riches,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1858–1859.
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Poor, The,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1732–1733.