Introduction: A New York Times’ best-selling book called “Drive”
reports on what makes employees satisfied. It reveals that just
paying employees more money is not the key to job satisfaction. Money
is important, of course, but only to a certain point. Once an
employee can live reasonably comfortably, then what becomes more
important is the ability to be creative, to believe you are doing
something worth-while, and to be given the freedom to make job
decisions. Is this also true for the rest of life? Money is not the
mainspring of happiness? James seems to have a bias against the
rich. Let’s dive into our study of the Bible and see what we can
learn from James about wealth and happiness!
- Miserable Rich
- Would you rather be rich or poor? I suspect almost
everyone answers, “rich.” Let’s read James 5:1. How would
James answer the question I just asked? (It seems that he
would agree with you – rich is better. James says that
misery is coming to the rich, not that they are miserable
now. It reminds me of James’ prior comment ( James 1:10-11)
where he says to the rich, “you will die soon.” Both
assume the rich are doing just fine now, but James says
bad things are coming.)
- Read James 5:2-3. What, exactly, is the misery that will
face the rich? (Astonishingly, James says that the misery
ahead for the rich is that they will lose their wealth!
The wealth of the rich is going to be corrupted. James
seems to endorse the fact that having wealth is a
blessing, because having it taken away from you causes
- Another New York Times’ best-seller, “Nudge,” is
about structuring choices. It gives an interesting
example about choice. Assume your employer told you
that next year (2015)you could choose to have 30 days
more vacation, or $10,000 more in salary. You take
the $10,000, even though you would be equally content
to take the 30 days. If the following year (2016)
your employer decides to switch, and give you 30 days
instead, you would now be very unhappy – even though
you did not have a strong preference between the two.
Nudge reports that people feel the loss of something
they currently possess twice as much as if they never
had it. What does that teach us about James’
prediction that the rich will lose their money? (It
really is cause to weep and wail.)
- Look again at James 5:3. Why would the “corrosion” of the
gold and silver of the rich “testify” against them? (The
allegation seems to be that they did not use their money
for good purposes. “Corroded” indicates a lack of use.)
- What is James talking about when he says that they
have hoarded wealth in the “last days?” His audience
did not see the Second Coming of Jesus. What do you
think James meant? (The commentators I consulted
disagreed. It could be a prophetic statement about
the rich just before the Second Coming of Jesus, or
it could have been a statement about the soon-coming
destruction of the Jewish nation. I vote for the
- Let’s assume I’m right, why would wealth “testify”
against the rich and “eat their flesh like fire”
because of the destruction of Jerusalem by the
Romans? (The rich collected money to protect
themselves, yet it could not protect them against the
Romans. Thus, it testified that they placed their
trust in the wrong thing.)
- Can you begin to see why James can correctly predict
the coming misery of the rich? His statements do not
come from personal bias.
- What do you think the rich should have been doing
with their money?
- Read James 5:4. Those of you who follow my studies know
about Deuteronomy 28 which says that following God brings
riches, and disobeying God brings poverty. Sometimes we
add Hebrews 11 to the picture because it says that life on
earth is unpredictable for the faithful, some enjoy
success and others suffer. Thus, James’ theme that having
wealth means you have a flawed character has to be
reconciled with Deuteronomy 28 and Hebrews 11. What is the
reason for James condemning the rich here? (The rich owner
of the field did not pay his workmen their wages.)
- What does the reference to “crying out to the Lord”
mean? (These workers believe in God and they have
asked God for justice. This tells us that the rich
being addressed here have cheated those employed by
- Look again at James 5:4, do you think James’ condemnation
includes paying low wages, and not just no wages?
- If you said, “yes,” how low is a sin?
- The AFL-CIO (a collection of American labor unions)
has something called the “Executive Pay Watch.” It
lists the income of the managers of big companies.
Since the AFL-CIO does not represent any of these
managers, it is not bragging about what it has done
for them. Rather, it is appealing to the covetousness
of those workers who it does represent. I recall a
church member who used to complain about the
difference between what her husband earned (a well-compensated engineer) and the top manager of his
company. Is that what James is condemning – that
owners and managers make more than the workers?
- Let’s consider Henry Ford. Henry Ford was an early
automobile inventor. He used mass production to
assemble cars that ordinary people could afford. How
much was a man working on Ford’s assembly line worth?
Let’s say each car sold brought $50 in profit, that
fifty men worked on each car, and that the fifty men
produced fifty cars a year. That would mean the
maximum value to be paid to each of those fifty men
was $50 a year, right?
- Would it be fair to pay all of the profits to
the workers, and none to Henry Ford?
- What is the value of the man who invented that
car, invented the production method, and built
the plant? (Let’s say a 50% split in the
profits between Henry and the workers is fair.
The individual worker now gets paid $25 a year.
If you agree that a 50% split is fair for the
person who created the car, the plant and the
job, you can see that Henry would be making a
lot more than the individual worker.)
- What if we drop Henry and say you invented
something, invented an efficient way to
manufacture it, and owned the plant and
machinery for making it: would you agree
to a 50% split in the profit with someone
who did the assembly work?
- Is paying workers less than the owner the
sin problem identified by James? (This
discussion suggests that it is not sin.)
- Read James 5:5. “Fattened yourselves in the day of
slaughter.” That is an interesting phrase. What would it
mean for cattle? (We want the cattle to be fat on the day
- If that is correct, what would it mean for humans?
(That being rich has made them a target when their
nation was destroyed. The picture is that these rich
people have made the wrong choices. They have cheated
and alienated their workers, they have used money
that belonged to others for their own self-indulgence. This made them a target when the nation
begins to collapse.)
- The leading nations of the Western world carry an
extraordinary debt load. This makes the possibility
of economic collapse more likely. I know people who
store food in case of disaster. However, they also
store guns to protect their food against those who
will be hungry because they have not prepared for
disaster. What do you think about this? Is this like
the rich who hoarded wealth and the Jewish nation
- Read James 5:6. Is it okay to condemn and murder innocent
men who are opposing you? (No. James tells us that these
are outrageous cases. It is obviously wrong to condemn and
murder innocent men. But, if you are killing innocent
people who do not even oppose you, what excuse can you
have? None. These rich murdered the innocent because they
- Friend, what is James’ message about wealth and happiness?
James tells us that wealth is fleeting. Worse, the
improper use of wealth and power results in a time of
judgment. Is James describing you? If so, why not ask the
Holy Spirit to guide your use of your wealth and power?
- Next week: Getting Ready for the Harvest.