“Damnation for the Wicked Rich”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of James 5.1-6
James 5. In 2010, Time Magazine had an article entitled the top 10 worst bosses of all time. Number one on that list was a man by the name of George Pullman.
George Pullman was a 19th century American industrialist and owner of the railroad car company named the Pullman Palace Car Company. In one of his railroad cars, which he would lease to railroad companies, one could enjoy all the luxury you could imagine. Fine wine, steak and oysters…chandeliers, marble washbasins and a black walnut interior, a barber shop, multiple libraries, a smoking room and a fully functional organ.
Because of his business endeavors, if translated into today’s money, he was worth the equivalent of $34 billion. He built the equivalent of a $12 million mansion and there, surrounded by marble and teak paneling, Pullman and his wife would host gigantic parties. When his daughter made her debut to Chicago’s high society, a thousand guests greeted her at the Pullman home. After vacationing in Long Branch, New Jersey with President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia, the Pullman’s built a second mansion in this beach community.
Pullman selfishly hoarded his wealth and lived a self indulgent lifestyle …with that came cheating his workers out of their wages.
He even built a town named, fittingly enough, after himself: Pullman Illinois. The town housed the workers who would build his luxury railroad car.
The town had everything: sewer lines, a church (whose sermons were carefully monitored), a library and shopping centers. Not bad…The catch? Pullman controlled the town with his profits in mind. He cut workers’ wages by 25% in 1893, but kept rent prices the same. Rent was deducted from employees’ paychecks, leaving men with little left over to feed their families — not to mention to pay for water and gas, which Pullman also charged them and knocking the price up 10%.
It’s hardly a surprise that his employees went on strike on May 11, 1894 — or that his family was reportedly worried after his death that former employees would desecrate his remains.”
A wicked rich man.
He selfishly hoarded his wealth, cheated his workers, and lived a self-indulgent lifestyle. Pullman’s pride and insistence on full control made him successful in business, but damaged his reputation. His name will be forever linked with industrial tyranny. American Federation of Labor founder Samuel Gompers called him an “avaricious [meaning greedy] wealth absorber, tyrant, and hypocrite.”
This is exactly what is being condemned in our passage this morning in James 5:1-6. The topic concerns the wicked rich James 5:1 “Come now you rich” …. but before we read the passage, first I’d like to ask…
Who is the Rich Man in James?
Is he saved or unsaved? Is he in the church?
I’m going to argue that the rich man is not saved and that he is not in the church. He is the one who is persecuting poor believers in Christ. First time he’s mentioned is back in chapter 1.
You can turn back there. James 1:10-11.
James 1:10–11 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
This is clearly not describing somebody who is a saved person.
End of verse 10, he will pass away. Verse 11…the flower, describing the rich man, falls off. The beauty is destroyed…he will fade away. Pass away, fall off, destroyed, fade away. Does this sound like a believer to you? Do believers in the end get destroyed? No! Believers get eternal life no matter what financial situation they’re in.
So these verses clearly teach that the rich man is not saved. Let me get you to turn over to James chapter 2. Really, just a few verses later in James chapter 2 verse six were James asks the question, “Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?”
The rich are oppressing the poor believers. Does this rich person remind you of a believer? Rich person who drags poor people into court. This is not describing someone who trust Christ.
And now back to our passage in James chapter 5:1-6.
James 5:1–6 1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! 4 Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.
“Fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” Their riches will consume their flesh like fire? “Putting to death the righteous man.” Does this sound like a believer? Like someone who trusts Christ, turns from their sin, whom God causes to be born again, will that person ever experience the future day of slaughter and have their flesh consumed by fire? No! This is the rebel, the one who rebels against God and doesn’t trust Christ for salvation.
By itself, of course, there’s nothing wrong with having material possessions and being wealthy with stuff. But to oppress others and even kill them?
So, I think it’s clear as well that they are not in the church. Putting to death people in the church? And they are participating in the church? No, instead, here’s what’s going on. James is writing to encourage many poor believers and he merely seems to addresses the rich who are oppressing them.
ILL: It would’ve been like somebody writing a letter to George Pullman’s workers. The people in the town gather around and read it … James 5:1–6 1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten.
And they would know that the letter is talking about George Pullman. But the author of the letter does not expect George Pullman to read it. It’s merely meant to encourage the poor workers that justice will be served.
That’s the same way it is with James’ letter here. James is writing to encourage those who are being oppressed by describing the judgment on the wicked rich. One day, God’s justice will … be… served in full.
Now, in verse 1 … James Announces the Damnation of Wicked Rich (v.1)
James 5:1 1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.
James begins this verse the same way he began chapter 4 in verse 13… “come now.” There he addressed believing people who desire to make wealth apart from God’s will; and here he addresses the wicked who have already become wealthy apart from God’s will.
I trust the one won’t lead to the other in your life. And these rich are opposing Christians.
Let’s be clear: James is not condemning those who simply have wealth. He’s not attacking people who are rich in the things of this world. We know this because Abraham was rich. Job was wealthy and David and his son Solomon were also very wealthy. And they were right with God for much of their lives.
So, the Bible is not opposed to having wealth. Money is not the root of all evil; it’s the love of money that’s the root of all sorts of evil.
And so James is pronouncing future damnation upon those who gain their wealth because of their ungodliness. He’s pronouncing damnation on the rich who oppress others and who use their wealth in ungodly ways.
He calls on them to weep and wail because of the miseries that are about to come upon them. They are about to be judged. So they are to weep and howl…
A very graphic command…”WEEP AND WAIL you rich!” Sob, wail aloud, continuous sobbing…
And it’s clear that James has in mind…damnation to the place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. James is writing in line with the prophets of the Old Testament…listen to…
Isaiah 22:12 Therefore in that day the Lord GOD of hosts called you to weeping, to wailing, To shaving the head and to wearing sackcloth.
Why? Judgment is coming! And for James, judgment is coming upon the wicked rich who live luxuriously and to the determent of others.
Throughout Scripture, God has always been concerned with the poor and has warned the rich. In Bible times, there wasn’t, shall we say, a large middle class. You were either rich or poor. And the rich many times didn’t get that way because they were nice! They learned how to take advantage of others! That’s why in the Bible the word “rich” can be nearly synonymous with evil or the unrighteous. Study the rich in the book of Luke … for example,
Luke 1:53 “HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; And sent away the rich empty-handed.
We should take warning. You may not feel like you are oppressing other people, but there is a point to be made that it is so easy to associate rich people with unrighteousness.
And how many of us here are wealthy. Even if you are worth just $5000, you are more wealthy than over half of the people in the world. If you make just 50,000 Canadian dollars per year, you are well into the top 1% of this world.
And wealth can be an obstacle to true Christian discipleship: Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Jesus tells us then to be on our guard about riches…
Luke 12:15 15 Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”
Later in that same chapter, Luke 12:34 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
If your treasure is on earth, your heart will be on earth. If your treasure is in heaven, your heart will be there too. Invest in the kingdom of God. Put your treasure where you want your heart to be.
The rich young ruler comes to Jesus and asks, “what must I do to receive eternal life?” Jesus tests him and says “sell all you have and come and follow me…”
Mark 10:22–27 22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. 23 And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
This man was like the man in… Proverbs 11:28 He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.
A big issue then is trusting in riches; trying to get ahead in this life, sick of being stuck in a dead end job, always feeling like you have to get ahead, to the point that you neglect God’s clear desires for your life. Your heart is so covetous for the things of this world… Prov. 11:28 asks… are you righteous? Are you right with God, saved if that’s your attitude?
We need to take heed not to put hope in riches, but in God.
TRANS: James will now give 4 reasons why the wicked rich deserve damnation. They will stand before the judge of all the earth and here are the charges…
1. they have selfishly hoarded their wealth (vv.2-3)
2. they have cheated their workers (v.4)
3. they live a self-indulgent lifestyle (v.5)
4. they oppress the righteous (v. 6)
So first …
The wicked rich deserve damnation because they have selfishly hoarded their wealth (vv.2-3)
James 5:2–3 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!
They have stored up treasures upon earth, where moth and rust corrupt!
They have hoarded their garments, their clothing. They have stacked up their gold and their silver… the corrosion of the gold and the corrosion of the silver. It’s wasted away, they hoarded it and it wasn’t good for anything!
And that very rust is a testimony that they have selfishly piled up their own wealth … for their own selfish pursuits.
ILL: J. Paul Getty was an oil tycoon who was the richest man in the world for a time in the 1950s and 1960s. He was hardly a money hoarder for much of his life. He lived a lifestyle of your typical 20th century billionaire and would end up writing a book called How to be Rich.
However, a couple of anecdotes qualify him as a model money hoarder …First, he had a payphone installed in his house for his guests so he wouldn’t be charged for it’s use…how thoughtful… Second, and most notoriously, he refused to pay a ransom when his own grandson was kidnapped, even after the boy’s ear was sent in the mail. He later gave the ransom money…. some odd million dollar ransom — but only if the boy’s father (his own son) would return his money … with interest.
“The meek shall inherit the earth, but not its mineral rights,” he is purported to have said.
We presume those mineral rights are for him.
Grotesque hoarding…rich and lavish lifestyles not caring for others… makes God want to vomit. Gold, riches, flashy dressing, lands and houses…all hoarded selfishly for their own use…
James says that in the end, their wealth has decayed to rust and it will be a witness against them. They’ve hoarded it to themselves for themselves.
Jesus tells a parable in Luke 12 of a rich man… “The land of a rich man was very productive. 17 “And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” ’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21 “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
God specifically condemns storing up treasure for yourself and failing to be rich toward God. And if you’re rich toward God, what you do with your money will show it…
You’ll be generous to those in need; you’ll provide for your family, and you’ll give generously to God’s work in the earth in order to store up for your self the true riches, riches in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys. Now, there is nothing wrong with a bank account with money in it… Proverbs 13:22 A good man leaves an inheritance to his grandchildren.” But are you going to be rich toward God as well!?
But for the wicked rich, their corrosive selfishly hoarded riches will witness against them in the court of God… “You fool!”
Not only will these riches not last long…they have corroded, rusted. And not only will that very rust be a witness against them, but the third benefit of being wickedly rich is that the corrosion will be a judgment against them…
They will consume their flesh like fire… Because of their sin of selfishly hoarding riches for their own desires, their riches as it were will burn their flesh with hell fire. They will experience God’s eternal judgment for their wicked, selfish hoarding of their own wealth to themselves and failing to be rich toward God with that wealth.
And James concludes verse one and he is shocked as he relates this when says it’s in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!” The last days refers to Jesus having come the first time… “In these last days, God has spoken to us by his son,” the author to the Hebrews says.
Since the time of Jesus, we have been in the last days. Can you believe it, God has sent His Son and it’s in these last days that these people selfishly hoard up treasure for themselves, gorging themselves in their sumptuous luxury! When if one would but trust in Him who has died for them …and trust in Him who has been raised from the dead…and be grief stricken over their selfish rich people sins and confess it to Him, they would be saved and be eternally rich! How foolish to selfishly hoard that which would will not last.
ILL: As Jim Elliot the missionary said “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep [you can’t keep the wealth of this world…He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep ] to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Be generous, don’t selfishly stockpile your wealth.
TRANS: The wicked rich deserve eternal damnation in eternal hellfire because they have selfishly hoarded their wealth. Secondly…
The wicked rich deserve damnation because they have cheated their workers (v.4)
James 5:4 4 Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
They deserve damnation because they aren’t paying their workers who harvest their fields.
The wicked rich here are wealthy landowners and farmers. Yes, farmers, there was a time when you could have gotten filthy rich off of farming. How times have changed for at least many farmers!
And in that time, the rich landowners weren’t paying their field workers. Sooner or later, God is going to cut them down!
There are 2 things that cry in the verse: the pay and the laborers.
Like the rust of verse 3, James personifies the pay of the laborers. The actual pay of those workers, which was withheld by the rich landowners, … That pay cries out against them.
That pay stands up and witnesses against those wicked landowners, those elegantly wicked men.
And second those whose pay was withheld, those who harvested the rich man’s fields, also stand up and cry out … And their cry has been heard. The Lord of Sabaoth has heard their cry!
The Lord of Sabaoth. Sabaoth is literally what is in the Greek text, Sabaoth, turned into English letters. It’s a Greek word that is translated hosts elsewhere. The Lord of hosts. Sabaoth or hosts literally means armies. God is the Lord of the armies. He is the Lord of the heavenly host. He is the general of the armies of heaven.
The Lord has innumerable angels who will at least accompany him to execute his judgment on these wicked rich people. The Lord says in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 that the Lord Jesus, when he is revealed, will be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire. And he will deal out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus. And they will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power.
These wicked rich landowners who do not pay the poor workers. And it’s these workers that James is writing to. They were poor, living paycheck to paycheck.
APP: Those of us who employ others, be sure to pay your workers, pay them fair wages. Let’s not be like the wicked rich and fail to properly pay those whom we employ.
Deuteronomy 24:14–15 14 “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns. 15 “You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he will not cry against you to the LORD and it become sin in you.
Proverbs 3:27–28 27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in your power to do it. 28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, And tomorrow I will give it,” When you have it with you.
TRANS: They deserve damnation…they have selfishly hoarded their riches for their own pleasure and will, they have cheated their workers and now … thirdly the wicked rich deserve damnation because they live a self-indulgent lifestyle.
The wicked rich deserve damnation because they live a self-indulgent lifestyle (v.5)
James 5:5 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
Palazzo di Amore in Beverly Hills in 2014 was the most expensive home in the US; it’s still up for sale today. It is the work of renowned developer Mohamed Hadid with architecture by Bob Ray Offenhauser and design by Alberto Pinto. This home is truly a modern castle, says the real estate listing…. Situated on approximately 25 acres, the home offers sensational views of both the canyons and the city skyline.
Three sets of grand, double gates lead up the path to the entrance of the home. The serene drive to the house is lined with trees and views of the incredible vineyard. Once you step inside this 12 bedroom, 23 bathroom palace you immediately get the feeling of elegance and sophistication. The entry way is a marbled two-story sky lit area with twin curving staircases. The dining room showcases vaulted ceilings with multi-colored, inlaid marble floors, hand-crafted details on the molding and has a colonnade that spans the entire room. A 3,000-bottle wine cellar is adjacent to the dining room
The master suite itself is 5,000 square feet. There’s a bowling alley and theater. All for $195 million … which at the end of last year was reduced to a measly $149 million.
Really? Is this really necessary?
This is living luxuriously on the earth. Leading a life of wanton pleasure, or self indulgence. This is storing up treasure for yourself… James says they have fattened themselves in the day of slaughter.
They live luxuriously. They have lived the pampered life and they have lived out their pleasures wasteful, covetous spending… stepping on others to get what they want.
This kind of thing is a temptation that each of us faces. This is the kind of temptation that advertisers on television and the Internet and in newspapers feed on. Trying to get you to buy something.
ILL: This is one of things we are attempting to immune our children to. My kids often ask me. They show me an advertisement… “Is this someone trying to get me to buy something?”
And just like a fatted calf that is ready to go to the slaughterhouse, so also these wicked rich people have fattened themselves in the day of slaughter. What a graphic and hideous description of future judgment upon the wicked rich: the day of slaughter is coming.
TRANS: Lastly … James reaches his climax…
The wicked rich deserve damnation because they oppress the righteous (v. 6)
James 5:6 6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.
The righteous man did not resist the wicked rich who condemned and put him to death.
Murder…how? By knife? By sword? No!!… look at James 2:6 … Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?
This is murder through the court system. There were ways to so condemn the poor through the less-than-just court system to render that poor person even unable to make a living, effectively killing him off through hunger.
In our society, because of Christian influence, this kind of thing isn’t as prevalent as it was say in the first century Middle East. Nevertheless, we need to be careful as Christians that we care for those who are less fortunate…that we stand up for the rights of those have experienced injustice.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of James 5.1-6
1. they have selfishly hoarded their wealth (vv.2-3)
2. they have cheated their workers (v.4)
3. they live a self-indulgent lifestyle (v.5)
4. they oppress the righteous (v. 6)
How are you doing with your wealth? We live in one of the most wealthiest societies in the history of the world. Are you selfishly hoarding your wealth? Or are you being generous in giving?
Have you cheated somebody? Are you unwilling to pay your workers? Are you seeking the wealth and the things of this world so that you can live a self-indulgent lifestyle? The things of this earth are so enticing… Are you saving your money in order to give and to be generous?
1 Timothy 6:17–18 Don’t be conceited or fix your hope on the uncertainty of riches, but fix your hope on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Do good, be rich in good works, be generous and ready to share…find someone who has needs and meet those needs.
ILL: The life of the poor working class in England in the 1800s was particularly difficult. Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol reminds us of the cold calloused response to those in dire need of basic necessities. Of course Mr. Scrooge is infamously wealthy and stingy.
Two good men who seek to do good to others in need approach Mr. Scrooge…
“At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?”
“Plenty of prisons…”
“And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“Both very busy, sir…”
“Those who are badly off must go there.” Says Scrooge.
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Are you like that, or is your desire with a one Mr. George Mueller, who in the same century, would have and did use any wealth he had to better sustain the orphans of Bristol.
“IT ILL BECOMES THE SERVANT …it is bad for the servant TO SEEK TO BE RICH AND GREAT AND HONOURED IN this WORLD WHERE HIS LORD WAS POOR AND MEAN AND DESPISED.”
Did the covetousness of your heart get the best of you this morning when that luxurious house was described? Can you see yourself basking in all of its glory and enjoying that 24-car garage and tennis court, infinity pool and spa? And if you did, did you rebuke yourself for that and repent of it and instead … You seek to be rich toward God…
Now, knowing the miserable end of the wicked rich, do not envy their wealth. Do not seek after the things of this earth…and seek to live like those whom God will destroy because of the way they handle their wealth.
In Psalm 73, Asaph confesses that he almost slipped in this area. He was envious of the wicked rich. He saw their prosperity the opulent lifestyle, that they are at ease and increased in wealth … And he thought to himself “Surely I have kept my heart pure for no purpose.” Then there was that moment when he came into the sanctuary of God and perceived their end.
He recognized that God had sent them in slippery places and cast them down to destruction and they are destroyed in a moment with sudden terrors. Like a dream when one awake, O Lord, when aroused you will despise their form. They will weep and howl for their miseries, their flesh will be consumed with fire, and they will be like a fatted calf on the day of slaughter…
But then Asaph recognizes … Psalm 73:25–28 25 Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. 28 But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works.
May that be the testimony of our life…
546 Note stanza 1 …