James 5:1-6 – A Word to the Rich

by | Updated June 15th, 2020

James gives a stern warning to the rich here. He is by no means condemning riches but they must be put into proper perspective. It’s the love of money that’s the root of all evil, not money itself (1 Timothy 6:10). It can be used for good or it can be used for evil. Our passage makes it abundantly clear that we will be judged accordingly.

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James 5:1-6 – “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabbath. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.”

The Word of God and Jesus Himself had a lot to say about money and its use. God uses money in this life to accomplish His purposes. There’s simply a lot that could not be done without money. It’s about about how it is viewed and used.

Five Parables and/or Examples Dealing With Riches

  1. The Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-29). There’s much that can drawn from this passage. We will attempt to bring out a few insights and applications.
    1. Jesus’ claim to divinity. The rich young ruler called Jesus “Good Master.” Jesus’ response to him was “Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.” Jesus was making it clear that to call Him “Good” was to call Him God.

      Study: John 1:1 and 14, 5:18, 8:56-58, 10:30-33, Colossians 2:9, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1:8, Revelation 1:8.

    2. His riches stood between him and the Master. Jesus challenged him concerning keeping the commandments. He claimed he had kept them all since his youth. He had obeyed the commandments and yet he still knew something was missing. Jesus challenged him to a total commitment of himself and all he had.

      Matthew 19:20-22 – “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”

      It wasn’t that having wealth was wrong but it was what stood between Him and complete surrender to Jesus. His trust and devotion was in what he possessed and not in Jesus. Jesus demands to be number one in our life. Many who have wealth find it hard to surrender it all to the kingdom and trust God with it. This is emphasized in Jesus’ next statement.

      Matthew 19:23-24 – “Then said Jesus unto His disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

      Matthew 19:25-26 – “When His disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”

      It is possible to have wealth, serve God, go to heaven, and experience the kingdom of God. God does desire to bless His people but He must have first place. We must surrender ourselves to Christ as well as all that we have and realize it all belongs to Him. We are merely stewards of what belongs to Him.

    3. When we surrender ourselves and all we possess completely to Jesus, we are the true beneficiaries. There’s not anything that’s given to God out of true devotion that we don’t receive back many times over. “You can’t out give God.” We will receive back a hundred times in this life what we have given up and in the world to come eternal life.

      Matthew 19:27-29 – “Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”

  2. Bigger Barns (Luke 12:13-21). Context is always imperative. The parable of the rich man, who prospered, and tore down his barns an built larger ones to store his goods. Just prior to this a man came to Jesus asking him to have his brother divide their inheritance with him.

    There are four things we can glean from this:

    1. A warning against covetousness. He wanted Jesus to have his brother divide the inheritance with him. Jesus immediately responded putting it in the proper perspective.

      Luke 12:14-15 – “Man, who made Me a judge or a divider (arbitrator) over you? And He said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

      He sternly warns against covetousness. It’s not that it is wrong to have things or to accumulate wealth but we must not covet, seek, and long after such. There’s more to life than just stuff. “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

      1 Timothy 6:5-10 – “Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”

      But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

    2. Warning against hoarding. We are not meant to have as our goal to see how much we can accumulate. This doesn’t mean we should not save and have goals but we do so for a specific purpose. We save for retirement, our children’s education, purchase of a home, and so on. God blesses us so we can be a blessing! (Genesis 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-8).

      James 5:1-3 – “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.”

    3. Warning not to trust in the uncertainty of riches. This rich man thought he could rest in the security of his wealth. Our security and trust must primarily be in the Lord and not in what we accumulate. You never see a Hurst pulling a trailer behind it.

      Luke 12:19-20 – “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?”

      1 Timothy 6:17 – “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.”

      Mark 8:36 – “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

    4. Warning to prioritize our wealth heavenward. We must prioritize. What’s the most important? The most important thing is to be rich toward God, to store up for ourselves treasure in heaven. This is the only type of wealth we’ll be able to take with us.

      Luke 12:21 – “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

      Matthew 6:19-21 – “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

      1 Timothy 6:18-19 – “That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate (share); Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

  3. The Rich Man and Lazureth (Luke 16:19-31). This may or may not have been a parable. The Jehovah Witnesses, in an attempt to dismiss hell as a place of eternal torment, claim this was just a parable and therefore cannot be used to verify hell as eternal. Whether it was a parable or two real people who lived, Jesus was still using it to teach there is both a place of comfort and eternal torment for those who leave this life.
    1. This does not mean every rich person will go to hell. Our eternal destiny is determined by what we do with Jesus. Both old and new testament believers are justified by faith. They looking forward to the sacrifice of Christ and we looking back to what He did for us.
    2. This does teach the rich should have compassion on the needy in this life. We will be held accountable on how we treat others and particularly the needy in this life. The judgment of the sheep and goat nations makes this abundantly clear (Matthew 25:31-46).

      1 John 3:17-18 – “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”

      James 2:14-17 – “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”

    3. Hell is a real place. It’s a place of torment that will never end. It is forever! The rich man pleaded for mercy saying “send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:24). The torment of hell will never end.

      Scripture on hell:

      Luke 16:23 – “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments.”

      Matthew 18:9 – “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”

      Matthew 10:28 – “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

      Matthew 13:42 – “And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

      Matthew 13:50 – “And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

      Matthew 25:41 – “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”

      Mark 9:43-44 – “To go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”

      2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 – “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.”

      Revelation 20:14-15 – “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

      Revelation 21:8 – “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

    4. Heaven is a place of comfort, blessing, splendor, and glory. All believers will fine heaven a place of comfort but particularly those who have suffered in this life as Lazarus. Heaven is a place where there will be no more sorrow, nor pain, nor suffering, and a place in which God will wipe away every tear. Glory be to God!

      John 14:1-3 – “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

      1 Corinthians 2:9-10 – “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”

      Revelation 21:1-5 – “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.”

      Revelation 21:9-27 – “Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And the city lieth foursquare (like a square), and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs (fifteen hundred miles). The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. And he measured the wall (thickness) thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits (seventy-two yards or 216 feet), according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel. And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

      Revelation 22:1-5 – “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him: And they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.”

      Revelation 22:17 – “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

  4. Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). This deals specifically with stewardship. Being faithful with that which the Lord has entrusted us with. Are we being found faithful? Are we faithful with all the Lord has entrusted us with?

    This parable makes it abundantly clear that as we show ourselves faithful with whatever the Lord sees fit to bestow upon us He will entrust us with more. There will be an increase. Both now in this life and in the life to come.

    1 Corinthians 4:2 – “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.”

    1. Time. Time is one of the most precious commodities God has given us. The Bible says, we are to “Make the most of our time because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). And again, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Proverbs 90:12). Is God first in what we do with our time or does everything else in our life take precedence over the things of God?
    2. Talent. Each of us has gifts from God, both natural and spiritual. Are we faithfully using them for Him and His kingdom? Peter said, “As each one has received a special gift, let him employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).
    3. Treasure. We are required to be faithful with the resources God has entrusted us with. If we are not, the Bible clearly teaches we will miss out on so much. Many will never get ahead financially or reach the level God desires for them because they haven’t learned to be faithful with their first-fruits (Proverbs 3:9-10; Malachi 3:8-11). However, when we’re faithful there’s an increase.

      The Bible also makes it clear that spiritual insight is cut off or at least greatly diminished when we are not faithful with our finances. Many wonder why God is not giving them enlightenment into His Word, their life, situations, and spiritual things when Jesus said, “If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon (money), who will commit to your trust true riches” (Luke 16:11)?

  5. The Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13). This steward had been unfaithful and was called into account of his stewardship and was in essence fired. He said to himself,

    Luke 16:4-7 – “I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.”

    Luke 16:8-9 – “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”

    It’s interesting that he was commended for his shrewdness, even though it was deceitful. How does this apply to us? What Jesus was conveying to us was that, as the unjust steward, we must prepare wisely for the future and that which is eternal. Are we investing in what will prepare the way for us in the days ahead and for eternity?

    Jesus gives us three ways to prepare for our future. This has to do with preparing our way for our future in the here and now as well as eternity. Again, we see that as we are faithful with all He chooses to give us, there will be an increase.

    1. Faithful in small things. If we cannot be faithful in the little things of life how can we be trusted with greater things. Life isn’t a long jump. We don’t go from step one to step ten. If we cannot obey step one, we will never get to step two. We must be faithful and obey step one, then two, and so on. As we show ourselves trustworthy we will continue to advance further and further.

      Luke 16:10 – “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.”

    2. Faithful financially. Are we faithful in the financial realm? If we are not faithful with a small amount we can’t be trusted with more. That is why tithing is so important (Malachi 3:8-11). We begin with being faithful with ten percent and as we show ourselves faithful the Holy Spirit may very well lead us to increase the amount we give and continue to bless us.

      Luke 16:11 – “If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon (money), who will commit to your trust the true riches?”

      Notice it says, “who will commit to your trust the true riches?” If we cannot be faithful with unrighteous mammon (money) then true spiritual riches are withheld. When Malachi rebuked Israel for robbing God and withholding the tithe they failed to obey. As a result, God was silent 400 years until the coming of John the Baptist. The degree to which we are faithful with our money determines spiritual insight. “When God has our pocketbook, He has our heart.” – Dr. Paul E. Paino

    3. Faithful in what is another’s. Before giving us that which is our own we must first be faithful in what is another’s. This can apply to business and ministry alike. If we cannot be trustworthy in what is someone else’s we will never be given what is our own.

      Luke 16:12 – “And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?”

      Psalms 12:1 – “Help, Lord; for the godly man ceases to be; for the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.”

      Proverbs 20:6 – “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, But who can find a trustworthy (Faithful) man?”

      When we show ourselves faithful in what is another’s, God will give us that which is our own. In the work place, if we will do all we can to make the owner of the business to prosper, we’ll see promotion and very possibly one day have our own business over which God will see that we prosper.

      The same applies to ministry. If we will be faithful to serve in someone else’s ministry, the Holy Spirit will begin to elevate and promote us accordingly. I’ve seen this in things as simple as ushering. As they faithfully served, when they were given their own ministry God prospered all that they did.

      We see this best exemplified in the life of Phillip. When the church was going through a time of trouble, he was appointed to be one of the first deacons (Acts 6:1-7). As a result of their faithfulness, the church grew and prospered. Because of Phillip’s faithfulness, after the church was scatter (Acts 8:1), he was used mightily in Samaria. Many came to the Lord, were healed, and many were set free from evil spirits (Acts 8:4-6). This same Phillip was later called Phillip the Evangelist (Acts 21:8-14).

      Let’s be found faithful!

Summary and Applications Concerning the Rich and Riches

God does desire to bless and prosper His people. This has been taken to an extreme by many, but nonetheless true. Just because some take certain teachings to far doesn’t negate the truth. We must take care not to run to the opposite extreme. Both extremes are usually incorrect.

By way of summary and application let’s take another look at our passage along with a few other verses and/or passages.

James 5:1-6 – “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabbath. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.”

  1. The things we accumulate in this life won’t last. “Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you” (James 5:2-3). It will all be eaten up in the end. Our focus must be on eternity!
  2. Many miseries will befall those who trust in riches. This refers to both now and in eternity. Those who trust in their riches always end in misery. Misery is plural. They will be many. Emptiness is their lot. Many who have more than they know what to do with ultimately find they still end up empty.
  3. Preparation for the last days. “Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days” (James 5:3). The utter futility of storing up riches for the last days. This doesn’t mean we should not save. That’s foolishness! However, they will fail us in the end. Let’s focus on eternity and storing treasure in heaven.

    Matthew 6:19-21 – “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

    Matthew 6:24 – “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

  4. A warning against oppression. “Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabbath. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you” (James 5:4-6).

    This is a warning against those who would oppress those in their employment and service. The wicked hold back fair wages to those in their employment out of greed. They desire to more for themselves. The wise and righteous, however, will take of their profits and bless their employees. Those who do so will find the blessings of the Lord will continue to flow.

1 Timothy 6:9-10 – “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

1 Timothy 6:17-19 – “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate (share); Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”


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