Foolish wealth

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How often do you compare your circumstances with someone else’s, and feel dissatisfied? Do you look for a bargain at all costs, even if it costs someone else?

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Bible passage James 5:1–6

James 5

Warning to Rich Oppressors
 1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Audio Bible passage

The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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James has already pointed out that, given the transience of life, the idea of hoarding wealth is ridiculous. He continues to make the point that a reliance on wealth is stupid (vs 2,3), but he also takes another angle.

In the form of a lament, James looks at how wealth can come at the expense of others (v 4) and warns that there will be inevitable judgement.

The Bible has no time for ‘easy money’ – wealth that is made on the backs of others, or wealth that is hoarded instead of shared. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament riches are seen as a temptation. While the Bible does not condemn wealth outright, biblical writers insist that wealth brings real responsibility, and that those who enjoy great wealth are in peril.

Behind this is a condemnation of social wrongs and social injustice.

The selfish rich have gained their wealth by injustice and clearly are not interested in generosity to others. They have forgotten that they have a moral duty and responsibility to their fellow human beings. Fairness matters to God.

Have you, in the desire for a bargain, deprived someone of what is due to them?


In a globalised world, it is hard to know the impact our consumption is having on others. How aware are you of the provenance of the food and clothing you buy, and the real cost of the bargains you enjoy?

Michelle Smart

Deeper Bible study

Give thanks to God for everything good in your life that has no financial value, such as friendship, health, beauty, intelligence.

Like an Old Testament prophet, James names his target (‘you rich people’; v 1) and declares God’s judgement on those who are responsible for economic and social injustice. He isn’t subtle! We applaud his candour as he condemns the hoarding of wealth, the scandal of unpaid wages, the inequality of the law. We say ‘Amen’ to his analysis of the inherently transitory, and eventually destructive, nature of riches (vs 2,3).

Yet are we sure who James’ target is? Are the rich people he condemns inside or outside the church? Is this a warning to wealthy members of the church or to the Roman and Jewish community within which the church was struggling to exist? If the latter, how would they hear James’ judgement in a letter written to the faithful? Or is this actually a passage of encouragement for those within the church who are exploited by the rich? God has heard the voice of the victims and the day of slaughter for the rich is near (vs 1,4,5). The oppressed can live in hope.

Ron Sider’s book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger1 was an eye-opener to me with its premise that, in global terms, most so-called Western Christians were among the rich people of the world. It feels no less relevant today as the gap between rich and poor grows. So can we so easily exclude ourselves from James’ attack? When we find a bargain, do we ask how much the workers were paid? How many of what were once treats have become routine luxuries? How much does money dominate our decision making? There’s no sin in being rich. What matters is what it does to us and what we do with it.

Brian Radcliffe


1 Hodder and Stoughton, 1977/2005

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Jeremiah 3,4

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Above All Else
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  • Rachael Hampton | Wednesday, 04 October 2017

    As I sip my tea or coffee, nibbling on a piece of chocolate, dressed in jeans, shirt and sneakers, are the workers who are responsible for my enjoyment crying out to God for justice - decent conditions and fair wages?? These days we have no excuse: we CAN know which firms are ethical, and make an effort to choose where, what, and how much we buy. And yes, I need to get better at this, because I for sure am one of 'the rich' just by having enough to live comfortably. It's a thorny subject. Brian Radcliffe nails it at the end of his commentary. The thing is, God needs rich people. How else can His work be done and the Gospel shared? In His economy, we give and He blesses us with more so that we can give more, not hoard or indulge in a lifestyle of waste and luxury. Dear friends, may God make every favour and earthly blessing come to you in abundance, so that you will have enough for yourselves, and plenty left over to share. (2Cor 9:8)

  • Rachael Hampton | Wednesday, 04 October 2017

    What a rich board yesterday! Thanks everyone for your wisdom, honesty, and a few chuckles too. RUTH, I enjoyed the song - new to me, and DAVID - it was so good to read Jesus' words with James' reading. Blessings all.

  • Barbara Owen | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    We teach our children to say grace before we eat. Once as an exercise we tried to work out how many people were involved in getting our particular meal onto our plate...from farmers to truck drivers to sailors to fuel workers to shop assistants etc... The number just grew and grew the longer we thought about it. Trying the same exercise when we dress would lead to a similar humbling conclusion. Thank you, Lord, for my food, my clothes and all you have given me. Thank you for all the hands involved. May I learn to care and to share according to your will. Amen.

  • Frieda Wilson | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    John Wesley was a good example when it comes to wealth - early on he worked out how much he needed to live, and for the rest of his life, anything he earned in excess of this amount, he gave away. Not something I have been able to live up to, but very inspiring nonetheless.

  • Lynn Creation | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    RUTH, thank you for reminding me of Steve Green. I have a couple of tapes(!!) Of his from the 80's. He is such an encouraging, uplifting, biblical singer. I must see if he has anything newish out. I know he has sung with Michael Card.

  • Janet Webb | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    Thank you all; you make me wealthy indeed. Barbara this is a superb idea.

  • Angela Munday | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    All that we have is a gift from our Heavenly Father and when we realise this we take care not to waste or misuse anything. As we care and share we come close to God and as James says ..."anything hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment." It is wise to travel light.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    Indeed ANGELA. We don't own anything.

  • Elizabeth Sadler | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    I would like to thank WordLive,not only for this brilliant biblical resource which has been my inspiration for many years,but also for the privilege of "bookmarks". Settled for a year in my new seaside home,and established in a local church,I had my first home group meeting last night in my house.We are going to study the book of Ruth,so I have turned to Sep 2016 in my bookmarks for some excellent commentary by Elaine Storkey,which will be my guide during the weeks to come.......

  • Ruth Lewis | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    I am Blessed by all of the beautiful comments. I feel as Americans we take a lot of things for-granted I will never forget my first trip to Prague. It was before they changed their name. I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom with the water running like I always do, when the bathroom attendant came over to me and turned the water off. I had never thought of how much water I was wasting by letting it run while brushing. When I returned home I had a new way of brushing.

  • Ruth Lewis | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    Amen Brian Radcliffe, Deeper Bible study!!!

  • Colin Stevens | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    One way of helping people is to make sure our food and other products are Fair Trade. In the UK a Christian company Traidcraft not only give the producers a better price but they also give training so that they learn better and more productive ways of farming. They also help and train those who produce clothing and many more items. Take a look at

  • Roger Hall | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    I find t be very difficult

  • Roger Hall | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    As I said, find it difficult to be completely honest on this subject. I really find it quite difficult to find out if things I buy are produced with slave labour. It takes so long to trace a product and what it costs and are the labourers properly paid etc. I wonder if this is perhaps a bit over the top? Don't be angry with me, but I'm trying to be honest! The papers are in the business of selling papers, and dodgy factory somewhere sells papers! Others don't bother to leave home and order on line. What about the van drivers? See what I mean?

  • Keith Dearden | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    Can I thank all those who have prayed about our new Pastor. I'm happy to say that he accepted the call this week and we look forward to him joining us next year. We have a faithful God who knows the future. Thankyou so much for praying!

  • Hannah Watson | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    Roger, I know what you mean, your comment reminded me of a story. A boy lived near a beach and every day hundreds of starfish were washed upon shore and would dry out in the sun. This boy would go down to the beach each day and throw as many as he could back into the water. When a passerby asked "why are bothering, you can't save them all? It doesn't make any difference" The boy replied as he threw yet another into the water "yes, but it made a difference to that one" I think perhaps something can be done to make things fairer for others, we can't do everything, but we can do something.

  • Barbara Sabin | Thursday, 05 October 2017

    I didn't realise how much I had hoarded until we moved house. The Salvation Army Charity Shop has benefitted and the smile on the face of the Manager each time she saw my husband and I arrive with boxes of clothing, bedding, towels crockery books, lampshades pictures etc I learned a very valuable lesson - to stop amassing things , I admit it was a bad habit and have asked God for forgiveness. Lord, You know that we love You; You know our thoughts and intentions, Know the depth of devotion Found in our lives today. If our love has weakened, if our fervour has waned, Turn us, Lord, by Your Spirit, Let us love with love unfeigned. Lord, You know that we love You! Help that love to be true; Fill our lives with Your Spirit’s power, Lord of love, make us strong – We who to Christ belong. Lord, You know that we fail You; Our sins, how sorely they grieve You! Many times have we fallen; Lord, lift us up again. May we walk to be worthy of the call that is ours; May Your will and Your purpose Claim our undivided powers!

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