James’ problem with the rich is not their money but their master. In serving money they oppressed the poor, ran roughshod over the helpless, and exploited whomever they could for their own gain. Rejecting the model of the Master, they sought to be served rather than serve.
You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. (James 5:5, ESV)
My guess is that we won’t find James 5:1 in one of those verse-a-day packets: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you” (James 5:1). Yet that verse and the contrast it presents captures the tension we face each and every day as disciples of Jesus Christ, seeking of first importance the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Earlier in his letter, James discourages believers from discrimination on the basis of station. He says they should not give preference in the assembly to a man wearing fine clothes over someone sporting shabby clothing. Beyond the level playing field of all being mired in the same sin and all being in need of the same grace, James levels particular criticism of the rich. “Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?” (James 2:6)
Now as he winds down his letter, James addresses the rich themselves. “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.” (James 5:1–3).
What is James’s problem with those who have wealth?