1 COME NOW, you rich [people], weep aloud and lament over the miseries (the woes) that are surely coming upon you. 2 Your abundant wealth has rotted and is ruined, and your [many] garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver are completely rusted through, and their rust will be testimony against you and it will devour your flesh as if it were fire. You have heaped together treasure for the last days. James 5:1-3
To James, the rich people pictured are clearly wealthy landowners, a class accused of economic exploitation and oppression from early times. Based on other writings of James I am pretty sure he is referring to non-Christians in this rebuke. The words James uses (miseries, woes) are traditionally used in the Old Testament in the context of judgment. This background makes clear that the misery that is coming on the rich refers not to earthly suffering, but to the condemnation and punishment that God will dole out to them on the day of judgment.
Additionally, it would be wrong to ignore the fact that ‘the rich’ and ‘the unrighteous’ are so easily connected; Scripture warns us that wealth can be a particularly strong obstacle to Christian discipleship. Jesus said Himself, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a wealthy man to enter the Kingdom of heaven”. In verse 2 James starts to talk about how the accumulation of wealth (things) actually leads to decay of belongings because they pile up unused…one of the worst visions of bad stewardship.
The move to the tarnish and rust being a testimony against the ‘Rich’ is simply because the rich have concentrated on the accumulation of earthly treasure to the exclusion of heavenly treasure; plainly indicating where their ‘heart’ is. Additionally, the wealth accumulated was put to ‘no use’ for the poor who needed it. The ‘devour your flesh as if it were a fire’ is talking about God wrath poured out.
I need to ask myself – “As a Christian, am I falling into sin by withholding God’s resources? Am I being a conduit for God’s resources and not a dam?” I need to walk forward from today looking distinctly at our spending and keeping an open eye to see the people God is putting in my path to help. My focus needs to be ‘riches in heaven’ not ‘riches on earth’. I definitely don’t see myself as a selfish rich person, but I do think that the blessings the Lord has given me in my job and salary can easily create an earthly comfort that keeps me from leaning into God for what I truly need…the Bread of Life.