The Epistle of James
Earl Miller continues his excellent exposition of the Epistle of James. He presents in these articles the experiential aspect of Christianity. We recommend a close study of each paragraph, and an application of its teaching to personal life and testimony.
A Dark Foreboding Future
“Come now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.” Riches are deceitful. That innate desire for riches is not satisfied until riches are acquired in some way or another. Once they are acquired, the capacity to enjoy them in all likelihood is gone. The haunting memory of the devious ways in which wealth was acquired bores gratingly into the conscience destroying any capacity to enjoy the wealth. Weeping and wailing (crying aloud) is a poignant expression of a remorseful conscience.
“Your riches are corrupted and your garments are moth-eaten.” The deceitfulness of riches is seen in the corrupting influence it has on the life and morals of those whose overpowering desire for riches has driven them relentlessly until the riches were acquired. Now that the gain is in their hands, it has corrupted them, and their moth-eaten garments are an index to their outward appearance.
“Your gold and silver are rusted, and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire.” Gold and silver are two metals which do not rust, so James is speaking either metaphorically or symbolically. The rusting of something which does not rust would indicate that something very unusual or unexpected has happened. Since gold and silver do not rust, the fact that they did rust may indicate that what they thought was gold and silver was really something else. “All that glitters is not gold.” So one of two things can happen to the wealth these men have acquired. First, the unexpected can happen; their wealth could fly away, or, since what they had rusted, might indicate that which they had was not really gold and silver as they had thought. Such is the sad plight of those whose desire for wealth drove them to extremes to obtain it; and now that they had it they found that it was not what they had expected it to be. What is more, the rust of that which cannot rust was witnessing against them, and was eating their flesh as it were fire.
“Ye have heaped treasures against the last days.” What is meant by the expression “the last days”? This expression often refers to the closing day of this dispensation. However, the absence of the definite article in the Greek indicates that James is not referring to the end of this age. James simply says, “Ye have reaped treasures together for last days.” So the expression really refers to the last days of these men on earth. They were preparing for retirement. They wanted to accumulate enough so they could retire with comfort, and enjoy their last days on earth in pleasure.
There is certainly nothing wrong in preparing for old age when one cannot work. No one wants to be dependent on others for his needs when that time comes. James is not condemning preparation for retirement, but the method in which retirement wealth is acquired. He says, “Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped your fields, which you have kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries of them who have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Saboath.” We are told that the wealth these men have acquired was obtained by fraud. They swindled the wages of those who harvested their crops to enrich their own store. Others were made to suffer that they might retire in ease. This is the sin that James denounces. But, let these rich men remember that the wages withheld by fraud cry out, and the cries have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts (Saboath means hosts). There is a reckoning day coming!
Lived in Pleasure
“Ye have lived in pleasure on earth and been wanton.” These men lived in pleasure on wealth obtained by fraud. The aorist tense in the Greek is translated by the English perfect tense, and this confuses the issue a bit. The aorist tense refers to point action in past time. It should be translated “Ye lived in pleasure on earth.” But earth is past now, and things in another world are quite different. The time has come for these rich men to open their eyes to the dreadful poverty riches had bequeathed them. On earth they nourished their hearts as in a day of slaughter. Then condemned and killed the righteous because they did not resist them. They lived in wanton pleasure, but earthly days are past, and they are in the hands of the Lord of Hosts.
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Come now! you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city and continue there a year or more to engage in business and make a profit.” You do not even know what will be tomorrow. For what is the nature of your life? It is even like a vapour that appears for a little while, and then vanishes away. You ought rather to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall do this or that.” But as of now, you are boasting in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, he who knows to do good and does it not, to him it is sin.
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Come now you rich men, weep and howl for the hardships that are coming upon you. Your riches have become corrupted, and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will raise a testimony against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded up wealth for your last days. Behold! the wages of those who have harvested your farms, which you have kept back by fraud, cry out. And the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You lived luxuriously on earth in wanton pleasure; you fattened your hearts as in the day of slaughter. You condemned the righteous and killed him, because he did not resist you.