Proper attitudes to wealth, work and to the poor, by Rev. John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg – Bible study material on James 5:1-6

In our previous studies, we focused on proper perspectives to life by emphasizing that life is short, death is certain and God is sovereign. This lesson on James 5:1-6 focuses on the related theme of our attitudes to wealth, work and towards the poor.

Wealth- Money should be regarded as a temporal commodity (James 5:1.3)
It is most probable that James’ description of the rich in this context is about those who are not Christians. For that reason, James warns them to repent and weep because of the coming misery. In this light, the rich who are unrighteous have placed themselves in extravagant luxury and lifestyle at the expense of others. In other words, the people became rich through exploitations of others.

James brings out the perspective that wealth and for that matter money is a transitory commodity that disappears before our eyes (James 5:3). James’ perspective meant to contradict the popular perspective in the ancient world that fine clothing and big purse served as symbols of wealth. To James, therefore, exploiting money from the poor and hoarding it makes no sense in view of its temporary nature.

Work – Wealth creation must be ethically sound (James 5:4)
In James 5:4, James observes that money that ought to be in the hands of labourers are rather in the possession of their masters or landowners. It is most probable that James alludes to a similar incidence of Leviticus 19:13: “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.”

Taking advantage of one’s workers through hoarding of wealth and ignoring the needy around them is therefore problematic from the perspective of James (James 5:4). In this light, James condemns the rich both for how they acquire their wealth and for what they did with it. It means James rebukes them for their unjust business practices such as unfair pay to their workers.

Poor – Avoid exploitation and oppression of the vulnerable (James 5:5-6)
Closely related to the need to create wealth in an ethically sound environment is James’ instruction on the attitudes towards the poor. Attention has already been drawn to James’ questioning of the phenomenon of not paying workers fairly. James describes this attitude on the part of the rich and thus wealthy landowners as an abuse of power. James’ use of the expression “you have condemned and murdered innocent men” probably refers to the inclination of the unrighteous rich to use the courts or the legal system to oppress the poor. Similarly, murdering the poor could denote any act of cruel behaviour that leads to the death of the poor who may be innocent people or vulnerable in the society.

Worth observing in this lesson is the fact that James is principally speaking to the non-Christian wealthy landowners who were taking advantage of the poor in his time. James’ teaching about the temporal nature of money, in the first place, discourages us from being envious of the wealth of the rich. Most importantly James’ instruction on wealth and poverty encourages us to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us by using it to build God’s earthly kingdom.

Moreover, James invites us to desist from any act of manipulating and controlling of people or situations to get what we want. Last but not the least, James reminds us on the need and thus the opportunity to become more detached from earthly goods and thus share our material items such as money, cars, homes, time, gifts, talents and professional expertise with others.

1. Wealth is to be regarded as a temporary commodity. Do you agree?
2. Identify two ways in which the rich exploit the poor in contemporary times.
3. State some three ways in which we can be good stewards of our earthly possession and thus share them.

Memory verse: James 5:2

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