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Seeking Wealth, Gaining Misery


“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.” (James 5:1-6)

As the Confirmation class discussion began, a student commented on the lengthy list of Seventh Commandment sins: “Wow! There are sure a lot of ways to break the Seventh Commandment.” Indeed, there are—everything from laziness to cheating to stealing in its many forms, including today a multitude of digital scams. All have this in common: they involve taking from others and are sins of selfishness that bring divine judgment and misery on the perpetrators.

In his Spirit-inspired style and pointed language, James’ words may seem like a familiar social protest of the “have nots” against the “haves.” In reality, they go much deeper, as reflected in the Seventh and Ninth Commandments. This is sin and there will come a day of reckoning, if not in this life, most certainly in the life to come (verse 1).

In the absence of devotion to the real God Who created and redeemed them, there exists a vacuum in the sinful human heart and life that cries out to be filled. And one of Satan’s many alluring suggestions for filling that void with happiness and fulfillment is through worldly treasures. “Fool’s gold,” to be sure. Not only do these treasures prove empty, unsatisfying, and fading, they can easily lead to real misery. Selfishly indulging oneself at the expense of others really involves only fattening up one’s heart for the day of slaughter (verses 5-6).

While money is a valuable this-world necessity, its sinful pursuit and abuse are roundly condemned in Scripture. The problem is not really money, but the sinful human heart. Once again, James’ words cut to and through our very own hearts. In all honesty, how different at times are our hearts from that of the powerful, ruthless tycoon whose insatiable quest for more wealth tramples and destroys everyone in his path? Don’t we also feel a certain level of personal pride in what we have accomplished and accumulated? Do we honestly always see what we have as, first and foremost, gifts and blessings “from above”? (1:17) Has God given us what we have just for ourselves, or does He have something else in mind?

The mirror of God’s Law (1:23-24) never lies, nor, thank God, does His Gospel heart (2:13,23). For those who humble themselves before the mighty hand of God (4:6,10), who repent and look to the cross for mercy and forgiveness, life’s greatest treasure awaits—Christ and all the blessings of salvation. In loving praise, God’s grateful people then seek to use all His blessings, including his material ones, to invest in eternal treasures—for themselves and for all precious souls. And this is a can’t-miss formula for godly contentment and blessing (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

David Schierenbeck is a retired pastor and a member of the CLC Board of Doctrine. He lives in St. Paul Park, Minnesota.