1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.
James is not condemning everyone who has wealth even though it may sound like it here. Wealth is not really the problem. There are a group of wealthy people who have placed all of their emphasis on wealth and not on spiritual matters. This is the problem.
Jesus addressed the same issue in His sermon on the mount in Matthew 6:19-21:
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Both James and Jesus are saying that worldly possessions should not be our emphasis. Jesus gives us an alternative as well instead of just condemning material things. We are to store up treasures in heaven. The people James was speaking to relied solely upon their wealth for security. They are warned that their wealth would not last.
When it comes to wealth, God needs to come first. After this, it doesn’t mean that Christians are free to use their wealth as they please. Christians should always use wisdom with their money because even if they give large sums to the Lord, how they use the rest is still a reflection of their priorities.
The charge of hoarding wealth is an interesting one. It is wise to save money “for a rainy day.” Financial advisors recommend having enough money to live for six months without income. Clearly many people do not have that amount saved. It is also wise to be saving for retirement but what a proper amount of savings is really depends on the person and their goals.
Hoarding is not the same as saving however. Hoarding implies a certain amount of selfishness to it. We should not neglect the needs of others just so that we can be certain our retirement account is properly funded. But wisdom should also be used. There will always be poor and needy. Some will be so through no fault of their own and some will be that way because of poor decisions that they have made. A person could give away all of their assets to help the poor and still not make a dent in the overall needs of people in even one community. This doesn’t mean that a person shouldn’t do so if they are so called but ultimately wisdom should be used. God examines the heart and what is given or not given is a reflection of where the heart lies.