4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.
There will always be a lot of discussion about what is considered a fair wage and what is not. Low income workers will always feel taken advantage of and high wage earners are likely to believe that they deserve the wage that they receive. Politicians boil complex issues down into small sound bites and the reality is that things are much more complicated than people want to make them.
There are certainly employers who take advantage of their employees. It doesn’t matter if this is the majority of employers or a very small minority. James clearly calls out employers who take advantage of employees. These verses may be applicable in some ways to situations we see today but the truth is that this is not about paying workers enough but rather not abiding by an agreement that the employer and employee had made.
Today everyone is paid and they agreed to do the work that they do for the amount that they are paid. There are some instances of companies illegally withholding wages from employees but that is not the case most of the time.
What James is really addressing is the love of money. Those in power are taking advantage of those without power because they love money.
Jesus addressed the love of money in Matthew 6:24:
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
We don’t think that we serve money. We say that money serves us. It is used to buy the things that we want with it. It even serves the purposes of the church because obviously the church needs money to operate. But we serve money often in what we sacrifice to acquire it.
Everybody sacrifices time for money. Full time work means 40 hours a week. And a lot of people have to put in 50 or more hours a week and this is considered normal. Some people sacrifice their families in order to gain money. Others sacrifice their health. Still others sacrifice four years of their life in college, not because they have a passion to work in a certain field but because they want to work in whatever job pays the most money.
The fact is, many people serve money rather than serving God. Money is necessary to live and just because we trust God to supply our needs does not mean that we are not expected to work.
There is a very important difference between having money and loving it though. If you love it, it means you can’t give it up. It means that you can’t give up the non-essential items that money pays for. Put quite simply, love of money means that God isn’t first in your life.
There is not a formula that says “if you really love God instead of money, you’ll give this much.” There’s not a dollar amount and there isn’t a percentage amount. Love of money comes down to telling God no. If you love God more than money you’ll give when you are prompted to give. If money is more important, you’ll say something like “money is kind of tight this month.” Or you’ll say “I give enough already.” Or you’ll say “maybe next year, when the car is paid off.” This is the kind of love of money that causes employers to rob their employees of their wages and it is why James so strongly condemns such actions.