“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!”
The first six verses of chapter five are warnings to the wealthy. James does not condemn wealth itself but the misuse of wealth. People who use their wealth for self-indulgence and hoarding and gaining it by unlawful and ruthless means are his target.
James continues to assail the self-sufficient businessmen of chapter five. He asks for their immediate attention.
The rich James implores here are the rich who misuse their riches and do not use their riches for eternal purposes. It is not the use but the abuse of wealth at stake here. There is vulnerability among the rich in that they do not depend on God but upon themselves.
Mt. 6:19-21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
weep and howl
People who put their trust in riches have no stability or security. They may lose their wealth under any array of conditions. That is why wealth is a dangerous basis for security. When the wealthy lose their wealth, they lament their state of affairs.
“Howl” goes a step beyond weeping. The idea is to shriek or scream out loud. These rich men shriek. They are under God’s discipline because they do not depend on God’s grace but upon their own strength for their business. They neutralize their enjoyment of wealth due to their lack of capacity of the soul to appreciate money as a lesser goal of life.
Pr 23:5, “Will you set your eyes on that which is not?
For riches certainly make themselves wings;
They fly away like an eagle toward heaven.”
It is not wrong to be wealthy, but it is perilous.
Riches can be a blessing or a curse. It depends on whether wealth is our supreme goal or whether the glory of God is that goal. A mature believer can hold his riches loosely. The loss of riches does not spoil a mature believer’s life when he lives for the glory of God.
Lu 12:19-21, “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ 21 So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”