It seems almost inevitable. When a certain theme strikes us in Scripture reading during the week it is often reiterated in a sermon or a Sunday School lesson or a conversation. At Community Bible Study we finished our study of James this week. In the last chapter we read this.
“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 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. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” (James 5:1-5)
The rich are not being condemned here simply for having a lot of money and possessions. The Bible contains numerous examples of wealthy people whom God blessed (Abraham, Joseph, Job, Solomon, etc.). The problem is when self-centered rich people gain their wealth by injustice.
William Barclay in his commentary on James 5 writes “Not even the most cursory reader of the Bible can fail to be impressed with the social passion which blazes through its pages. No book condemns dishonest and selfish wealth with such searing passion as it does.”
In our sermon Sunday we heard this quote from a message by Bill Bouknight. “Billy Sunday was the Billy Graham of a previous generation. He was conducting a crusade in a particular city. In one of his sermons he said something critical of the labor conditions for workers in that area. After the service, several prominent businessmen sent a message to him by one of the local pastors. The message was this—‘Billy, leave labor matters alone. Concentrate on getting people saved. Stay away from political issues. You’re rubbing the fur the wrong way.’ Billy Sunday sent this message back to them: ‘If I’m rubbing the fur the wrong way, tell the cats to turn around.’”
Some of us employ people full-time and must be careful to treat our workers fairly and pay good wages for jobs done well. It is often helpful to put ourselves in the shoes of someone else. How would I like to support my family on the wage that I am paying? Others of us occasionally hire people to work in the yard or in the home and should consider the same. Almost all of us eat out at least every now and then. Our opportunity to pay a fair or even generous wage is in our tipping. Will that extra dollar or two above the fifteen or twenty percent mean more to me or to that server? The command of Jesus to treat others as we would want to be treated applies in all of these cases.