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No Christian Should Be Rich, According to Jesus’ Brother

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moneyOne of the clearest Scriptural condemnations of personal wealth is found in the letter of James, the brother of Jesus:

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. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you. (James 5:1-6)

When I read this the first time, I had already started to re-evaluate my rich lifestyle based on Jesus’ command about selling everything one has and the community of goods practised by the apostles. So I wasn’t shocked when I found James’ text, rather, I thought “This is spot on, exactly what I have been thinking!” I still think that this text is extremely powerful and true when it comes to highlighting the immorality of being rich, how rich people build their wealth on exploitation of cheap labour and how they ultimately kill innocent, poor people.

But not all Christians are as excited about selling everything they have as I am. Since few will go as far as Martin Luther who claimed that the letter by Jesus’ brother isn’t as holy as other Biblical epistles, most rich Christians that I’ve heard commenting this text are arguing that James is talking about a certain type of rich people, which (fortunately) do not apply to them. This is totally incorrect, and here’s why.

1. James’ letter is written to all Christians

Unlike many other Biblical letters, James’ isn’t writing to a specific church in a specific place like Rome or Galatia. No, he adresses it to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations”, which is Jewish language for all of God’s people. Some may argue that it’s only adressed to Jewish Christians, but still since most churches had Jewish Christians that doesn’t get away from the fact that James is defenitely not adressing a situation occuring in just one place – where rich people were “extra” evil. No, his condemnation of the rich – which isn’t limited to this chapter alone – is a universal one.

2. All rich people oppress the poor

This may be a hard stone to swallow for many. We often view the rich person as evolving in a vacuum, gaining wealth through hard work that s/he has full moral authority to spend as s/he chooses, because s/he earned it. Well, that’s not entirely true. In today’s global economy those who are rich either have employers directly or indirectly who do the sh*tty stuff, that they benefit from. And they don’t get their fair share.

If wealth truly was the result of hard work, most women in Africa would be millionaires. Instead, white, Western men are overrepresented among the world’s rich due to colonialism, neo-colonialism, discrimination etc. We do fail to pay the wages for our workers, a lot. Heck most people I know here in Sweden don’t even buy Fairtrade products consistently!

3. All rich people kill poor people

We talked about this sad fact in my first Why wealth is wrong article. As rich people fatten theirselves an live in luxury (Jam 5:5), they kill people (Jam 5:6). Instead of consuming or possessing fancy cars, houses, jewelry and entertainment, they should give as much as they can to humanitarian organizations saving lives in disaster zones. As they choose not to, the deaths of the poor are partly due to their passivity. As John puts it: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3:17)

Thus, James’ sharp warnings to the rich are not addressed to some particular people in one ancient city, or some particular type of rich people that do not apply to most. His words do in fact apply to every rich person, unless those who chooses not to be rich anymore and sell everything they have. Are you one of them?

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8 Comments

  1. Don Murphy says:

    Wonderful! Thank you!

  2. Tara says:

    Actually, I have to disagree with you. James was writing to rich Jewish people who were about to be destroyed with the destruction of Jersuelm in 70 ad
    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Timothy%206
    He describes the dangers of loving money and why was causing many at the time to fall away. If true, why does he tell Timothy to command Christians who have much in material wealth to give to the poor? Nevertheless if you haven’t yet, I seriously recommend you check out the Venus project. It what the world would be like in a community of goods. Notice how it elimates proverty, war, equal rights, etc. it also Ironicaly encourages innovation. Maybe Jesus was showing the world how to truely prosper.

    • Hello Tara!

      As I wrote above, James’ letter is not written to any particular city such as Jerusalem, but to all (Jewish) Christians in the world! And he’s not telling them to stop being rich because they will lose their wealth anyways, he tells them to stop being rich because it’s immoral and oppresses and kills the poor!

      1 Tim 6 is another Bible passage, written by Paul, which explains why we shouldn’t be rich. Paul explicitly writes: ” if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Tim 6:8-9). This is why he later on tells Timothy to exhort the rich to give away their money to the poor: they should not have more than food and clothing. It is of course impossible to both keep one’s wealth while also giving it away, and so Bible passages telling rich people to give to the poor is arguments against keeping their wealth, not for it. I’ve written about this here: https://holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/why-wealth-is-wrong-the-mathematical-argument/

      God bless you!

  3. Tony says:

    Abraham was rich. King David was rich. There is nothing wrong with money. It is the love of money that the Bible condemns. Jesus says that if we are not rich towards God with what He has blessed us with then we are in trouble. By your standards anyone born into a wealthy family or aquire wealth is going to be burning in hell. The women who followed Jesus namely John Mark’s mother is said to have been wealthy and she contributed to Jesus ministry. You are taking scripture out of context and condemning innocent people to hell.

    • Hello Tony!

      According to the Bible, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). We’re all going to hell unless we hand our sins over to Jesus so that He can take our punishment on the cross. Now, one of these sins clearly is keeping wealth while poor people suffer. Deutoronomy 15:9 says:

      “Be careful not to… show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.”

      The same message is found in 1 John 3:17 and James 5:1-6 that I quoted above. To say “this is taken out of context” doesn’t mean a thing unless you PROVE that it’s taken out of context, and that the context says something else. As I shown above James is clearly talking about all rich Christians, not a particular group.

      You may want to check out my E-book God vs Inequality or YouTube series God vs Wealth if you’d like to know more about how I think about this. There, I talk about rich people in the Old Testament, among other things. In fact, I will simply write down my whole artice on that topic down below.

      “What about king David?” people ask me when we debate whether a Christian should be rich or not. David was a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) who clearly loved and feared the Lord, and yet he was very rich. Same thing is true for many believers in the Old Testament – kings like Solomon or Hezekiah as well as landlords as Abraham and Job. They believed in God, and still were rich.

      However, we must remember that just because you are a believer, all your actions do not necessarily reflect the will of God. The only person in the Bible that we know lived a totally holy life is Jesus Christ. But when it comes to Abraham for example, he had married his sister. Should we use that as an argument for us to do the same?

      Likewise, when it comes to David and Solomon, they lived in polygamy. We know however that Scripture condemns polygamy in other places. And interestingly enough, the same Bible verse that forbids Old Testament kings to take several wives also tells them not to accumulate wealth. This verse is not so famous, but is is a clear debunking of the “what about king David”argument. In Deutoronomy 17, God speaks of the lifestyle of the future king of Israel. Among other things, He says:

      He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. (Deut 17:17)

      In other words, when David or Solomon were rich, they were acting against the will of God, just as they were when they lived in polygamy.

      Many people may get confused about this since Scripture says that it was actually God who gave wealth to Solomon or Hezekiah. But we must remember that just because you receive a gift from God, your use of it doesn’t automatically become sinless. We have all received our bodies from God, still we can misuse them.

      Solomon and Hezekiah both did good and bad things with their God-given wealth. Some of the money they “had” they used to build villages and cities. Does that sound like private property? Of course not. After all, they were kings with responsibility for all the Israeli people. However, other parts of their wealth they used for gold and luxury for themselves. When they did so, they clearly acted contrary to Deut 17:17.

      But what about Job? Even though he experienced devestating poverty, he was rich both before and after this suffering. However, we must look at what he did with his money. As I argued in the first part of this blog series, what’s important is not so much how much you earn but rather what you do with your money. And it seems like Job was passionate giving all his stuff away:

      If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary, if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless—but from my youth I reared them as a father would, and from my birth I guided the widow—if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or the needy without garments, and their hearts did not bless me for warming them with the fleece from my sheep, if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had influence in court, then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint. For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things. (Job 31:16-23)

      To conclude, I would say that when people use their money to help the poor and needy with their money, they are following the will of God and do not sin. But if they spend their money on themselves they are acting contrary to the will of God and are sinning. As Deut 15:9 puts it: “Be careful not to… show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.”

      God bless you!

  4. Tony says:

    Hello Michael

    Jesus already took our punishment for our sins on the cross past, present and future. How to be saved is detailed in Romans.

    Rom 10:9-11
    (9) Because if you confess the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.
    (10) For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses unto salvation.
    (11) For the Scripture says, “Everyone believing on Him shall not be put to shame.”

    The Bible commands us to be kind to the poor, however, it does not condemn us for being wealthy. Hording wealth is what is condemned and turning a blind eye to those that the Lord brings into your path to hep who are less fortunate than you is a sin. Wealth is not a sin.

    Pro 21:13
    (13) Whoever stops his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.

    Pro 28:27
    (27) He who gives to the poor shall not lack, but he who hides his eyes shall have many a curse.

    God’s blessing is what brings about wealth and not hard work.

    Pro 10:22
    (22) The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, without painful toil for it.

    1Jn 3:17
    (17) If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?
    We are commanded to help a brother or sister in need if we are able.Nowhere does it say that we are to divest ourselves of all our wealth.

    Jas 5:1-6
    (1) Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on 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.
    (4) 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.
    (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 the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

    Wealth is not what is being condemned her but rather greed and arrogance. The rich talked about here in this passage of scripture withheld wages due workers for mowing their fields and the cries of the harvesters, it says. reached the Lord.

    He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. (Deut 17:17)

    Notice that it says wive(s) in the scripture. Having more than one wife is polygamy . It does not condemn the practice in this scripture.

    .1Ki 3:11-13
    (11) So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice,
    (12) I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
    (13) Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both wealth and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.

    If God gave Solomon so much wealth and honor so that there was not king his equal are you saying that God made him sin by making him rich?

    When the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to rebuke David for his sin with Bathsheeba, the following was said.

    2Sa 12:8
    (8) I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.

    If God gave him wives and offered to give him more then did God make David sin?

    But when it comes to Abraham for example, he had married his sister. Should we use that as an argument for us to do the same?

    If you are going to use that then you must include the fact that Lot’s 2 daughters slept with him and conceived children However, you failed to mention the fact that where there is no law against such things then there is no sin.

    Rom 4:15
    (15) because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

  5. Adriana says:

    I Love Jesus ever since I was a little girl he was the only one in my eyes and now that I’m older I’m proud of being poor because I know Jesus loves poor people that try to make it in life but sometimes is very hard we pay rent bills and food with what we have and then we are broke but like I said I’m proud I don’t need to sell my soul to you know don’t even want to mention it because is disgrace in this world.. Jesus Is love and Light forever and ever
    AMEN.

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The author

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Check out my YouTube channel!

A Living Alternative

God vs Inequality

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