Each Thanksgiving we in America take time to count our blessings. But how many times do these blessings that we focus on tend to be related to materialism? Perhaps one of the pitfalls to gratitude is only seeing it through the lens of the things or the wealth that we have. James opens his fifth chapter by teaching us that sometimes what we consider to be blessings are really curses. James focuses on the two failures of materialistic living.
First, we see that though we see it as a blessing, materialism cannot produce safety (v1). In Bible times there was really no middle class which made the gulf between the rich and poor very wide. James warns those who are trusting their riches rather than God. James uses the term “Come now” which is a call to attention and is used only twice in the New Testament, both in the book of James. He vividly describes the coming time when these materialistic minded individuals will weep and howl over the miseries that they will face. The word “weep” means to sob out loud or lament as if someone had died (Mark 5:38-39; Luke 7:13; 8:52; Acts 9:39). The word “howl” appears only here in the New Testament and means to shriek or scream. “Miseries” appears only here and in Romans 3:16. It describes overwhelming hardship, trouble and suffering (Luke 6:24-25).
Second, materialism cannot produce security (v2-3). James prophetically looks into the future when the hoarding of materialistic possessions will be meaningless. Their riches (probably a reference to their grain…Luke 12:15-21) will rot. Their garments would become moth-eaten. James also says that their gold and silver would rust and become useless. James uses an intensive form in the Greek language meaning that they would thoroughly and completely corrode. In the final judgment, what man thinks is important (materialism) is actually spiritually worthless. The term “Last Days” speaks of the time between Christ’s first coming and His second coming. Because of their preoccupation with materialism, these people do not even realize that they are living in the last days.
So, if materialism cannot produce safety or security, what does it bring? First, materialism produces an attitude of selfishness (v4). Much of the wealth of these individuals actually came from withholding wages that were honestly earned by the field workers. James tells us that God Almighty will hear and respond to the cries of these who have been robbed due to the selfishness of those who are focused on materialism.
Materialism also produces an attitude of self-indulgence (v5). According to James, these individuals have luxuriously lived a life of self indulgence, using their wealth only for display or for personal whims. The term “wanton pleasure” means to plunge headlong and describes living lavishly. They are completely ignorant of coming judgment. James likens them to cattle being fattened up for the slaughter.
Finally, materialism produces an attitude of superiority (v6). Due to their feeling of superiority, they have persecuted the righteous person and exploited the poor person. You see, sometimes what we consider to be a blessing is really a curse.