Can You Hear Your Money?
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. —James 5:1–6
This passage is here to urge us not to envy the unbelieving, ungodly rich. My dear brothers and sisters, do not envy them.
And here’s why: money talks, but some rich people can’t hear what it’s saying. Read James 5:1–6 again, and as you read it, listen to how money is speaking. Twice the text explicitly says that money is talking. First, in verse 3, the corrosion of gold and silver “will be evidence against you.” More literally, it will testify against you, cry out against you, bear witness against you. Then, in verse 4, observe how it’s the wages “crying out” against the rich. The money in their pockets should be paid out at the end of the day. It is screaming out against the rich: “We’re not yours anymore! Pay us! Hand us over to those who have earned us!” Some rich people can’t even hear what money is saying.
David Gibson’s expository study on the book of James analyzes its painful but essential message on double-mindedness, helping readers experience healing and wholeness in their relationship with God and others.
But what do they think it’s saying? We all think money is saying something to us. Consider how wealth is described in these verses: riches, garments, gold, silver. We all believe money is saying to us: “Oh, suits you, sir! You look so good in that . . . you deserve it . . . you are something; you are awesome.” Money speaks to us of status, success, achievement, big noise, prestige. We can hear it whispering in our ears by our bonds and our savings, and its murmuring to us with every latest shiny gadget and newest product. Yet, look what James says has already happened to the rich: “Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded” (James 5:2–3). The future day of judgment is so certain, so sure, that it’s as if the thing in your hand has already turned to dust.
Riches will not last. The rich also die. By contrast, there are three things that James wants the rich to hear their money saying to them.
1. “Don’t hoard me.”
“You have laid up treasure in the last days” (James 5:3). You have stored me, stockpiled me in your barns, invested me in IRAs, protected me in insured savings and pension plans. You may have seen the reality TV programs about biggest hoarders. Some houses are just chock full of stuff, paraphernalia in every cupboard. But imagine if it were hundred-dollar bills or gold bullion bars stacked up in each room of your house. Would that be amazing or awful?
Your answer to that question reveals whether you’re in tune with what James is saying. The Lord Jesus teaches us to lay up treasures in heaven, not on earth, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19–21). You will not be able to store up earthly treasure and keep your heart whole for God; it will create a split in your affections. James and Jesus speak with the same direct application for our lives. If you want to know where your heart is, then look at where your money is. Is it dispersed to the great good of the gospel in the world, or is it gathering the equivalent of digital dust in an online vault somewhere? For where you locate your money, you will find your heart.
2. “Don’t be unjust with me.”
“Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (James 5:4). More than anything else, money buys power; it gets you a seat at the table and provides you with influence. You can do things and go places. And without deliberate checks and balances, the access to power will become the love of power, and the love of power can lead to the hatred of others, expressed in oppression of them.
3. “Don’t be self-indulgent with me.”
“You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence” (James 5:5). Money makes you self-obsessed. When Karl Lagerfeld, the fashion designer for the House of Chanel, died, he left lots of money to his cat Choupette. She now has her own maids, diamond necklaces, and an Instagram account. It would be funny if it weren’t terribly tragic, so revealing of a life utterly turned in on itself.
We live in a society of massive accumulation. It’s how we position ourselves in society: the more stuff, the more cars and houses and investments in our portfolios, the more pride we have. But here is what James is getting at by saying that these things rot: hoarding is not what money is for. It’s not why God gave it to us. I love these words of John Calvin: “God did not appoint gold to go to waste, or clothes to be eaten by moths, but intended them to sustain human life.”1
If you want to know where your heart is, then look at where your money is.
The Bible is not against wealth, and it is not against money, but it is against the love of money. I often say to my own church family that if they can get rich, they should go for it, and as they get rich, never forget why God put the money in their hands. It is to “sustain human life.” So, get rich and give big. Earn as much as you can, and give away as much as you can, to sustain as much life as you can.
Whose life are you helping? How many lives? What aid are you giving to others? What are you investing in? Someone has said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
So, James is speaking to those who aren’t listening—rich people—in the presence of people who should be listening—God’s people—to say that we must all hear what money is saying. It is always crying out to us: “Spend me, give me, invest me, use me. Do that with me, and live humbly in God’s world, and wholeness will grow in your heart.”
This article is adapted from Radically Whole: Gospel Healing for the Divided Heart by David Gibson.
Money can’t buy you a satisfied heart, money can’t buy you peace and happiness, and money can’t buy you a reason to get up in the morning.
Godliness with contentment is great gain. Read and be encouraged by Scripture on how not to covet after wealth and be glad in God.
The Hardest Thing Jesus Said about My Money
Perhaps you felt a twinge of discomfort when Jesus told the rich young man to give everything he had to the poor and follow him. But he’s not done.
A Lack of Generosity Means a Lack of Contentment
If we really believe that the God who created the universe cares for us and is working in our lives, then that removes the fear that makes us hoard our money.