Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? (Jam 2:5-7)
If we live for this world, we shall go out of it empty-handed, but if we live for the next world, we shall depart full handed, ‘rich in faith’ and soon to enter upon an eternal inheritance. In Ecclesiastes 5:13, the wise king expounds: “There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun, riches kept for their owner to his hurt.”
The theme and context of James 5:1-6 warns of the judgment for the rich who oppress the poor. “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.The rich who trust in the accumulation and pursuit of wealth at the expense of faith in God will be judged. The rich who become exceedingly rich at the expense of the labor of the poor will be condemned.”
The New Testament clearly recalled the judgment and pain that had befallen the rich men who did not lift his finger to help poor Lazarus. Luke 16:19-31, “For I am in torment in this flame,” cried the rich man. For the rich man, there was no escape from the hell he was in because of his greed. For Lazarus, he was free from the burdens laid upon him, though he begged for the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.
Oppression in this world is not a 21st-century phenomenon; evil oppressors existed in Genesis and will continue to exist as long as evil men abound in this world. A world that survives for now with no thoughts about God and judgment will indeed produce oppressors. How often do we hear of Washington’s aristocrats who come in power with the backing of great wealth, though they seek the votes of the poor. For all their hopes to obtain a few measly crumbs, more often than not they receive little to nothing. Most often their pay is left stagnant as inflation rises each year. The very poor make a wage which is unable to make them a decent living. For the beggars, they are reduced to losing their dignity for a few morsels, and even then they are mocked, slandered, and despised by the wealthy. What is even odder is that these rich people wrap themselves in the flag and religion.
The Lord said in Matthew 26:11, “ For you have the poor with you always…” Cross-reference to: Deuteronomy 15:11, “For the poor will never cease from the land, therefore I command you saying, you shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy in your land.”
Oppression takes many forms such as to – swindle the poor, mistreat, deceive, cheat them of their rightful wages. Entrap, enslave, victimize, suppress them, fool and mislead them, all arising from the greed and prejudices of men.
Indeed we have the poor among us even today and in Gal 6:10 Christians are commanded to do good to all men. Our attitude to the poor and needy is a reflection of our attitude to our God. I venture to suggest that a significant number in this world that we inhabit suffer poverty because of rich oppressors; because the rich grow richer upon the sweat of laborers. They have hardened the hearts and they have no conscience, no thought for the poor among them, just like the rich man who could not see Lazarus suffering at his feet (Lk 16:19-31).
Today, one can face oppression for many reasons, oppression because of Race, Language spoken, Religion and beliefs, Color of one’s skin, Education (or the lack of it), Profession, Place of birth/country Gender, One’s station in life, Poor, persecuted because they are defenceless, Unprotected such as widows and orphans.
In this short study, we are primarily concerned with how the rich oppress the poor because they are poor and keep them in poverty while enriching themselves on the toils of the poor. The warning to the rich is that all that they possess will waste away and most are temporal in nature, their garments, gold and silver will be no more and will not count for anything upon physical death.
The sins of the rich in verses 5 and 6 are that they had defrauded the poor, held back his wages, and grossly underpaid them. Malachi 3:5, “And I will come near you for judgment …against those who exploit wage earners and widows and the fatherless..” Jeremiah 22:73, “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by injustices. Who uses his neighbor’s service without wages and gives him nothing for his work.”.
“You shall not defraud your neighbor or rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning.” Leviticus 19:13
God’s Word is clear, employers are to pay their workers their dues timely and without defrauding them. God hears the cries of the oppressed and the rich are fattening themselves for their own death at the hands of the righteous God. The rich who oppress the poor can expect no mercy from God. But today, the rich continue in their relentless pursuit of more riches and wealth, materialism, the need to have more and more with at best a cursory inclination for God.
What good are the riches, we can’t take anything away at death. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there.” Job 1:21 All the rich man’s wealth will be left behind to their heirs. Some of it will be squandered and enjoyed by those who inherit them, even as the rich man is in torment.
Brethren I am not directing this lesson only at some rich men outside the church. God’s Word is for all. We are all rich with what we possess. How are we using them? Are we ourselves oppressors, do we have people working for us in our offices, are we people of authority in our workplaces, do we oppress them? In a tight job market where many are without jobs, those holding jobs are burdened with more work for less pay. People are working longer hours without overtime pay. Some are even expected to take wage cuts with the same if not more work allotted to them…modern day oppression if you please. This is happening in every country in the world. Some employers are cutting wages at the slightest sign of the company’s financial difficulties. Others retrench workers without cause and even shirk out on workers’ compensation and benefits.
What then are the effects of oppression on the poor and the less privileged in the society? I venture to suggest the following: The poor get poorer (poverty trap, if you please). The poor are never able to break out of their poverty. Malnourishment among children and starvation Children, in turn, are not able to rise up in life because of the oppression faced by their parents, lack educational opportunities. Workers, working longer hours for less pay, in turn affecting the family social order, older workers retrenched etc. Increased stress on the individual and his family, in turn, affects his service to the church ( it should not but it does).
Brethren, our God condemns all who ill-treat others and victimize/oppress other human beings. Proverbs 14:31, “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors Him has mercy on the needy.” Proverbs 17:5, “He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker; He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished. Ecclesiastes 5:4, “…Pay what you have vowed. It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay.”
Conclusion: The Bible warns us to be good employers and good employees. We all serve the greatest employer, the Lord himself. All things belong to God. “‘The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts ” (Hag 2:8). Let us not go out of our way to gain riches, to the detriment of our soul. Let us be aware of materialism, and let us do good to all men within our means and capabilities when the opportunities arise. God will bless the kind and merciful man who loves his neighbor, which is the second most important commandment. However, to those who oppress the poor, the judgment of God shall visit them!