What’s wrong with being rich? Why does James speak so forcefully against the rich?
1-6 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! … You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.
Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? (James 2:6-7)
There are some who preach the ‘prosperity gospel’ saying that God wants His believers to be rich and that it is good to desire to be rich. They cite I Chronicles 4:10:
And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.
But what does this passage mean in the context of the rest of the Bible?
First, we must understand that not every desire that is granted by God is according to the will of God. The oft-stated example to support this proposition is that of King Hezekiah whose prayer to God to prolong his life was granted but in the 15 extended years, he foolishly exposed the riches of Judah to the Babylonians and Manasseh, the final straw for the destruction of Judah, was born to him (II Kings 20:1-20; 21:1,9,11,12). Thus, God granting Jabez his wish may not be an indication of His will, and the passage also does not explicitly say that Jabez desired to be rich and God agreed that it was good.
Next, consider all the following Bible verses that make it explicitly clear that God does not approve of a desire to be rich.
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. (I Timothy 6:9)
A faithful man will abound with blessings, But he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 28:20)
It is a fact that rich people tend to “be haughty [and] trust in [their] riches” (I Timothy 6:17). Even during the time of the apostles, James records that some rich Christians were even bullying their poorer brethren. What was worse was that those who themselves were not rich were biased in favour of the rich!
Church leaders must be very careful not to be beholden to the richer members by accepting unnecessary gifts. Such is the nature of many rich people to give so as to gain later on. In the church, this often translates to unduly influencing the policies and even the doctrines of the church to their favour.
Indeed, it is wrong to desire to be rich and dangerous spiritually to be rich as “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24) It is however not wrong to be rich because riches and blessings also come from the Lord (Proverbs 22:4; I Kings 3:11-13). We have instead to be extra careful and to make use of our riches to do good (I Timothy 6:17-18).
With this understanding, the church should be a haven and sanctuary from the injustice of the world regarding the haves and the have-nots. This is the place where God’s people will find equity and family. Everyone will be regarded as equal.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
In the church, the poor should feel uplifted and the rich should be relieved to drop all pretenses of status and power in the realization that they are all temporary.
Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. (James 1:9-10)
Let us together make the church an otherworldly place, a taste of our future heavenly home, the hope and vision of the true Israel.
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)