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Tears of Failure

James 5:1-6
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. (NIVUK)

Not all Christians are poor. James saw how the 1st Century culture honoured the people with more money and bigger houses, and that attitude spread to the church where impoverished believers might have looked up to them as patrons. But the wealthy were seriously at risk of succumbing to temptation (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Some had already fallen. Their love of money was leading them astray. To get richer they had exploited their workers: they lived in luxury without thinking of the needs of their spiritual brothers and sisters, some of whom had died for lack of basic care. Even some of their leaders were corrupt (2 Peter 2:1-3).

The 1929 Wall Street crash that preceded the 1930's great depression, and the 2008/9 capital market crisis had similar roots. Although multifactorial, (and economic historians are still not agreed on the sequence of causes leading up to 1930), both crises were fuelled by a greed for wealth and an over-confidence in borrowed money. The consequences were to devalue property, goods and money: but worse, millions of people were devalued as they lost their means of family income, their dignity and their hope for the future.

James still speaks with amazing eloquence into such a situation. The parallels are staggeringly accurate. Deflation, unemployment and civil unrest coexist with the obscene wealth of those whose greed has become the misery of others. Does nobody care? God cares! The cries of the downtrodden have reached the Lord Almighty. His 'Almightiness' does not always prevent 'man's inhumanity to man' (as the Scottish poet Robert Burns described it in 1785), but He will bring justice for the oppressed. However, it is a shock to find that James was accusing rich Christians of being the greedy oppressors.

So, it will do us no harm to examine ourselves. For a moment, dismiss the chorus of 'think positive'. Ask if we bear any personal responsibility for injustice in our workplace (and alas, to one degree or another, we all do). There are two responses to finding that we are responsible: one is remorse and the other is repentance. Both may involve weeping, but that is where the similarity ends. Remorse is just a hopelessness which feels bad and dislikes the consequences of past actions; it is marked by unresolved pride. On the other hand, repentance is marked by humility and a willingness to change. If you see your situation mirrored in these verses, which response will you make? The right reaction is to repent - so that God may pour His mercy on you in forgiveness, and His grace to help you change.

Lord God. Thank You for always seeing everybody and being filled with compassion for those in need. Forgive me for my greed and my selfish lack of compassion. Thank You for Your Word today which shows me what I am like, and commands me to change. Help me to agree with Your analysis, and come to You in humble repentance. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams