“Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.” (James 5:1, AV)
In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote a novel titled, “A Christmas Carol.” I remember watching the film adaptation of the story on television every year at Christmas time when I was a boy. The main character, Ebenezer Scrooge is portrayed as a business man, a lender, who loves money and has no compassion for the borrowers. Early in the story, he is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his deceased business partner. Marley is in distress, bound with chains, and misery hung on him because of the greedy life he led. He pleads with Scrooge to turn from his wicked ways before it is too late. Yet, Scrooge is not yet ready to turn from the pursuit of that which he loves, money. That night, Scrooge is visited by three ghosts in order to persuade him to mend his ways. The visits have their intended effect and Scrooge turns from the greedy, non-compassionate, and miserly man to one who is compassionate and discovers the joy of helping those in need.
The story about Ebenezer Scrooge is a perfect illustration of this passage in James’ letter. James is giving a sharp rebuke to those who love money. He indicates that this misdirected love has caused them to exploit others for their own personal gain. The problem these business people have is not making money. Their problem is one of their corrupted hearts. Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10, AV). Love is born in the heart of a person. Everyone will ultimately pursue that which they love. Here, it is not gaining wealth that is the problem. The problem is that their love drives these men to pursue money above all else. They will abuse people, lie, cheat, and steal to amass that which pleases themselves, money. Yet, the problem is even deeper than this.
The love of money is the symptom of a deeper problem. It indicates a misplaced devotion. Jesus put it this way, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24, ESV). Yes, the big problem is that people will pursue that which they love. If they love money, they will pursue it. If they love God, they will pursue Him. Those of whom James writes, in their pursuit of money, demonstrate that they do not love God. Moreover, their exploitation of others to gain money proves it.
What is needed? In one word, what they need is “repentance.” He tells them to “weep and howl” because of their wayward paths. They need to understand that their evil actions in pursuit of money will cry out in judgment against them and there is a definite day of judgment coming. Ebenezer in, “A Christmas Carol,” comes to a place toward the end of the story where he realizes the error of his ways and weeps when considering his future death. He has a complete change of mind towards life and wealth. He becomes a compassionate and generous man, and experiences joy.
Many today are in love with the wrong things. They love the world and the things the world offers. In pursuing this love, they miss the most important love, one that will change everything. The Scripture tells us about this love. “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5, AV). It is a love for God that will drive one to pursue the Lord our God. This is the love that will bring us true joy.