Previously, James wrote about the foolishness of boasting about your future (James 4:13-17). It is foolish, James writes, because our lives are like a mist that quickly vanishes. In James 5:1-6, he writes about the danger of wealth. Being wealthy is not sinful, but wealth can be dangerous. Wealth can be dangerous because it can give a false sense of security and if we are not careful can breed covetousness in our hearts. Jesus put it this way, “Take care, and be on guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). In order to understand James 5:1-6 better, we are going to turn to Jesus’ parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12.
The Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21)
At this point in Jesus’ ministry, thousands of people had gathered to see what He would do and to hear what He would say. News about the miracle worker from Nazareth spread far and wide. In verse 13, we arrive at a break in His teaching when someone from the crowd called out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
This statement revealed the attitude of the man. While Jesus taught about fear (4-7) and anxiety (8-12); this man was thinking about inheritance. Namely, he was consumed with fear and anxiety about getting his share of the inheritance. Jesus, unconcerned about the details of this inheritance, lets the man know that He has no intention of settling any legal dispute. He replied, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (14). Jesus did not deny that He has authority to judge, rather he rebuked the man for being focused on treasure on earth instead of treasure in heaven.
I Want More!
It is at this point that Jesus warns the crowd about the dangers of coveting. He said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness” (15). Covetousness is the desire for more. In this context, it is the strong desire to acquire more and more possessions without any regard for whether or not the possessions are needed. Jesus said to take care and be on your guard against this because it is sinful. The more you strive for earthly riches, the less you strive for heavenly riches. In other words, beware of the temptation to be covetous because it will keep you from God. Coveting is a sin because it is telling the giver of all possessions (i.e., God) that He is less important than your possessions. It is placing more value on the gift than the giver.
Jesus says that we are to take care and be on guard. When He says we must take care, He literally means that we are to be watchful for covetousness in our lives. If we discover that we are covetous, we are to guard ourselves: fight and protect ourselves against it. The reason, according to Jesus, is because “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (15). This is where it is important to think Biblically in accordance with our Christian faith. The Bible clearly tells us that while this life is important, the next life is far better. Therefore, we are told to “not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:19-20). Our life is given to us by God and our life is taken from us by God who has “authority to cast into hell” (5). Our life is not given to us for the pursuit of an abundance of possessions, but rather our possessions have been given to us for the pursuit of God. If we are more concerned about what we have on earth, we are less concerned about what (or Who!) we have in heaven.
Jesus uses a parable to illustrate this point very effectively. It is commonly called the Parable of the Rich Fool because the man in the parable is very rich and very foolish. He is foolish because he is more focused on himself than anyone or anything else. His crops are plentiful and he is contemplating building bigger barns to hold them all. It all comes to an end when God says, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (20). The man was not guarded against covetousness, he was gratified by covetousness. He bought into the ungodly worldview that says: “Life consists in the abundance of possessions”. He did, as the old saying: “Get all you can, can all you get, and sit on the can”.
Jesus says this type of thinking is foolish. Verse 21 tells us the point of the parable is to show the foolishness of “one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” The writer of Hebrews tells us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Heb 12:1). The Bible tells us to sell our unnecessary possessions and goods and give to anyone who has need (Matt 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 12:33, 18:22, Acts 2:45, 4:34). Augustine said about the man in this parable: “He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns.” The Christian worldview tells us that since our life belongs to God, we should not strive to be rich, but strive to be rich towards God.
Protect yourself from the unquenchable desire for more and more possessions. The reason is clear: God is not impressed by how many cars you have, how big your house is, how much money you have, or your 401(k). Therefore, knowing your life belongs to God, use the possessions you have to meet your needs and the needs of others. If you do this, you demonstrate that you are a follower and worshipper of Jesus Christ. If you lay up treasures on earth, they will testify against you on the Day of Judgment. If you pursue a life of self-indulgence, “you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter” (James 5:5). Be on guard against covetousness and the danger of wealth. Let your life reveal that you entrust your life to God and not money.