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James 5:1

ESV Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.
NIV Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.
NASB Come now, you rich people, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.
CSB Come now, you rich people, weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you.
NLT Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you.
KJV Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
NKJV Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!

What does James 5:1 mean?

James begins a new section of his letter in which he harshly condemns "you rich" people. He begins by warning them of misery headed their way. They should start weeping and wailing now in anticipation of it, he says. Jesus offered a similar warning to wealthy people in Luke 6:24–25: "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry…"

This raises a reasonable question: Is every wealthy person unrighteous and evil? Is James condemning the very possession of wealth? The answer is no, because that's not the teaching of this passage, nor the rest of Scripture. In James 1:10, he offers instruction to wealthy Christians about how to evaluate their lives. Paul does the same, even more clearly, in 1 Timothy 6:17. The condemnation here is not for wealth, itself, but for those whose wealth causes them to fall into the sins James will describe in upcoming verses.

Most commentators agree that the wealthy landowners James singles out were non-Christians. Speaking to Christians in chapter 4, James called those still following the world's path to repentance and humility. He reminded those people to fully receive the grace of God. In this section, James offers none of that. He simply condemns these rich oppressors with the voice of an Old Testament prophet predicting their doom. So, these wealthy people were unbelievers who used their wealth to harm others. Importantly, it also included those who did not use their wealth to help others (James 4:17). Specifically, they used their wealth to oppress the poor Christians James has been addressing.

So how should modern Christians read this section? First, we should be comforted by James's words that God will not allow injustice to go unpunished. But we should also hear a warning in James's condemnation: The temptation to trust wealth instead of God is a trap, and most of us are vulnerable to it.
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