“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you, and will eat your flesh like fire.” (James 5:1-3a)
The most precious thing you possess, the thing you go to for comfort and happiness, the fulfillment of that urgent craving for thrill and novelty – is it relationships, pornography, movies, books, traveling, the newest app or TV show or iPhone update? It doesn’t much matter what you answered. Whatever it is, it will rot. And the things you run to for security – the importance of your job, the numbers in your bank account, the appeal of your appearance, the approval of people – these, in the end, will be mere rags. Moth-eaten castaways, garments full of holes. You think you’ve built walls of stone, dug earthworks, entrenched yourself like a soldier against the enemy. But a single moth can breach your defenses and compromise every one of your securities. And what then will you be left with? Rags. What of your gold and your silver? What of your dream job, your dream car, your dream house? Does the world know your name? Are you powerful in your sphere of influence? What of it? The greats of half a century ago are worth hardly a thought to us now. The lucky ones get memorials, the stars get their names in the history books. Do you think Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson now, are satisfied with the lives they lived simply because we still know their names? Even Hitler can claim as much. Just as every imposing skyscraper and architectural master piece will eventually erode and fall, so every pinnacle of success and culmination of earthly wealth will face corrosion and crumble.
“But how then are we to live?” you might say. “Are we to strive for nothing and strangle every half-grown dream?” No. The lists mentioned previously contain many good, many profitable, possessions and accomplishments. I, too, dream of the house I want to build, the things I want to achieve, the books I want to write. But there is a distinction.
When the rottenness of riches surprises you; when your garments of security are eaten by moths and your vulnerability terrifies you; when physical strength wastes away and pinnacles collapse and the corrosion of your riches undoes you – then weep. Weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. There will not even be a need to force them upon you; for you have embraced the flames already, and how shall you not be burned?
All things save what is founded on Jesus will corrode and pass away. Is your soul so wrapped up in them that it too will corrode? You cannot expect to clench this life so tightly and not die when it dies. You think you’re the one holding on to the things; what you don’t realize is that the longer you hold them, the more surely do they hold you. Do you expect them to loosen their grip on the very brink of their own death? Or haven’t you seen a person who’s falling clutch the person beside them? So the thing you have set your heart on, will set its heart equally on you. Let the worshipper be warned: if you worship anything it becomes a god, and the god is always stronger than the worshipper.
Human nature often wishes to be angry at God for its disappointments, but had it not rather be angry at itself? It often puts its hope in gods which promise nothing; then after it is disappointed, blames the God who has promised everything if only we would place our trust in Him alone. We have not received because we have not asked. We have asked and not received because we have asked only in order to gain an offering to place on the altar of our own desires and passions- our gods.
The rotting of our earthly riches, the moth-holes in our securities, and the corrosion of our pinnacles – here in lies the test. Will we clutch them to ourselves so stubbornly that they eat our flesh like the fire they are? Will their life be our life, and their death our death? Or will we live for higher, better? Something worthy of our life and our death – a God that never dies.