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Rich Oppressors Will Be Judged

James 5:1-6

Ullas Nair

Alexander the Great, greatest conqueror of the Ancient World, we are told upon his deathbed commanded that he be carried to the grave with his hands placed outside the coffin and unwrapped.

“So that they can see that though I conquered the world,   I left it empty- handed.”

If we live for this world, we shall go out of it empty handed, but if we live for the next world, we shall depart full handed, ‘rich in faith’ and soon to enter upon an eternal inheritance.

In Ecclesiastes 5:13, the wise king expounds: “There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun, riches kept for their owner to his hurt.”

The theme and context of James 5:1-6 warns of the judgement for the rich who oppress the poor. The rich who trust in the accumulation and pursuit of wealth at the expense of faith in God will be judged. The rich who become exceedingly rich at the expense of the labour of the poor will be condemned.

The New Testament clearly recalled the judgement and pain that had befallen the rich men who did not lift his finger to help poor Lazarus. Luke 16:19-31, “For I am in torment in this flame,” cried the rich man. 

Oppression in this world is not a 21st century phenomenon; evil oppressors existed in Genesis and will continue to exist as long as evil men abound in this world. A world that survives for now with no thoughts about God and judgement will indeed produce oppressors. One of the great oppressors had recently been ejected in Iraq. The people had suffered there for more than 25 years.

The Lord said in Matthew 26:11, “ For you have the poor with you always…”  Cross reference to: Deuteronomy 15:11, “For the poor will never cease from the land, therefore  I command you saying, you shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy in your land.”

Oppression takes many forms such as to – swindle the poor, mistreat, deceive, cheat them of their rightful wages. Entrap, enslave, victimise, suppress them, fool and mislead them, all arising from the greed and prejudices of men.

Indeed we have the poor amongst us even today and in Gal 6:10 Christians are commanded to do good to all men. Our attitude to the poor and needy is a reflection of our attitude to our God. The statistics are staggering:

1.3 billion people live in absolute poverty worldwide, almost 1:4. 600 million people suffer from chronic malnutrition, 1:9 40 million people die each year from hunger related illness, half of which are children. In Australia, the figure living below the poverty line is 4% and rising. 1:8  household in Australia live in poverty. Asia’s poor in the year 2000 accounted for two thirds of the total in the developing world. 900 million people live on a mere dollar a day income. Asia is the most polluted and environmentally degraded region in the world.

I venture to suggest that a significant number in this world that we inhabit suffer poverty because of rich oppressors; because the rich grow richer upon the sweat of labourers. They have hardened the hearts and they have no conscience, no thought for the poor amongst them, just like the rich man who could not see Lazarus suffering at his feet (Luke 16:19-31).

Today, one can face oppression for many reasons, oppression because of:

Race (caste) Language spoken Religion and beliefs Colour of one’s skin Education (or the lack of it) Profession Place of birth/country Gender (against women…Taliban) One’s station in life Poor persecuted because they are defenceless Unprotected such as widows/orphans

In this short study, we are primarily concerned with how the rich oppress the poor because they are poor and keep them in poverty whilst enriching themselves on the toils of the poor. The warning to the rich is that all that they possess will waste away and most are temporal in nature, their garments, gold and silver will be no more and will not count for anything upon physical death.

The sins of the rich in verses 5 and 6 are that they had defrauded the poor, held back his wages, and grossly underpaid them.

Malachi 3:5, “And I will come near you for judgement…against  those who exploit wage earners and widows and the fatherless..”

Jeremiah 22:73, “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness And his chambers by injustices Who uses his neighbour’s service without wages and gives him nothing for his work.”

Brethren, such is the case even today in India, Philippines, Thailand and many other countries. In Singapore, there are reported cases of foreign workers from China and India who were underpaid and in some instances, not paid for their labour. The Straits Times (April 1, 2003) reported that “1400 dead in Bihar, India all because (the) State government did not pay wages.” This is state-induced oppression by a corrupt and unstable government.

 “You shall not defraud your neighbour nor rob him.   The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning.” Leviticus 19:13

God’s Word is clear, employers are to pay their workers their dues timely and without defrauding them. God hears the cries of the oppressed and the rich are fattening themselves for their own death at the hands of the righteous God. The rich who oppress the poor can expect no mercy from God.      But today, the rich continue in their relentless pursuit of more riches and wealth, materialism, the need to have more and more with at best a cursory inclination for God. “Millionaires seldom smile,” said Andrew Carnegie. The rich are consumed by their need for more wealth.

What good are the riches, we can’t take anything away at death.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there.”  Job 1:21

All the rich man’s wealth will be left behind to his family; some of it will be squandered and enjoyed by those who inherit them, even as the rich man is in torment.

Brethren I am not directing this lesson only at some rich men outside the church. God’s Word is for all. We are all rich with what we possess. How are we using them? Are we ourselves oppressors, do we have people working for us in our offices, are we people of authority in our workplaces, do we oppress them? In a tight job market where many are without jobs, those holding jobs are burdened with more work for less pay. People are working longer hours without overtime pay. Some are even expected to take wage cuts with the same, if not more work allotted to them…modern day oppression if you please.  This is happening in Singapore. Some employers are cutting wages at the slightest sign of the company’s financial difficulties. Others retrench workers without cause and even shirk out on workers’ compensation and benefits.

This type of oppression is occurring in many parts of the world, including Australia and Singapore. “Japanese boss held for under-paying overtime workers,” read a caption in the Singapore Straits Times Newspaper this year. The report further stated that withholding or under-paying such wages is a common practice. Even Toyota Motors, Japan’s largest carmaker and top corporate income earner for 3 years running had underpaid some of its workers. Some workers fearing retribution would not speak up and accepted the injustices.

What then are the effects of oppression on the poor and the less privileged in the society? I venture to suggest the following:

The poor gets poorer (poverty trap, if you please) The poor never able to break out of their poverty. Malnourishment amongst children and starvation Children, in turn are not able to rise up in life because of the oppression faced by their parents, lack educational opportunities. Workers, working longer hours for less pay, in turn affecting the family social order, older workers retrenched etc. Increased stress on the individual and his family, in turn affects his service to the church ( it should not but it does) Despair, depression, suicides (the situation reported in Bihar (India) were some killed themselves. In some cases civil disorder, conflicts, anarchy

Brethren, our God condemns all who ill-treat others and victimise/oppress other human beings.

Proverbs 14:31, “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honours Him has mercy on the needy.”

Cross reference to:

Proverbs 17:5, “He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker; He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.

Ecclesiastes 5:4, “…Pay what you have vowed. It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay.”

In the context it was a vow to God. Similarly, it can be applied to the employer-employee situation. 

In conclusion, the Bible warns us to be good employers and good employees. We all serve the greatest employer, the Lord himself. Let us not go out of our way to gain riches, to the detriment of our soul. Let us be aware of materialism; and let us do good to all men within our means and capabilities when the opportunities arise. God will bless the kind and merciful man who loves his neighbour, which is the second most important commandment.


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