Listen, the wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Almighty. (James 5)
The second problem James seems to have with the rich people he is speaking to is that they are cheating people out of pay they have rightfully earned. In all honesty, I don't have much personal discomfort at this one. I can't think of anyone I owe money to, for any reason, that I don't pay. At worst, I'll admit to sometimes forgetting to tip folks whose services I rarely use -- like, the baggage handler at the airport. It's not that I'm cheap, or trying to cheat them; I just flat-out forget. Traveling is hectic and stressful, you know.
But as I noted in part one of this series, I have friends (whose voices I can hear now) who would use this bit of scripture to back up governmental policies they support. Friends who often decry the "obscene" salaries of CEOs compared to the minimum wages their factory-workers make. (SIGH. I am most certainly all for every worker getting paid a fair wage that they can live on, but the constant slamming of American CEOs -- who are NOT all corrupt, or care-less of their employees, or even overpaid necessarily -- just smacks of bitterness. It gets very old.)
Nevertheless, what I notice about this complaint of James, compared to #1 and #3, is that this one seems to actually be within the realm of what a government should deal with. Ensuring that contracts are upheld. That people get paid what they have been promised. This is a legitimate state duty. Yet, I would argue that the content of these contracts -- that is, how much a worker gets paid -- is NOT within the realm of what a government should deal with.
Some of said friends would also use this scripture in their arguments against companies sending work overseas where they can get a job done for a fraction of the wages. Another SIGH. A very complicated issue. I'll only make a couple of quick points. If those overseas workers are being paid a wage that is a living wage in their community (even if it sounds like pocket change for us), they are not being cheated. Second, if the companies know what the market value of their product is (that is, what consumers are willing to pay for it) and they determine that they cannot produce that product at that price with American workers earning American minimum wage, just what are they supposed to do? Use American workers anyway and lose money on every item they sell -- and ultimately go out of business, sending all their employees into unemployment? I think a lot of the grumblers here are not looking at the big picture.
However, I'm getting off-topic. My point was that this particular wrong -- failing to pay your workers what is due them -- is a wrong done against another person. It is one against which the state should legislate and judiciate. (Is "judiciate" a verb? Well, I just made it one.) On the other hand, the other two -- hoarding your money and excessive indulgences -- are wrongs done against the self and against God. The government does not have the right to tell people how to spend their own money; only their God does.
Perhaps that's why the other two points are more convicting to me. I'm accountable to no one but God in these areas. And accountability to God is a serious thing.