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Your gold and your silver have corroded; and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. (James 5:3)
Gold and silver cannot rust, so James is figuratively saying that gold and silver are as worthless as something that has corroded. What do we do with something that is completely rusted through? We throw it in the garbage. These ones had placed all of their hopes in wealth, as opposed to placing their hopes in God up unto the last days. Now, these ones’ wealth were witnesses against them before God, condemning them.
Jesus came to offer all repentant ones an opportunity to act on the good news of the kingdom by evidencing trust in his ransom sacrifice. (Matt. 20:28; John 3:16) Speaking to the philosophers at Athens, Paul said, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30) Just two years after James’ letter, Christians suffered under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Nero in 64 C.E. while the Roman General Titus in 70 C.E. decimated Jerusalem and Judea. When we have no idea of the day and the hour of Jesus’ return, which should not be our motivating factor anyway, we should not have wealth as the primary factor in our life. We should not store up and rely on our riches to save the day, as they will only serve as a witness against us, bringing the fire of God’s anger. (Isaiah 30:27) It should be noted that wealth is not the enemy, but rather it is the love of wealth, the pursuit of wealth, the reliance upon wealth over our trust in God.
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Your gold and your silver have corroded. James is talking about those who have accumulated, through injustice and fraud, a large amount of wealth, keeping it from those that it is due. (vs. 4) Thus, it is being pictured as corroded from hoarding it. The Greek word rendered is corroded, (κατιόω katioō) occurs only here in the New Testament. It means to become rusty, become corroded, tarnished. James is not getting us bogged down in the oxidation of metal, as neither gold nor silver rust or corrode. However, if they are stored in a damp place for a long time, they will take on a dark color, seeming to rust. Yet, this really is not the point of the apostle. He is simply using that known fact to talk about gold and silver being stored away for a long time without use, especially when some of it is owed. On this, Clinton E. Arnold writes, “Again, gold and silver cannot become corroded. But this language was commonly applied to all kinds of metals, including gold and silver (e.g., Sir. 29:10; Ep. Jer. 10) with the general sense “decay” (cf. Ezek. 24:6, 11, 12). Verses 2b–3a therefore characterize wealth as transitory and in process of decay.” Keener writes, “Some other ancient writers ridiculed the rust of unused, hoarded wealth. For “rust” and “moth” (v. 2) together, compare perhaps Matthew 6:19. As Jewish sources often noted, wealth would be worthless in the impending day of God’s judgment.” (Keener 1993, 860)
And their corrosion. James does not use the same Greek word here. He uses (ἰός ios), which does refer to rust, corrosion. But it does also have the meaning of venom, poison (Rom. 3:13; Jas 3:8) emitted, (from ἕημι,) and can be used in reference to weapons like darts or arrows, or the bite of a serpent. Again, the reference here is a reiteration, emphasis about hording gold and silver for a long time without using it, especially when it is owed to others.
Will be a witness against you. The witness here is the dark color of the gold and silver that has sat for a long time, seeming to rust, which evidences it has been there for a considerable amount of time. This is another reference to money that is not being used to pay those it is owed or in doing good to help those in need. In the Ancient Near East, there were no banks or stocks to place one’s money to draw interest. Nor was it a common practice to invest one’s money in the real estate of the day.
And will eat your flesh like fire. This, of course, should not be taken literally, for it was not meant that way. The language is used to describe the judgment of God on those hoarding their wealth. On this, Albert Barnes writes, “their laying up treasures would be followed by painful consequences. The thought is very striking, and the language in which it is conveyed is singularly bold and energetic. The effect of thus heaping up treasure will be as corroding as fire in the flesh. The reference is to the punishment which God would bring on them for their avarice and injustice—effects that will come on all now for the same offences.”
You have laid up treasure in the last days. The last days is a reference to the day of judgment, the second coming of the Messiah, the end of wickedness. Those in the last days are trusting in their material possessions, storing up and relying on their wealth. This mindset will not dissipate when the second coming of Christ is closing in when the Day of Judgment has arrived. They will be facing eternal destruction. (Cf. Isaiah 30:27.) The apostle Paul says, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” (Rom. 2:5; vid. Ez. 7:19; Zephaniah 1:18.) The irony is the wealth that has just been sitting there unused will be the witness against the one who will be judged adversely. Arnold writes, “We could also translate ‘for the last days;’ some interpreters think that James may simply be describing the way the wealthy are saving money for the future. But the “last days” is a phrase that New Testament writers use against the background of Jewish apocalyptic to denote the age of salvation. The “last days” begin with the coming of Messiah and, in a twist on the Jewish apocalyptic scheme, will be climaxed in a second coming of the Messiah. Thus, the period of the church is ‘the last days.’ What James suggests is that the hoarding of wealth is all the more culpable because it is occurring in the age of salvation, with the Day of Judgment imminent.”
 Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Hebrews to Revelation., vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 112.
 Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: James to Jude, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 83.
 See, e.g., Acts 2:17; 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2; 2 Peter 3:3.
 Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Hebrews to Revelation., vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 112–113.