************ Sermon on James 5:1-6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 13, 2007
"Living for Wealth"
As I said last week, James loves to come back to the same themes over and over again. One of the themes he keeps bringing up is wealth or earthly riches:
(James 1:9-11) The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. (10) But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. (11) For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.
(James 2:1ff) ... don't show favoritism [to the wealthy].
(James 5:1) Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.
Don't forget that James writes to servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. These brothers and sisters were persecuted for their faith. In the face of these great trials, it seems that many of these believers were tempted to place hope in wealth or were infatuated with wealth. So James offers more than one warning about living for wealth.
Before we look at the passage in front of us, let me offer a couple of general observations. First, not every wealthy person lives for wealth nor does every wealthy person expect favoritism. Second, many poor or middle-class people pursue wealth as avidly as some of the rich; someone once said the poor man can hoard his crusts as much as the rich man hoards his gold. Third, in our Bible reading James appears to be speaking about rich people who are outside of the church – we will see the significance of this as we go through the passage in front of us.
I Ungodly Wealth
A It seems that the rich people James is talking about gained their wealth in less-than-godly ways.
"You have hoarded wealth in the last days" (James 5:3). The "last days" is a common New Testament term that refers to the time following Jesus' resurrection. It also reminds us that Jesus can return at any time, when we least expect Him. We are in the "last days." The resurrection and return of Jesus has changed everything. The resurrection and return of Jesus has changed the meaning and direction of life. The resurrection and return of Jesus has changed what we consider to be important and unimportant.
"You have hoarded wealth in the last days" (James 5:3). James is rebuking those who have focused on gaining wealth for themselves. In these "last days" when people should live a life of service and get ready to meet the Lord these people have concentrated, instead, on the accumulation of wealth. They have chosen to keep and spend rather than to give and serve.
Topic: GivingThe Marquis had the right idea. Instead of hoarding wealth, he used it to help those in difficult circumstances.
Marquis de Lafayette was a French general and politician who joined the American Revolution and became a friend of George Washington. An influential man in the U.S. and France, Lafayette was also a man of compassion. The harvest of 1782 was a poor one, but the manager of his estate had filled his barns with wheat. "The bad harvest has raised the price of wheat," said his manager. "This is the time to sell."
Lafayette thought about the hungry peasants in the villages and replied, "No, this is the time to give."
I came across a quote this past week. "Just in terms of allocation of time resource, religion is not very efficient. There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning." Do you know who said this? Bill Gates, Founder and CEO of Microsoft and richest man in the world (quoted in Chicago Tribune, Jan 13, 1997). Bill Gates thinks that earning another million is far more important than the worship of God. In the last days he is hoarding wealth.
Remember who James is writing about? In our Bible reading James appears to be speaking about rich people who are outside of the church. He is speaking about unbelievers. James wants us to ask ourselves a question: Am I like them? Am I like the unbelievers? In these last days do I hoard wealth?
How is it that we Christians can hoard wealth? I doubt if any of us, like Bill Gates, stay away from divine worship in order to earn another dollar. Yet, we may choose to work late rather than attend Bible Study – we choose material wealth over spiritual wealth. We hoard wealth when we refuse to be generous to the poor and needy. We hoard wealth when we have no problems spending money on ourselves – vacations, cars, trucks, computers, bikes, homes – but do not give to the church and kingdom.
Topic: ChurchWe have learned from church history that when the church has increased in worldly riches and worldly wisdom, she has correspondingly decreased in spiritual power and piety. It isn't good for the soul to "hoard wealth in the last days."
Title: Church Without Power
When Thomas Aquinas visited Rome, and was shown the gorgeousness of the papal palace, the pope remarked to him, "Well, Thomas, the church in our day can not say, Silver and gold have I none. "
"No," replied Aquinas, "neither can she say, 'In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.'"
-- Rev. C. Perrin, as quoted by Rev. Aquilla Webb in, 1000 Evangelistic Illustrations, (New York: Richard R. Smith Inc., 1930), p. 54.
B James has more to say about the rich and the less-than-godly ways in which they have gained their wealth:
(James 5:4) Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.
God is not pleased when wages are not paid. In the Old Testament there is warning after warning against this.
(Deu 24:14-15) Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. (15) Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
(Lev 19:13) Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.
(Jer 22:13) "Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.
(Mal 3:5) "So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty.
At the time of James some of the rich and wealthy gained their wealth by defrauding those who worked for them. We all know that this kind of practice continues to this day. The newspapers tell us about police raids on sweat shops – legal and illegal immigrants are taken advantage of and work for poverty wages. We hear of labor contractors who take advantage of their workers – taking a high percentage of their pay, charging them gross amounts for food and transportation and housing, and making them work long hours.
Again, it is one thing when worldly unbelievers do this. It is an entirely different thing if Christian employers take advantage of employees. Servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ must always make sure their employees are paid a fair wage.
C James has even more to say about the rich and the less-than-godly ways in which they have gained their wealth:
(James 5:5) You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.
James is talking about rich people who surrounded themselves with every kind of luxury. Their goal was to establish a life without hardships and trials and pain. You might think that sounds pretty good until you remember what James says about suffering at the start of his letter:
(James 1:2-4) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (3) because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. (4) Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.James does not recommend the avoidance of trials at any cost because faith grows under trial. It becomes real under trial. It becomes heartfelt under trial. Of course, this was the main reason James wrote his letter – he wants believers to live out their faith thereby showing that their faith is real.
D James has even more to say about the rich and the less-than-godly ways in which they have gained their wealth:
(James 5:6) You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.It seems doubtful if James means this literally. In chapter 4 James accuses Christians of killing and adultery and we concluded he meant spiritual murder (or hate) and spiritual adultery (or disloyalty to God). So, how have the rich condemned and murdered? Al Gore says we condemn and murder every time we drive a SUV. Cheryl Crow says we condemn and murder every time we use more than one square piece of toilet paper. Michael Moore says we condemn and murder every time we battle terrorists who want to destroy and kill us. These positions are extreme but underlying them is a question of lifestyle. Sometimes our lifestyle choices does great harm. We choose to go on with our life and our comforts instead of thinking of the well-being of others.
Topic: MoneyIt is a lifestyle choice on our part that we spend more on beer than we spend on international relief. It is a lifestyle choice on our part that we spend more on our pets then we give to charity.
UNICEF estimates that childhood malnutrition, preventable diseases, and illiteracy could be eradicated over the next 10 years at a price tag of about $25 billion per year. The amount that U.S. residents spend on beer annually is $31 billion.
Again, it is one thing when worldly unbelievers do this. It is an entirely different thing if Christians deliberately make lifestyle choices that do great harm to the environment or to those in other countries.
II Trusting in Wealth
A Listen to what James says to those worldly people who have amassed their wealth in ungodly ways:
(James 5:1) Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.The worldly rich put their trust in their wealth. They depend upon their wealth. They look to their wealth. Their wealth is their comfort in life and in death.
"Weep and wail," says James. Why? Because wealth does not last, because wealth is temporary, because wealth is a very poor crutch to lean on as we walk into the last days. Listen to how James explains this:
(James 5:2-3) Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. (3) Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.Does this sound familiar? It should. James is sounding like his brother Jesus. He is loosely quoting from what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount:
(Mat 6:19-21) "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. (20) ... (21) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Worldly wealth is temporary. You can't take it with you. And, it is unbelievably fickle. What you have today might be gone tomorrow.
If you are trusting in your wealth, your life is built on shifting and sinking sand.
Again, it is one thing when worldly unbelievers do this. It is an entirely different thing if Christians put their trust in their wealth and money and riches – something that is here today and gone tomorrow.
B I want you to also consider what money cannot do. No amount of money can save your soul. Paying for a church building or giving huge amounts to the church budget does not give you right standing with God. Listen to what the Psalmist says about this:
(Ps 49:7-9) No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him-- (8) the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough-- (9) that he should live on forever and not see decay.Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul.
Money can do lots of things, lots of good things. It can be used in good and positive ways. There are also lots of things money cannot do. This is how one author put it:
Money will buy a bed; but not sleep;
companionship, but not friends;
books but not brains;
food but not appetite;
finery but not beauty;
a house but not a home;
medicine but not health;
luxuries but not culture;
amusements but not happiness;
religion but not salvation;
a crucifix, but not a Savior;
a passport to everywhere but heaven.
Money can buy the good life, but not eternal life.
No wonder James tells the worldly rich to "weep and wail." Money is a good servant but a poor master. The lure for gold is stronger than the human will, and with many a man it stands between his soul and his God. Someday it will be discovered that the bars that shut many out of the kingdom of heaven are forged of silver and gold.
As Proverbs tells us, many wealthy people don't think they need God (Prov 30:8-9). But wealth in no way lessens my need to rely on God. If anything, it increases it. I am in greater spiritual danger when I have plenty than when I have nothing.
Remember, James is speaking about the wealthy outside of the church. But he directs our attention away from them and to ourselves. He wants us to make sure we are not like the worldly wealthy. He wants us to cry to God for the grace to never stop trusting in Him. He wants us to cry out to God that our wealth comes only by the most godly of ways. He wants us to cry out to God that wealth never comes at the expense of our soul.
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