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Wrestling with Wealth-James 5_1-6

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Wrestling with Wealth

James 5:1-6


In an editorial in Christianity Today, Harold Myra includes these words about the new materialism:

We see it in every stratum of society, often resulting in preposterous consumption in a desperately needy world. On TV we see Cher’s $6.4 million mansion, Jill St. John’s $100,000 fur, Aston Martin’s $150,000 Lagonda automobile, and a Paris jeweler’s $300,000 solid gold trinket case—all gushed over as wonders to envy.

As Gil Beers and I were discussing this recently, he told me a story: While at Forest Lawn in California, Gil had asked the mortician at the cemetery, “What was the most expensive funeral you ever had here?” The mortician didn’t have to search his memory. A man embittered at his ex-wife and children had left them almost nothing, but had provided bountifully for his own final, ostentatious farewell. He had assigned $200,000, about a half-million in [1985] dollars. First a bronze casket was bought for around $18,000, and a beautiful rose window was created for $25,000. But after these and other expenditures, the mortuary still had about $100,000. What next? Their solution was orchids—one hundred thousand dollars worth! And how many attended this $200,000 extravaganza? Exactly three.

·         We are living in a world where we have little concern for the most part about where our next meal will come from.

·         The concerns that occupy our lives are that of a materialistic society.

·         We have taken wants and converted them into needs.

·         What is it that we really need to live?  Think about that?

·         Then take that list and break it down further, I bet if we are absolutely candid with ourselves even our need list has wants in it.

·         Materialism is part of this world and it is a world that we live in and have often desired.

·         Haddon Robinson writes:

If there is one message that comes to us in ten thousand seductive voices, it’s the message of our country and our century that life does consist of things. You can see it on a hundred billboards as you drive down the highway. It is the message from the sponsor on television. It is sung to you in jingles on radio. It is blared at you in four-color ads in the newspapers.

We’re like the donkey that has the carrot extended before it on a stick. The donkey sees the carrot and wants it, so the donkey moves toward it, but the carrot moves, too. The carrot is always there, promising to fill the appetite. But what it promises, it does not deliver.

·         In the end it is not that we are buying into a new object or gadget, what we are buying into is an emotion.

·         If I get this thing then it will fulfil this emotional need or make me happy.

·         Watch the ads and you will notice that at times they are not even displaying the product, they display the atmosphere and the feeling.

·         They no that you are not foolish enough to believe that one kind of car will get you to work better than another.  But what they are counting on is that they can associate a feeling that you want with having that car.

·         God warns against falling into this materialistic trap of seeking wealth so that we can be our own masters and live our own lives.

·         James teaches us in chapter 5:1-6 that the end result of the preoccupation with wealth and materialism hurts us and others around us.

·         It does no good and only damages the work of God and he gives us a warning of the dangers of materialism.

The Outcome of Materialistic Living (5:1-3)  What is the fate of the Wealthy?

5:1 Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you. 5:2 Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. 5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure!

·         As is so common throughout the book of James, he echos the teaching of Jesus.

·         Jesus said in Matt. 19:23 that it was going to be difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, but why is that?

·         I believe we are given insight by Jesus’ words when he says that a person cannot serve both God and money.

·         Money creates a dependence upon itself, it creates a deception that without it a person cannot survive. It overtakes the heart and separates us from submission to God.

·         The ability to buy what you need and want fools a person into believing that they can do all things on their own, they become self-sufficient instead of God-sufficient.

·         Does this mean that money or wealth is wrong?  Absolutely not, but what it does tell us is that we should be careful of the consequences of allowing money to replace dependence upon God.

·         James in this passage is addressing those who are materially wealthy.  We are not told clearly if these are people who are in the church or outside of it.  But we do know that James is addressing the church body.

·         It would seem appropriate therefore to see James as speaking to those in the church who may not be believers but are attending the fellowship.

·         So how does this all relate to us?  I believe there is a lesson for all of us in this passage as to the dangers and fate of materialism.  The preoccupation is not restricted to those that have vast sums of money.  Even those who have moderate incomes or are poor can be consumed with wealth.

·         We observe that he gives a strict command for the rich to weep and cry because what lies ahead for them.  James’ words are reminiscent of Isa. 13:6:

13:6 Wail, for the Lord’s day of judgment is near; it comes with all the destructive power of the sovereign judge.

·         To place our lives in the hands of the almighty dollar may for a time seem to provide the security and desires that make this life easy.  We can buy into the concept that happiness comes with just a few more dollars.  Life would be better with a hefty inheritance.

·         We can look at others who have everything and we can find ourselves pitying ourselves because it seems that if we had their money we could have life so much easier.

·         But James says that that pursuit cannot last and in fact should cause the materialistic or rich to cry out for they will have a fate that all the money in the world cannot pull them out.

·         He says in verses 2 and 3 that all that you have will not last.

·         He identifies three areas for which they are wealthy but will not last.

·         There are the riches that will rot away.  This is a reference to the vast storehouses and sumptuous tables of food the rich have.  In the end it cannot be all consumed, in the end they will not be able to take it with them and it will sit in rotting heaps and wasted.

·         In Luke 12:16-21, Jesus shares a parable where he talks about the storing of wealth in the form of food and how it can be so easily taken away from us.

·         He says that their clothes will be eaten by moths.  A poor person may have had only one outer garment to wear but a rich person may have accumulated many find clothes that sit in their closets unused.  These clothes are temporal and fleeting.  All it takes to diminish a person’s wealth is a handful of moths that consume his riches and make it useless.

·         He then identifies a rich person as having gold and silver that will not remain.  It is well known that gold and silver do not rust but James is trying to communicate to his audience in a proverbial way that all their precious metals are not going to help them in the end.

·         Zephaniah 1:18says:

1:18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s angry judgment.

·         James makes itclear that the pursuit of wealth and materialistic living  do not deliver us to a better life, they do not solve our  problems and they do not deliver the wonderful life they try to portray.

·         In the end materialism consumes us, kills us, separates us from God and leaves us without security.

·         Which ironically were the very things we believed it would give us.

·         Solomon shares wisdom for us from Ecc. 2:4-11:

2:4 I increased my possessions: I built houses for myself; I planted vineyards for myself. 2:5 I designed royal gardens and parks for myself, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  2:6 I constructed pools of water for myself, to irrigate my grove of flourishing trees.  2:7 I purchased male and female slaves, and I owned slaves who were born in my house; I also possessed more livestock – both herds and flocks – than any of my predecessors in Jerusalem.  2:8 I also amassed silver and gold for myself, as well as valuable treasures taken from kingdoms and provinces.  I acquired male singers and female singers for myself, and what gives a man sensual delight – a harem of beautiful concubines!  2:9 So I was far wealthier than all my predecessors in Jerusalem, yet I maintained my objectivity: 2:10 I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted; I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure. So all my accomplishments gave me joy;

this was my reward for all my effort. 2:11 Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, I concluded: “All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless – like chasing the wind!  There is nothing gained from them on earth.”

·         The decay of riches stands as a testimony of how unreliable and useless these physical things are in the final days.  When life is at its end and ones destiny is coming to completion, wealth and the pursuit of materialism will not do any good.

·         The deteriation of riches will one day stand against a person James says because instead of using all that has been given to us to help others we can keep it as a false security for ourselves and misuse it.

·         While people are hungry in the streets, while people go without adequate clothing and while they struggle to make enough to live, the rich sit at their tables with plenty of food, wearing their fine clothes and making plenty of money.

·         Instead of putting to good use what they have they have kept it for themselves and it was more than they could use and so it wastes away.

·         The person who lives this way and acts this way will reap God’s judgment upon them.

Over the past 15 years, a New Jersey businessman has anonymously given away more than $600 million to universities, medical centers, and other beneficiaries. When a legal complication forced him to reveal his identity, he explained his generosity by saying, “Nobody can wear two pairs of shoes at one time. I simply decided I had enough money.”

A friend of the donor described him as a man who doesn’t own a house or a car, flies economy class, wears a $15 watch, and “didn’t want his money to crush him.”

·         As people of God what are we doing with the money we have?

·         Have we fallen into the trap of materialism, believing that just one more thing will make us secure or happy?

·         Are we scrapping our pennies, hoarding what we have instead of helping those in need?

·         All we have is God’s and it is time that we start acting that way because it is our very soul that is at stake.

Gaining Wealth for Materialistic Living (5:4)  How did they acquire their wealth?

5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

·         I was once told that if you want something in life bad enough you will do what ever it takes to get it.

·         It might mean that you take a second job or sell something so that you free up some cash.

·         For some it means that they might fib a little on their taxes.

·         For others it may mean that they twist the truth a bit here and there.

·         For still others they are not above using people in order to gain what they want.

·         There are countless stories of people being exploited for someone else’s gain.

·         There are sweat shops where workers are making practically pennies a day while the products they make gross millions of dollars.

·         The means by which we gain our riches says a lot about our heart and relationship with God.

·         James in verse 4 identifies that the materialistic person is willing to mistreat his workers in order to gain more profit for themselves.

·         These people put in an honest days work and you refuse to pay them.

·         Many of the workers that a farmer might employ in those times would have been day laborers.

·         They would have expected that at the end of each day they would receive their wages.  It was based upon these daily wages that a person provided for his family.  If the employer did not pay them at the end of the day their family would not eat that night.

·         James does not give these rich materialistic land owners any room to give excuses.  It is interesting that he mentions that they were ‘reapers’ which tells us that they were harvesting.  It was the end of the season and the farmer would have money from the harvest but instead of paying his workers he gained his wealth on their backs.

·         These workers would cry out over the injustice because there was little that could be done.  There was no court of government that would assure the worker of his pay.

·         James is making it clear that accumulating wealth while mistreating others is wrong.

·         To all of us that seems to make sense, but does it really apply to us?  I don’t own a company and I do not have workers.

·         Some of you have companies and have numerous workers but if anything you have gone that extra mile to pay them fairly so how does this apply to me?

·         All that we have is God’s possession.  As much as we may try to fight it there is not a single penny rattling around in your pocket that is actually yours.

·         If we do not use our money for the work of God which includes missionary efforts, para-church organizations and this church we are building our wealth at the expense of God.

·         I am not here to get on your case about how much you are giving.  Some of you are able to give much and some very little. 

·         I am not here to judge what percentage you should be giving that is between you and God.

·         What I am saying is that  if you are thinking that you cannot give because you have too many expenses or you need to pay for this or that, or my kids have things that they need or any other reason and have chosen to give nothing then God cries out against you.

·         The materialistic life is often willing to do whatever it takes, it will use deception, mistreat workers and even disappoint God in order to meet its need. 

It reminds me of a particular instance in the construction trade.  A builder had been constructing numerous houses and had always paid their subtrades but over time the frequency of payment changed and it became harder and harder to receive payment for the work done.  Suddenly they filed for bankruptcy leaving hundreds of thousands unpaid to trades and suppliers.  Legal action was taken but it was almost hopeless. The saddest part was that the owners of this now bankrupt company lived well and were not personally hurt by not paying their workers and in fact latter on started a new company when legally they should have still paid their workers.

·         What are we willing to do to people, our conscience or our God in order to fulfill our materialistic need for wealth?

The Expression of Materialistic Living (5:5)  How did they use their wealth?

5:5 You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

·         Let me make it clear once again, wealth is not wrong.  Getting rich is not wrong.  Driving a luxury car is not wrong, living in a fancy house is not wrong.

·         James says that how you get these things can be wrong if it exploits others.

·         Then in verse 5 he says that wealth is wrong depending on how you use what has been given to you.

·         He begins by describing in the first part of the verse by saying that they have lived indulgently.

·         The greek words used for indulgence and luxury are almost synonymous but the word indulgence has the idea that they did not deny themselves of anything and went beyond what was prudent.

·         The word used for luxury has the idea of imprudent living that revels in excess.

·         It reminds me of tele-evangelist Jimmy Bakker who’s dog house was air conditioned.

·         Indulgent living is living that wishes to buy the 100,000 sportcar when the 50,000 car would do.

·         It is desiring to live in a million dollar house when 300,000 or less lets you live more than comfortably

·         It is going beyond what is needed to extravagance.

·         What is further interesting given the context is that James considers this type of living particularly bad because of how it effects other people.

·         When one is living in indulgence and luxury their focus is not what they can do to build God’s kingdom.

·         They are not aiming to reach out to the lost and dying, they are not eager to help the hurting, they are simply living selfishly and they pursue their materialism.

·         James provides the motive of the heart of such individuals but then adds a twist to his condemnation.

·         The main aim of a person who is living materialistically and wanting to be rich is that they are hoping that they can find satisfaction, pleasure and happiness from what they can get from this world.

·         They have gorged themselves on a worldly philosophy that says that the more you have, or the better things you have the greater your life will be.

·         Their hearts have been fattened.

·         If I have this new gadget or this comfort then all will be well

·         If I can have these clothes or this type of appliances in my house then all will be well.

·         We can easily hope that if we belly up to the table of this world and consume enough of what is there that we will fill that void in our hearts.

·         But James says that it is not the satisfaction of the heart that you receive but you have prepared yourself for God’s judgment.

Ronald Warwick, captain of the luxury cruise ship Queen Elizabeth II, questioned a passenger who paid full fare for his dog to join them on an around-the-world cruise. (Accommodations range from $25,000 to $150,000.) “Wouldn’t it have cost less to leave him at home?”

“Oh no,” the man said. “When we are away a long time, the dog’s psychiatrist fees are so high, it’s less expensive to bring him along.”

·         Can you imagine what good could be done to help people if this couple would have treated their dog like a dog and people like people?

·         As Christians if God chooses to give us wealth it is not so that we can live materialistically but rather we have been given wealth so that it may benefit his Kingdom.

·         Have you fallen into the trap of participating in indulgent and luxury living?

·         Do you desire to have all those things and do all those things you see with the wealthy?

·         God has not called you to that, what he has called us to is to be there with our time and our money for other people which may mean you live in a more moderate home, hold off or even change that vacation, it can mean that do without a few more wants in favor of living for your needs.

The Maintaining of Materialistic Living (5:6)  How did they keep their wealth?

5:6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.

·         It is interesting once again to note that James has used such strong language as to bring the accusation of murder against his audience.

·         As in other passages in this book it is not clear whether he is referring to actual murder or is using the term symbolically.

·         For our purposes it is not out of the question to assume that he is referring to murder in a way that people are not actually dying but are oppressed to the point that they are in serious dire straits.

·         This can be seen by keeping in mind the context of the passage and the way by which the rich materialistic person has acquired his wealth.

·         In verse 4 he was willing to make his money by withholding what he owed to his workers.

·         The natural response of any person that had put in a fair days work was to seek help in getting their employer to pay them what he owed.

·         The imagery here is of a court case because the word in the greek for ‘condemn’ has the idea of finding or pronouncing someone guilty.

·         So it would seem that at least in a symbolic way the poor laborer has tried to secure his wages through legal action and has had the tables turned on him by the power and financial ability of the rich employer.

·         Though his influence he has made it appear that his workers are bringing false accusations against him and that it is really he who is the victim not the workers who he has mistreated.

·         In our world how often has the power of the unrighteous because of their wealth been able to turn the tables and make the righteous appear intolerant and mistaken.

·         There are those who maintain their standing by on the backs of the abused.

·         In the case of our text James has identified that at the very least the rich have symbolically starved their workers in order to maintain their luxury and because of their lack of resources and credibility they have been helpless to resist.

·         It reminds me of chapter two where favoritism is given to the rich simply because of their business prowess and fancy appearance but these could be the same rich people who have exploited people.

·         When the worker complains the rich are given the benefit of the doubt because after all this is a person of high standing and prestige.

·         In our materialistic society of which it is so easy for us to fall, how have we tried to maintain our materialism by holding others back or creating a false reality or deception?

·         As Christians we can so easily have our selves believe that we are justified in what we want and what it takes to get it.

·         In the work of the church how have we justified a false reality so that we have not fulfilled what God is calling us to do?

·         How have we made others out to be bad, accused others or even tried to turn the tables on God in order to make ourselves look better?

·         How have we been unwilling to look at ourselves and our own sin?

·         You see what James is saying here has far reaching implications beyond just wealth and materialism.

·         It has implications for our entire Christian lives and how we can tend to try to maintain our unspiritual façade.

·         We are called to be honest with our selves, others and God and face up to the reality of what we should be as Christians.

One couple shared how God shook them out of their complacency about deception. They were selling their home, which had a significant problem with flooding in a basement playroom. During the dry winter season, they replaced the carpet and put the house on the market.  They were showing it to a very interested buyer, and when they went to the playroom the potential buyer mentioned that the carpet looked new. “Sure,” the small daughter replied, “the old carpet got wet every time it rained.” This came as a shock, since the couple had skillfully avoided any mention of a water problem. The buyer left, but not without a thorough discussion of ethics and Christianity. You see, the couple selling the home was a well-known pastor and his wife. Later he told me, “We allowed our personal needs to choke out our spiritual values. God simply used the honesty of a young child to expose us.”


·         The message that James is giving us today is one that is deeply personal.

·         Like all other Christians I have things in my life, a sinful nature that tends to want to return again and again to the mire and muck.

·         I have bought into the lie that this or that will make me happy.

·         I have desired to be financially secure and have made compromises in the past to get it.

·         I have been envious of others and what they had.

·         I have compromised my obligations to God in order to feed my materialism.

·         If you are facing what James is talking about then you are not alone.

·         What I have found is that with much prayer and God’s grace change can begin to take place.

·         The key for me has been to recognize my weakness, seek God’s forgiveness and rely on his strength.

·         But if you are something like me then it will be a life long struggle, but it does not have to be a defeating struggle.

·         Materialism and the pursuit of wealth is a deadly poison and I would challenge you to honestly assess your priorities.

·         Are you dedicated in money matters to the work of the Lord?

·         What is the reason behind that new thing that you have bought or want to buy?

·         Has the acquisition of wealth or things or the desire for it enhanced or taken away from your relationship with God and the building or his Kingdom?

·         If it has there is hope, there is forgiveness and there is reconciliation.

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