|WEALTH IN REAL LIFE
Series: Real Faith in Real Life - Part Ten
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
August 18, 2013
Would you join me at James 5 - starting at verse 1.
Looking at the top part of your message notes there’s a brief outline of where we’ve been. As we’ve been going through James - we’ve seen that real faith in the real time of our lives produces real stability in our lives. Real faith in real time produces real love. And in the part of James’ letter that we’ve been looking at - starting mid way through chapter 3 - real faith in real time produces real humility - which is the section of James’ letter that we are coming to the end of this morning.
This morning we’re coming to James 5:1 and Wealth in Real Life.
President Ronald Reagan said that the government’s view of money could be summed up in a few short phrases: “If it moves tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
A man explained why he bought his new car: “I was faced with the choice of buying a $60 battery for my old car or paying $15,000 for a new car. They wanted cash for the battery.”
Oscar Wilde once said, “When I was young, I used to think that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am older I know that it is.” (1)
Which is where James is going starting in verse 1. How our attitude towards wealth can either really mess up our faith - and really mess up our lives - or draw us deeper in our relationship with God - growing us to be who God has created us and called us to be.
We’re going to read verses 1 to 6 out loud together. Before we do that I need $200 cash. Does anyone have $200 they can give me? Cool. Thanks.
Let’s read these verses together: Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
What James is giving us is a reality check for the wealthy. He begins in verse 1 with A Warning For The Wealthy.
Come now - is James is way of saying “Pay attention” Wake up and smell the coffee. This is hugely serious. Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.
Those are powerful emotional words. Yes? Weep - lament - drop to your knees in sorrow. Howl - from the gut - cry out - wail out loud. What’s coming down on you is misery - hardship - suffering. Not the usual People magazine image of the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
James is writing about wealthy Jews spread out across the Roman Empire - not necessarily believers. Probably not believers. But wealthy - with attitude. An attitude that we can find ourselves getting caught up in. And thinking comparatively about wealth - a standard of living that most of us take for granted.
If we were to take most of the furniture out of our houses except for maybe a table and a couple of chairs - a blanket and some pads to sleep on. Get rid of all our clothing except for an old dress or suit - a shirt or blouse - maybe a pair of shoes. Empty out the shelves except for a small bag of flour, some sugar, salt, a few potatoes, some onions, maybe a dish of dried beans.
Shut off the running water - turn off the electricity - dismantle the bathroom - in fact get rid of the house all together and move the family into the tool shed - providing you have a tool shed. I’m not sure our kids realize yet why we have a shed in the back yard.
Cancel our subscriptions - we can’t read anyway. Get rid of the books - tablets - internet - cable - maybe the phone. Toss the bank books, stocks, pensions, insurance. Our sole financial assets are a whopping $10. Medical care is one doctor for every 17,000 plus people - which should make us appreciate Mercy.
The head of the family gets a few acres - maybe - to cultivate on which we can raise a few hundred dollars of cash crops - one third goes to the landlord and one tenth goes to the money lenders. And lastly lop off twenty-five years or more of life expectancy. Which means some of us here are no longer here or almost there.
All that is a picture of the way a huge portion of the world lives.
Point being - We may not think of ourselves as wealthy. But we are. When James is warning the rich about their attitude - we need to sit up and listen as well. Because we can have attitude.
It is so easy for us to fall into the trap of doing the “I’m following the American Jesus” thing thinking that we’re all end users of all the stuff that God has blessed us with. We can get on cruise control thinking that we’ve got this wealth thing nailed and so we’re good. Thinking that God wants us to be comfortable. All these abilities and opportunities and possessions and wealth is what it means to be a Christian in America.
James is writing to wealthy - not believers and believers - people like us - writing not because they had it all together - as if we do - but because the wealthy need to pay attention and weep and howl - why? Because misery is coming. There is some real serious potential hurt here - to us and others - if we don’t get this right.
Moving on through James’ reality check - there are some realities here that we need to keep in the forefront of our thinking.
The first comes in verse 2 where James writes about corrosion: Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire.
Years ago a read about an auction where people could bid on items that people had left behind in safe-deposit boxes. There was a list of what some of those items were. Examples: Diplomas, coin collections, jewelry, train tickets, passports, marriage certificates - and the list goes on. Fascinating stuff - undeveloped film, the ink print of a newborn’s feet, photographs, diaries, newspaper clippings.
Items that people once thought were so important that they’d paid money to have them safeguarded in steel. Stuff that revealed - after their owners had died - stuff that revealed what was most important to them. Its like a taking a tour of why they lived their lives they way they did.
One of the great never ending tasks in life is to keep ahead of the stuff coming through the door. Stuff accumulates proportional to the space available. As soon as we clear out more space more stuff takes its place. Its a mystery how that happens. But it does. Doesn’t it?
Take a quick mental tour of where you live. How many of you have safe deposit boxes? Or an auxiliary storage unit - commonly called a garage? People have so much stuff they have to rent storage space to hold it all. We’re getting buried under an avalanche of stuff that’s all rotting and rusting - corroding. Which by the way is an unashamed pitch for bringing stuff in for the Yard Sale.
In James’ day if we wanted to show off our wealth - our position in life - we could do that by partying, parading, and procuring. Eat well - dress well - and buy well. Lifestyles of the rich and famous. Not much changes.
Problem is - James writes - food rots, garments get eaten, metal tarnishes. As it rots and digests and rusts - oh my - all the stuff were trying to strut is all giving evidence - speaking volumes about our heart attitude - our greed - our selfishness - our foolishness - the value we’re giving to what we really think is important in life.
Os Guinness records what is a sobering confession by a successful businessman - a prominent businessman who was speaking at a conference near Oxford University:
“As you know, I have been very fortunate in my career and I’ve made a lot of money - far more than I ever dreamed of. Far more than I could ever spend, far more than my family needs.”
At that point in his speech this hugely successful businessman hesitated - betraying deeper emotions hidden beneath his outward demeanor of a speech maker. A single tear rolled down his well-tanned cheek.
“To be honest, one of my motives for making so much money was simple - to have the money to hire people to do what I don’t like doing. But there’s one thing I’ve never been able to hire anyone to do for me: find my own sense of purpose and fulfillment. I’d give anything to discover that.” (2)
We need to do the reality check - frequently. Is what we’re giving so much of our time and effort and mental energy to - is it really worth it?
James goes on in verse 3: You have laid up treasure in the last days. Meaning - as the wealthy are packing away a nest egg of rotting, decaying, corroding stuff for the future - the wealthy have a storage problem.
Remember this picture? It makes the point doesn’t it?
Jesus: “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36)
Remember the quote from Fiddler on the Roof? “If the rich could hire others to die for them we, the poor, would all make a nice living.” But the rich can’t. 100% of dead wealthy people are all 100% dead. And then what?
Benjamin Franklin said: “If your riches are yours, why don’t you take them with you to t’other world?” (4)
Let’s be clear. Having wealth isn’t the problem. A person can be wealthy and still be Godly. A little tougher maybe. But still possible. The issue is our attitude - our heart focus.
Hear this: James is saying, when we leave God out of our wealth - when our attitude about wealth focuses on us and not God we are in serious serious trouble. Life is pretty empty if the end point of wealth management is the marble orchard.
The last days are the days just before Jesus comes back to judge us - before we enter into either eternity with God or eternity in hell.
The wealthy are running after the things of this world - insatiably desiring more - hoarding all this stuff that’s rotting away and craving more - indulging themselves - with one problem. Which is? Where’s God?
No where. They’re only thinking about themselves today - and not God - and what matters for eternity.
James is saying that we need to do a reality check and grab some eternal perspective. God’s perspective of wealth - His eternal purposes for giving it. What God is about doing in this world according to His will and for His glory. God who calls us to a greater use of what He’s blessed us with than our wants and desires and temporary band aid attempts to cover our deeper issues.
Take a good look in the eyes - in the heart - of someone who has the wealth of the world but is missing faith in Jesus - and we’ll see the reality that James is warning us about here in verses 1 to 3: Hoarding the world’s riches returns miserable dividends. Dividends of stress and worry and bitterness and emptiness - misery.
James goes on - starting in verse 4 is another reality we need to pay attention to. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
Thirdly, there were the farmers and artisans who might have land - or they had land - and they’d been forced off of it so they were now working on what had been their land - working to make someone else rich. Life for the laborer was cheap.
Then there were the merchants and traders who were pretty well off. In fact, some of them were pretty rich. Then at the top of the economic ladder were the large land owners and the priests. They had large, tenant-farmed estates and spent most of their time in the city enjoying themselves.
A poor worker - bottom of the ladder - might have been given 1 denarius a day as a wage. At the top of the ladder, the rich were easily spending 400 denari a day in self-indulgent extravagance. Their whole focus was on themselves. It didn’t matter what they did to accumulate the wealth or to indulge themselves. They paid almost nothing in wages - or they cheated workers out of their wages - paying them far less than what they’d promised. They ran people off their own land.
At the bottom of the ladder the misery was intense - almost unbearable. At the top of the ladder no one cared.
Which thankfully is an attitude we have no clue about today. Right?
Think back to 2008 and the financial crisis. The super-rich rewarding themselves with bonuses while people under them are loosing their jobs and homes. Reality is that the greediest people are some of the wealthiest and the most generous will give away their last penny. That’s been a part of human history since human history.
The rich - surrounded by all their wealth - all their self-indulgent luxury - they didn’t hear the cry of the laborer. In reality - they weren’t listening. “I can’t hear you.”
But when the laborers - the harvesters - cried out - from the depths of their being - their hearts crying out in sorrow and pain - crying out because of the injustice - God heard even the tinkling of the coins - the wages withheld.
James writes that their cry reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. Hosts meaning armies not waitresses. The Lord of hosts means the Lord of the armies of heaven. That’s huge.
James’ Jewish readers would have clicked on that title - Lord of hosts - would have grabbed on to that in an instant. It’s a title that came right out of their history and culture. Its an allusion to the coming end times judgment and God judging and waging war on His enemies. (Isaiah 2:12).
To the Jews what James wrote was a reference to God taking out the Egyptians. Think Moses and the Ten Plagues. Just like God’s people were oppressed in Egypt - enslaved - in bondage - their voices crying to out to God - voices that reached to heaven - God responded to their cries by bringing His judgment down on the Egyptians. (Exodus 2:23-25)
The Lord of the armies of heaven today hears the cry of His oppressed people and the Lord God Almighty - supreme commander of the Universe - is going to do some serious dealing out of hurt against the oppressors.
We need to let that sink in.
God is watching and hearing what’s going on. He - God - holds us accountable for our use or abuse of wealth. Meaning - if we’re using what God has blessed us with at the expense of people that God is defending and raising up we are in serious serious trouble before God.
Verse 5: You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
Within 10 years after James wrote this - Josephus - the Jewish historian - writes that Titus - the Roman general who overthrew Jerusalem - when Titus marched into Jerusalem in 70 AD. he rounded up the fat people and tortured them to death to find out where their treasures were.
Rich people. Live it up. All the rotting and rusting stuff that you’re filling your life with - enjoy what you can now. Because you all are like a pig at the trough - pounding down that slop - getting fat - eating your way to extinction. Judgment is coming
Verse 6: You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
The word “righteous” here is singular. Meaning its a description of a kind of person - someone who like Jesus - the ultimate righteous person - someone who as a follower of Jesus - like Jesus endures condemnation and oppression and even martyrdom for their faith. It includes all the righteous people - who are just trying to do life following Jesus - being honest and not cheating and lying their way through life - the righteous who are brutalized by wealthy unbelievers.
Point being - people are dying because of you. They don’t resist you because they can’t. You’re on top. You’ve got all the cards and the deck is stacked. But God - the Lord of hosts - God knows. He knows their suffering - our suffering.
Which - on one hand - is a huge reassurance for us. God knows how you’re living - seeking to follow Jesus in the corruption of this world - and what you’re going through. God gets it. Judgment is coming.
Which - on one hand - is a huge reassurance for us. And - on the other hand - is a reality check for how we use wealth.
Jesus told them about a rich man who lived in luxury and ignored the poor man Lazarus. Lazarus who lived outside the rich man’s gate - lived covered in sores and surrounded by dogs and eating the scraps that fell off the rich man’s table.
Both men died. The rich man went to Hell and the poor man went to Heaven. The rich man could see into Heaven - and from the agony of Hell - he cried out for relief.
The reply comes down from Heaven, “Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.” (Luke 16:19-31 TNLT)
On one hand Jesus’ story shows God’s response to the needs of the poor. The name Lazarus literally means “God is my help.” Sick, crippled, impoverished - Lazarus received compassion from God.
Let’s be careful - being poor doesn’t make one righteous. But, just skimming through Scripture shows that God hears, feeds, satisfies, rescues, defends, raises up, secures justice - God is hugely concerned with the situation of the poor who trust in Him. These are people that the Lord of hosts is intensely concerned with. God gets it.
On the other hand Jesus’ story shows God’s response to those who neglect the poor. God responds to them with condemnation.
Let’s be careful. Wealth alone does not mean we’re unrighteous. The rich man ends up in Hell - not because he had money - he ends up in Hell because he lacked faith in God. He’s trusting in himself. Storing away wealth for himself. Which led him to a self-focused lifestyle of self-indulgent luxury while ignoring the needs of Lazarus outside his gate.
Let’s be clear - the poor James is writing about - the poor of the New Testament were significantly worse off than the professionally poor people in America today who’ve made a business off of mooching off of people and the system.
The poor James is writing about - the Lazarus class of poor are more like the 1 to 2 billion people in the world today who live and die in desperate poverty attempting to survive on less than 1 or 2 dollars a day - struggling to find food, water, and shelter with less money than we spend at Starbucks without even thinking twice.
The implications of what James is writing should challenge us. Not only do those realities of poverty and need exist. But God takes very seriously how we respond to them.
Our response to legitimate need - legitimate need some of which is a part of life in Merced - our response to legitimate need tells volumes about the reality of our heart attitude towards God. When it comes to wealth are we on the same page with God? Are we using wealth following God’s purposes - or are we on our own page - hoarding wealth for ourselves even at the expense of others.
David Platt - in his book Radical - taking back your faith from the American Dream - David Platt writes: “If I have been commanded to make disciples of all nations, and if poverty is rampant in the world to which God has called me, then I cannot ignore these realities. Anyone wanting to proclaim the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth must consider not only how to declare the gospel verbally but also how to demonstrate the gospel visibly in a world where so many are urgently hungry.” (5)
The implications of that are uncomfortably challenging. Are they not?
Our response is to meet physical needs. Which is crucially important. But inexorably tied to physical needs is the opportunity to meet spiritual needs. Supporting ministry here at Creekside. Supporting missions out there. Our very witness in the community.
James’ reality check in verses 4 to 6 can be put this way: Hoarding the world’s riches yields nothing good for eternity.
Proverbs 11:4: “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.”
James warns us about the last days - about laying up treasure and about judgment. One day God the great accountant is going to conduct His audit of our lives. God is going to submit to the wealthy a bill that they cannot pay - that none of us can pay - not with all the stored up wealth and IRA’s and lands and silver and gold in the UHaul.
The only way that bill can ever get paid is with the priceless blood of Jesus on the cross. Jesus bearing the full punishment for our sins with His own death.
It may seem like the unrighteous are getting away with murder - prospering at the expense of others - but the bottom line is that God remembers - God judges. There is more going on here than temporal discomfort.
Those who enter eternity having never trusted in Jesus as their Savior - never having trusted in Jesus as the one acceptable payment for the debt of our sin - will stand before the throne of God’s judgment without hope - will enter eternity forever judged and condemned - forever separated from God.
That battle over that eternal destiny - the investing of everything in God’s redeeming work - whether we’re wealthy - poor - or someplace in between - that accountable to God use of wealth is a crucial reality check for each one of us. Are we engaging our resources in the battle for the eternal destiny of man or are we hoarding them uselessly for ourselves?
Processing what James writes - thinking about wealth in the real time of the out there drama of our lives - there’s one question that every one of us answers every day of our lives.
Here it is: Who’s wealth is it? Is it my wealth or God’s wealth? Those are the only two options - only two possible ways to answer the question.
When our attitude towards wealth is that its my wealth - my house - my car - my portfolio - we have an expectation of attaining - preserving - a certain standard of living - an entitlement to luxury. We get caught up in spending our time - our thoughts - our efforts to pursue that standard. We get bent out of shape when our comfort zone is impinged upon. We get anxious thinking that someone or something - a disaster or a downturn in the market - could take some of our stuff away.
When our attitude towards wealth is that its my wealth we get resistant to God when He prompts us to give - especially if that might mean sacrificing some of that wealth - taking a lower standard of living - giving up some of our comfort - changing our lifestyle. We spend so much money on ourselves - and yet church budgets go unmet. Missions go unsupported. Ministries which could expand and grow - which could reach so many with the Gospel - are hindered because we cling to our wealth.
When our attitude towards wealth is that its my wealth our attitude towards other people changes. We find it easier to cut corners - to treat people unfairly - to deal with others in ways that benefit us. We begin to think that “less fortunate” people somehow deserve their lives - that those of us with more have no or little responsibility towards them.
People may be crying out to God in misery - people maybe dying - because of our attitude towards wealth. That sounds extreme. Doesn’t it? But, that was the reality in James’ day. And there are serious implications - a reality here - that touches even our own lives.
The bottom line is this - when we view our wealth as my wealth - when God no longer has a place in our thinking about wealth - or that we’ve relegated Him to a lesser role then ourselves - then we’re in - what? serious trouble. Heading for serious misery.
On the other hand - understanding that all wealth is God’s wealth - and living trusting God with that heart level understanding - that opens up to us a totally different reality.
When we began I asked for $200 cash. Didn’t say what I was going to do with it. Just that I needed it. And Adrian came up here and gave me one.
That might have surprised a few people. Maybe you wondered what Adrian was doing with $200. Suddenly Adrian became pretty popular. You might have been thinking he was being generous - or crazy - bringing that up here. Thinking about all the things he could do with that money.
Follow me on this: Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to give someone $200 cash if it was really theirs in the first place? If we’re just returning it to them? As soon as we start thinking of that $200 as ours - starting thinking about how that $200 could meet some of our needs - wouldn't it be just a tad harder to give it up.
The reality is that - before the service - I gave Adrian that $200. I told him that during the service I would ask him for it back. Think about that. It was still my $200 and I still had use for it even though I had placed it in Adrian’s care.
Which is God and us. Our use of wealth - even our faith - our trust in God gets messed up when we start thinking that what we have is really ours. But hugely freeing for us when we realize that all we have is really His - period.
I heard about a proposed 1040 short form from the IRS. Line one says, “List all the money you made.” Line two says, “Send it all in.” (6) Its all ours anyway. Just send it.
In a spiritual sense that’s true of God. He does own all the wealth. Its His. Everything we have - our bodies - even our very souls - belong to God.
When we can humble ourselves - letting go of our trying to hang on to what’s rotting, digesting, and corroding - trying to control and possess what what’s really not ours anyway - and trust God with what is His - to trust Him to supply what we need - to unreservedly trust Him to use all of what we have for His purposes - that eliminates a whole lot of stress and misery and opens us up to a whole lot of opportunity - for now and forever.
Bottom line - pun intended - bottom line: How have you answered the question? Who’s wealth is it?
1. Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes
2. Os Guinness, The Call - Finding And Fulfilling The Central Purpose Of Your Life, Nashville, TN: Word, 1998 - cited by Dave Kraft, Leaders Who Last, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010
3. Martina Navratilova, Martina, 1985
4. Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard, 1751
5. David Platt, Radical - Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream, Multnomah Books, 2010, pages 108,113,114
6. Ben Patterson, The Grand Essentials
General series reference: Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on James, 1 and 2 Peter - Zondervan, 2010
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.