August 8, 2001
And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You’ll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within.
You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment. All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You’ve looted the earth and lived it up. But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse. In fact, what you’ve done is condemn and murder perfectly good persons, who stand there and take it. Meanwhile, friends, wait patiently for the Master’s Arrival.
You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work. Be patient like that. Stay steady and strong.The Master could arrive at any time.
The Message New Testament
A "fatter than usual corpse" is James’ way of describing the transformation that can happen to you, when your preoccupation in life is on material things.
Two businessmen, vacationing at Miami Beach, were comparing notes. I’m here on insurance money, one said. I collected $50,000 for fire damage.
Me too, the other replied. But I got $100,000 for flood damage. After a long pause, the first man asked, Tell me, how do you start a flood? (1)
At the outset, let us remember the distinction here about money, or things. Money has no spiritual characteristics, no morality - money is amoral; there is nothing intrinsically negative or positive about money.
James is not saying it is a sin to be rich. That’s just a matter of how much money you have. Rather, James wants us to see that the potential for spiritual problems is the relationship one bears to money; his own, or that which his neighbor possesses (and he wants). That is what gives money its power to become a god. Timothy told us (1 Ti 6.10a) it is… …the love of money is the root of all evil:
The love of money - materialism; when your things become your gods.
This morning we will be like a skilled diagnostician. We will first look at the sickness - the Malady of Materialism. Then we will see the cure, the Medicine for Materialism.
Let’s take a look at what you become, when things become your gods.
The Malady of Materialism
A person is transformed into many things when material things or money becomes god in life:
1. You Become an Idolater
Jesus told the story of a rich fool (Luke 12). The man had so much. His harvest was many times larger than his barns. He decided to hoard it all - he would build bigger barns. That night he died - and he kept nothing. He was a fool.
We have that mentality in our culture today.
Get it, spend it on yourself, or hold onto it for dear life. Friend, it doesn’t matter if you’re:
....a spendthrift, always in debt, wondering how you will pay this month’s light bill…
....rich and enjoying every luxury…
....or a skinflint, pinching every penny, stuffing 401K’s under 12 different assumed identities.
The problem with spending or hoarding for you is the sickness of selfishness. It is self-idolatry. You tell God with your actions that generosity, willing to give to my neighbor in need, is wrong - getting for me, and holding on is right. It is a form of idolatrous gluttony. Things become gods.
A man was a regular customer at a restaurant. The management always did its best to please him. So, when he complained one day that only one piece of bread was given him with his mean, the waiter promptly brought him four slices.
That’s good said the man, but not good enough. I like bread - plenty of it! So, the next night he was given a half-dozen slices with supper. Good! he said, but aren’t you still being a bit frugal? Even a basketful the next day didn’t stop the complaints. The manager decided to end this for good. The next night he had a colossal loaf of bread baked. It was six feet long, three feed wide. It took the manager and two waiters to carry it to the complainer’s table. When they laid it on the table the huge loaf took up five place settings. They stood, just waiting for the man’s reaction. The man glared at the gigantic loaf of bread and said, So, we’re back to ONE piece again?
#2. You Become an Oppressor
If you’re successful enough to control a lot of money, you can then control people with it. Jesus told another story a rich man/poor man story. In Luke’s gospel again (ch 16) we read of Lazarus and Dives. Lazarus was the poor beggar, sitting at the Dives’ doorstep. He got scraps for his living.
In some way the rich man was responsible for the poor man. We know that because when they both died, the rich man went to hell - and Jesus tied the reason for that destination to the way he lived his life in relationship to the poor man.
It is the same as Cain and Abel. God told Cain that the blood of his brother Abel called out from the ground to convict Cain for his actions.
In our day we also have excuses.
....I can’t feed everyone;
....The government should do;
....God helps those who help themselves; et al.
In our country we should be ashamed to use excuses. The poorest of us have ten times more than half the world’s population. Most Americans have a hundred times more than 90% of the world’s people.
Oppression is when you have - and others do not - and you won’t even try to help. It means the possessions you have possess you! Things have become gods.
#3. You Become an Outsider
The Kingdom of God is populated with people who voluntarily place themselves near the King. It means we love what the King loves, do what the King wants - we love the King.
A young woman confided to her friend, I’ve broken-up with Jerry; the engagement is off. My feelings have changed toward him. Said her confidant, Did you give the ring back? Oh no, she replied, my feelings about the ring haven’t changed at all!
The fact is that God is not materially minded. He spoke the universe into existence - along with the cattle on a thousand hills. All of that means little to Him - he simply did it to display His sovereignty and His glory.
Our correct response as His created beings is to worship the Creator, and enjoy what He has given us. When we begin to worship our stuff, our nature changes. We are outside of the Kingdom.
Outside the kingdom? This is what it means to be an outsider:
14Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life.
15Outside the city are the dogs-the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie.
Revelation 22.14-15 N L T
What should be the cure? How do you begin to address the materialistic tendencies we have?
The Medicine for Materialism
James is really specific. He tells us what to do.
#1. If you’re poor, have Patience
Jesus is the Master gardener, and he knows when the time will be ripe to settle everything. We are not to grow impatient with the way He handles things.
In Jacksonville, Florida about ten years ago, I read about 5 year-old Tommy Stowell. Tommy was on a very long Christmas shopping excursion with his Mom, Linda. He thought he deserved a reward for being so good, so he nagged Linda for a toy. She refused. On the way home Tommy sulked for a while. Then, kneeling down behind the driver’s seat, Tommy cupped his hands over his mouth, and said in the deepest, booming voice a 5 year-old could muster, Linda, this is God. You should buy Tommy whatever he wants. (2)
If you are part of the have-not’s - don’t get impatient. Impersonating God (trying to call the shots, run the world) carries an awful burden. Rather, wait patiently, and let the Lord decide. You be faithful with whatever He places in your hand. After all, if He owns it all, He can decide where it goes.
#2. If you’re well-blessed, be Generous
The March 1988 Rotarian tells about a bounty of $5,000 offered for each wolf captured alive. It turned Sam and Jed into fortune hunters. Day and night they scoured the mountains and forests looking for their valuable prey. Exhausted one night, they fell asleep dreaming of their potential fortune. Suddenly, Sam awoke to see that about 50 wolves with flaming eyes and bared teeth surrounded them. He nudged his friend and said, Jed, wake up! We’re rich! (3)
A wake-up-call to the rich:It matters how you get money,and it matters what you do with it.
If God has placed material things, riches in your hand, the faithful response is, what, Lord? This is a good reminder - things are NOT gods.
These things have I spoken unto you,
That my joy might remain in you,
And that your joy might be full.
1. Joe McCarthy in The American Weekly, as quoted
in Reader’s Digest
2. Jacksonville Times-Union, 1992
3. Gary C. Payne, Reidsville, North Carolina.
Leadership, Vol. 11, no. 1.