Summary: If we don’t learn to handle our wealth in a godly manner, it can separate us from God.
Being rich can make us spiritually poor.
A story is told of a rich man who was on his death bed. He called in three of his friends, a pastor, a doctor and a lawyer to give them a strange request. He gave each of the men an envelope with one million dollars in it. He instructed the men that during his burial, each of the men were to take the envelopes and throw them into his open grave. The rich man wanted to prove that he could indeed take it with him. Well, the rich man soon died and his three friends came to the funeral and committal. Each of them in turn threw an envelope into the open grave before the casket was covered over. After the service, the three met for coffee together. The pastor was the first to open up. He said, “Fellows, I have a confession to make. The church was desperately in need of money to repair the roof. So I took out $200,000 from the envelope and used it for church expenses.” The doctor spoke up next. He said, “Since we’re having confessions, I took out $500,000 to help fund the new wing on the hospital.” The lawyer responded and said, “I’m surprised at you gentlemen. I would like you to know that I put in a cheque for the total amount.”
Riches can make us spiritually poor. Whatever you think about money, you have to admit that it has a huge amount of power. We may laugh at that story, but what if you were in that situation? What if you were given a million dollars and told to throw it away? Wouldn’t the thought cross your mind to use some of that money for other purposes? Our maybe you’d be tempted to show up that night at the burial site with a shovel. None of us is immune from the influence of money on us. This passage gives a very clear warning about wealth. For us, living in North America, the richest continent in the world, we need to pay attention to what God is saying in these verses (read James 5:1-6).
Pray. Being rich can make us spiritually poor.
This passage begins exactly in the same way as the previous passage. “Now listen...” James wants to catch our attention, to make us take notice of this very important topic. In this passage he addresses a particular group of people. He talks to rich people. Now I think it bears notice that he isn’t talking to rich people in general. He isn’t speaking about rich people in the world and complaining about them. He is addressing this message to rich people. He expects the rich people he is addressing to actually read the letter. Who would read this letter? Only the people in the churches the letter was sent to. So this message is addressed to rich people who were adherents in the church. They were Christians, or at least they appeared to be so on the outside. Now this isn’t the first time James talks about rich people in the church. Back in James 2:2-3, he talks about a specific situation where a rich person comes to the church and gets the best seat, while a poor person has to sit on the floor. So there were rich people attending the services.
Now think about today. Who are the rich people in the church today? Who are the rich people at BTBC. You know, people have a funny perspective on being rich. We have this attitude that no matter how much money we have, no matter how high our income is, we aren’t really rich. After all, there are people with so much more than we do. We’re not Bill Gates or Donald Trump, after all. If you went up north a little bit and visited some of the monster homes on Major Mac and Kennedy, and asked the people who live there if they thought they were rich, I bet a large majority of them would say no.
You see, wealth is always relative. But I think we compare ourselves against the wrong people. Instead of comparing ourselves against the billionaires of the world, how about if we compare ourselves to the villagers in Papua New Guinea or the squatters in Manila. How wealthy are we compared to them? Let me tell you, we are rich compared to these people. And when you think of pure numbers, what do you think: Do you think there are more poor in the world, or more billionaires?
I don’t want to overwhelm you with statistics, but let me give you a few, to give us the correct perspective of where we rank in the world in terms of wealth. Almost half the world, over 3 billion people live, on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day. Right now about 925 million people are experiencing malnutrition. That’s about three times the population of Canada. According to UNICEF, about 22,000 children die every day because of poverty.