1. Story of Bill Gates. Today, at age 41, he is the richest private individual in the entire world, with a net worth of about 30 billion dollars.
2. That is the kind of a story we are interested in quite often isn't it? We like to read books and watch movies about people who in some way or another, either through hard work or just dumb luck, have their lives turned around. Countless rags to riches books and movies have been big sellers. We are fascinated by the super rich. We are even entertained by shows about the "rich and famous."
3. Today James again talks about one of the biggest problems in his society and in our society today. A problem that so easily can affect us all. And that problem is the wrongful attitude, accumulation and use of wealth.
1. Let us see what God has to teach us about wealth today.
2. The first thing we need to consider is whom James is talking to. As we said the book of James is written to Christians, but this passage does not seem to be. It is addressed to rich people - these could be Christians. But unlike other sections, it is not addressed to brothers. And there is no call to repentance but rather a statement of certain judgement. And so it seems to be addressed to rich unbelievers. However the letter is sent to believers.
3. Already they had been warned about showing favouritism to the rich, especially because they were persecuting believers and therefor going against God. In fact James again talks about how they abuse the poor. And so these words can serve as a word of encouragement to those believers who were being oppressed by the rich.
4. We need to remember that the words here do not apply to all of those who are rich. Some of the godliest of people in the bible were rich - Job, Abraham, David, Solomon, Philemon. But there are times when God is angry at the rich and James tells us when this takes place.
5. What those this have to do with you and me? It can teach us about the dangers of money - whether we have it or desire it. It teaches us how God views our use of money the riches we have as a nation. It teaches us how God deals with the sins of the rich.
6. James first declares that these people will be judged, then he tells how they will be judges, and then why they will be judged by God.
7. In verse one he tells them to weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. He doesn’t warn then to repent or else. He doesn’t suggest there is a way to escape what will happen. It is a sure thing, a fact that they will be judged - and that judgement will be in the form of misery. And so they may as well weep and wail already.
8. What is this misery or judgement that will coming? As James tells them what it is, he lets them see that this judgement has already begun. He makes four prophetic statements that will indicate that trouble is coming.
9. First he says, "Your wealth has rotted or are corrupted." Wealth in those days consisted of money, but also commodities such as grain, oil, and costly garments. That is why Jesus said in Mat 6:19:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
The rich had hoarded so much food and clothing that it was going to waste. I sometimes wonder how much food goes to waste in North America and how many starving people that food could feed. Is this a sign that God’s judgement is coming, that we face certain misery?
10. The second sign of misery is that your silver and gold are corroded. To be corroded means to be tarnished or rusted. Since silver or gold do not rust or corrode, James is probably referring to tarnished metal. The tarnish was an indication of how long the hoarded wealth had lain idle. That which they valued more than anything else will deteriorate before their very eyes.
11. The third judgement becomes more personal. James has been talking about what would happen to their wealth. Now he talks about those who have misused their wealth. He says that the corrosion of their wealth will testify against them. Their wealth will become as testimony that is given in court as evidence to substantiate charges. This evidence will be very incriminating and there will be no way to dispute this evidence.
12. And the misery continues to build up. For not only will their wealth corrode, but so will their very bodies. The corrosion will not just testify against them but will eat their very flesh like fire. Just as an unknown virusl can quickly destroy a body with the flesh-eating disease, so will their own greed corrode their body like fire. For the problem was not their wealth but that which was within them - their greed and sin. So they will first loose the result of their sin, their wealth, and then the cause of their sin, their very being.
13. James then tells them four things they did wrong. Remember, wealth in itself is not wrong, but our attitudes and actions regarding wealth.
14. First, at end of vs. 4 - he says that they hoarded their wealth in the last days. At a time when the coming of the Lord was thought to be imminent they accumulated more and more just for the sake of accumulating. Their thoughts should have been toward the life to come rather than this temporary, short life. They were placing their trust in their bank accounts and pension plans rather than in God. The more they had, the more secure they felt. That is why so many rich people work so hard at becoming even richer. That which was a means to provide for life, for others and for God became an end in itself.
15. Like a person who wants to serve the Lord. He believes God has called him to a ministry to help those in need and to save souls. He are sincere and work hard and God blesses his ministry. It grows and now he needs to build a church. The focus is now on fund raising and promoting and actually building this new structure. Soon there is no more time to care for some of those in need. The focus has turned from using the church for ministry to that of maintaining and building the church. If this building becomes more important than the preaching and teaching of the gospel and of reaching out in love, we have a problem, similar to those rich who are being condemned.
16. This is a real danger, as studies have shown an decreasing % of churches budgets going to missions and an increasing % going to buildings and maintenance. Money is a means to an end - to be used for God and often it becomes an end in itself and then one is never satisfied. List of worlds riches people - no. 5 jealous of no.1. Therefor must accumulate more, get higher up the list.
17. The second sin is about how they got 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.
They desire to reinvest or get ahead or hoard meant that they failed to pay their workers. The ones who needed the money the most to feed their families were not paid. I remember working for a small company for 6 months. Often not enough money in bank for paychecks. Owner more concerned with paying his American Express so he could do more travelling.
18. The wealth they had meant so much to the rich, they were not even willing to part with it to pay those who needed it. And their cries went up to God and reached His ears. In other words it was their cries which prompted God to action. He has always judged the oppressors. Just read through the OT book of Amos and other prohets.
19. He is the Lord Almighty. He is powerful and He will act in a mighty way against them. They though they may have succeeded in cheating others, but they have not deceived God and He will do something about it.
20. Their third wrong was that they lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. They fattened themselves in the day of slaughter. They lived for their wealth rather than for God. They were hedonists who sought one pleasure after another. And there are not many pleasures that money cannot buy. But these pleasures do not last.
21. When younger I wanted to make lots of money. I wanted cottage, big boat, etc. But now I see how these things would have turned me away from God. Sundays at the beach rather than at the altar. It is only a few that can enjoy these things and still put God first. I believe I would struggle with thsi and so I thank God from sparing me from those temptations.
22. The fourth charge is that they have condemned and murdered innocent men who were not opposing them. Money is power. When we feel we have power, we do not take kindly to those who stand in our way. If anyone questions us or says we owe them something, we will fight them. And so they opposed the early Christians for teaching that they were unjust and sinful. Perhaps some of you have felt this at work or in other situations. Those over you lord it over you. If you question them, you are in trouble. I saw this when worked for Bendix - arrogant way those from head office came in and sought to destroy people. Not always like this though, the owner at Sifton, treated others well - not as lessers but as equals.
23. I wonder if we in North America and our governments do not condemn those in poorer countries. We help them when it is only beneficial to our own interests. We use our power to influence decisions and buy votes at United Nations, etc.
24. We may feel victims to the abuses of the rich and their extravagance. But God will judge them.
25. James teaches us, who in many ways are also rich that we are to be careful how we obtain our wealth and how we use it. May it be according to God’s will, for His glory and with a charitable heart to those with less.