Summary: Wealth is not wrong, it is your attitude towards it that matters most to God.
First Baptist Church
October 28, 2001
A man was a regular diner at a restaurant. The owner always did his best to please him. One day he complained that he only received one piece of bread with his meal, so the waiter promptly brought him four slices.
The man said, "That’s good, but not good enough. I love bread!" So, the next night he was given six slices with supper. He said, "Good! But aren’t you still being a bit frugal?" Even a basketful the next day didn’t stop the complaints. Finally, the owner decided to end this for good. The next night he had a colossal loaf of bread baked. It was six feet long, three feet 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 there and smiled, waiting for the man’s reaction. The man looked at the gigantic loaf of bread and said, "So, we’re back to ONE piece again?"
Have you ever had a problem with collecting too much stuff? Why is it that another word for too much stuff, is junk? If you took an honest tour of your home, would you say you have more, I mean way more than you need? I believe that most of us would be guilty of that. Of course, I don’t want you to think that having stuff, or having wealth is wrong. Nowhere does the Bible ever condemn people who are wealthy, and neither does James.
It is amazing that for ten weeks we have been deep into the book of James. As you can see, James is the most practical book of the New Testament. Today, James leads us to focus on the issue of wealth and our attitude towards it. Again, if we seek to become authentic Christians, we must look at these difficult and convicting, yet hopeful words from James.
Throughout this book, James has been getting us to think about our attitude to the things of the world. We have looked at worldly wisdom, at accumulating things, at planning for tomorrow - when there is no tomorrow — and now James leads us to consider the hardship that comes into our lives when our sole purpose is the pursuit of things that show we are wealthy. You know the saying, ‘the one who has the most toys wins.’ That is not true. They may have the most toys, but they may not have their salvation.
James looked at the 3 greatest ways people in his day demonstrated they were wealthy. They showed their wealth through — grain, clothing and jewels. James says all of them will decay. The grain will become rotten, the clothes will be eaten by moths (they didn’t have moth balls in those days) and most importantly, James says their gold and silver will rust. Until I did a little looking, I found out that gold and silver do not rust, so what is James point about these jewels?
His point is that whatever you are banking on will not last, even our most precious and indestructible things are doomed to decay. This rust is proof of impermanence and ultimate valuelessness of all worldly things. It is also a warning, James then goes on to say that our desire for such riches will eventually eat away into our body and soul. James uses extremely vivid imagery to bring that point home when he says "the corrosion of the jewels will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire."
We’ve heard of people like that. People who hoard every penny they have, but never have the joy of spending it or giving it away. There is the story of John G. Wendel and his sisters. Even though they had received a huge inheritance from their parents, they were some of the most miserly people of all time, they spent very little of it and did all they could to keep their wealth for themselves.
John was able to influence five of his six sisters never to marry, and they lived in the same house in New York City for 50 years. When the last sister died in 1931, her estate was valued at more than $100 million. Yet, her only dress was one that she had made herself, and had worn for 25 years.
The Wendels had such a compulsion to hold on to their possessions that they lived like paupers. Even worse, they were like the kind of person Jesus referred to "who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:21). Daily Walk, June 2, 1993.
Or take Bertha Adams. She died in 1976 at the age of 71, on Easter Sunday in Palm Beach, FL. Coroner’s report ... she died of malnutrition, weighing 50 pounds.