Summary: The Second Coming should move us to serve and not be self-indulgent.
When I was about 12 years old I was contacted by our pastor to see if I would be interested in cleaning out the house of a woman who had passed away. I eagerly agreed, thinking that this would be an easy way to make some shekels. I wasn’t prepared for what I found. The entire house was filled with so much stuff that it was almost impossible to get the front door open. Amid stacks of newspapers there were filthy clothes and boxes of brand new items stacked almost to the ceiling. The only way to get around was to follow a narrow path on top of the newspapers that meandered to the kitchen and the bedroom.
The kitchen was jammed with dirty dishes and food. The smell was horrible. But I was motivated to do what I could to help. My memory is that we started in the living room, using shovels and pitchforks to scoop everything up and then we’d go outside and throw it all in a huge dumpster. After we had filled one dumpster and it was hauled away, we found a bunch of uncashed checks and expensive jewelry that was covered with dust. We realized too late that we had already thrown away many checks and valuables.
When I called my mom this week to make sure my memory was accurate, she told me that this woman who hoarded her possessions was extremely wealthy as she was the widow of a bank president. I’ll never forget this visual lesson about how worldly wealth can rot, get moldy and corrode…and then be thrown into a dumpster when we’re gone.
This morning we come to James 5, where we’ll hear a stinging indictment upon the rich. Pastor James has been preaching up till now but in these opening verses he assumes the role of prophet. As one commentator puts it, “James’ words are, to be blunt, blunt.”
Let’s read James 5:1-6: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 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. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.”
My plan today is to spend just a few minutes on these verses and then move into verses 7-11, where we will spend the majority of our time. We’ll wrap up our “Faith That Works” series next Sunday. Two weeks from today we’ll have a Family Worship Service, where families will worship together. There will be no KidZone or Equip classes that day so children can participate in the service with their parents but we will have nursery and preschool. By the way, it would help us with space needs if some of you who normally come at 9:00 a.m. would attend at 10:45 a.m. that day if at all possible.
In the first century Middle Eastern culture, wealth was measured in three ways: grain, garments and gold. The rich had so much food that it was rotting in their bins. They had a lot of fancy clothing that was filled with holes caused by moths. And their gold and silver, the most durable forms of wealth, had lost its luster because it was hidden under piles of other stuff that they had too much of.
James tells the wealthy that they better get ready to weep and wail, not because they had money but because they hoarded it and took advantage of those who had less. Wealth is not the problem; the misuse of it is. The Greek literally reads, “Burst into weeping and howl with grief” because they were about to be thrown into the dumpster, or worse.
When we come to passages like this, it’s easy to think that they’re not applicable to most of us because we’re not rich. Actually, compared to the rest of the world, we are. In addition, James is dealing with our attitudes toward wealth, not the amount we might have. This is brought out in 1 Timothy 6:10 where we read, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…”
Taking an Inventory
After reading this passage, I wrote down three questions that I asked myself this week.
1. Am I hoarding what I think is mine or am I generous with what God has given me? When I hoard I’m keeping for myself instead of sharing with others. This has grave consequences according to verse 3: “Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire.”