Summary: Wealth won't last. Wealth will testify. So who are the rich that James talks to? In part, it is us. We are the rich and how we use our wealth is a statement about our spirituality.
A Sermon To the Rich
A. There has been some political debating over how much taxes individuals who make over $200,000 should pay. That group of people make up 3% of the American population or approximately 3.4 million households. For many, that is what we call rich. But how did $200,000 become the standard for being rich? For many, rich simply means someone who makes more than I do. The median household income in America is just over $52,000, so when someone makes 4 times your wages, you think they are rich. By the way, our median income in the USA is about 4 times higher than the world median income. So, not to mean, most of us who are still working make about 4 times more than most households around the world. By the opening definition of rich being 4 times my income, most of us are rich. Now what does that mean?
B. Many people like the rags to riches stories or to follow in tabloids the activities of the rich and famous. In our country we believe that we are valuable and want to make a good wage. We look for jobs that financially better ourselves and our family. There is not thing wrong with money. Money is neutral in the Bible, the use of money has much said about it. James is going to address the rich people. Who are these rich people? Some argue that because the word "brothers" is not used, that James is actually addressing non-Christians who are rich and oppressing poor Christians. Who he is address is not as important as what is being address. Christian or not, we can fall into the same issues that James presents.
I. Wealth Won't Last
A. The first teaching James gives about wealth is that it simply won't last. In the society of the first century, wealth could be quantified by land and it crops, the way you dress, and the items you own – especially the one you show off at parties. But James reminds people that physical wealth does not have true staying power.
B. Last week I shared the parable of Jesus and the man whose quick wealth caused him to build bigger barns, the only problem is he died that night.
C. There are many parable of Jesus and teaching from Jesus that center on how people view money. The story of the rich man and Lazarus helps us to see that all his riches did not keep him from dying just like the poor beggar Lazarus. But the story that touches me the most is the time when a wealthy young ruler comes to Jesus and seems to ask in all sincerity, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus tells the man to keep the commandment and list the ones that relate between people – don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't give false testimony, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself. The wealthy young man believed that he had kept those commands but still felt empty, like he was still lacking. The truth is he had not kept them in the spirit they were given. It was not a list, but a life. So Jesus pushes him and tells, "Go, sell your possessions and give them to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me." The Bible tells us the young man went away sad "because he had great wealth." This young man, with what may have been a very good heart, could not get passed trusting his wealth.
D. Jesus took that opportunity to also teach his disciples and gave a very harsh warning. Listen to Matt. 19:23-25. Even the disciples believe that wealth and eternal life were somehow connected. Earlier, Jesus had taught a wonderful sermon along a mountainside. There he gave a warning that sound similar to the one James may have quoted. Matt. 6:19-24.
II. Wealth Testifies
A. The second teaching from James is that our wealth is also a testimony. James 5:3-4. Wealth testified against these people because it told the truth of its use, or lack thereof. The point that James is making is that the rich have used their money to oppress the poor and to allow themselves to think they are right with God. The truth is, they are far from being right with God. As the blood of Abel cried out to God from the ground, so does the cries of the harvester who have been mistreated.
B. Several years ago I preached a sermon entitled, "It's Not Mine Anyway." In which I tried to help us understand that everything belongs to God, not just he money we set aside for the collection of the saints. James desires that lesson here also.