Summary: In this passage James addresses us about the use of our finances. James warns people against using their finances as if there is no God.
William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), the gifted orator and three-time United States Democratic nominee for President, is reported to have said, “No one can earn a million dollars honestly.”
Tertullian (ca. 155–230), was a church leader and prolific author during the early years of Christianity. He is quoted as saying, “Nothing that is God’s is obtainable by money.”
Bryan and Tertullian seem somewhat cynical about the acquisition and use of wealth, don’t they?
They seem to be echoing the teaching of James, the brother of Jesus, who wrote of similar concerns in the 1st century. In fact, James issues some very explicit warnings to the wealthy in our text for today. So, I invite you to pay attention as I read James 5:1-6:
"1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 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. 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. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you." (James 5:1-6)
The year was 1923. The place was Chicago’s Edgewater Beach hotel. The historic meeting at that time and place has been called one of the most significant financial meetings in the history of America. Gathered were several multi-millionaires who, if they desired, could have controlled the media, the utilities and the financial pulse of the nation.
The men who gathered for this time of consultation were the president of a large steel company, the president of a national city bank of New York, the president of a large utility company, the president of the largest gas company in the world, a famous and successful wheat speculator, the president of the New York Stock Exchange, a member of the President’s cabinet, a great leader on Wall Street, the head of the world’s greatest industrial and land monopoly combined, and the president of the bank of international settlements.
These ten brilliant and successful men gathered to evaluate their past and plan for their future. Their lives had been surrounded by what we would call success. In the eyes of the world these men were at the zenith of their careers.
A student of history and biography traced the lives of these ten men as they came to the surface twenty five years later between the years 1923 and 1948. It was a remarkable finding. And I will share that finding with you at the conclusion of this message.
Right now I want you to see that it must have been these kinds of people that James had in mind when he wrote in verse 1, “Now listen, you rich people. . . .” I’m sure that some of you are thinking, “Good, James is talking to rich people. I can just relax and sit this one out. I’ll coast through this sermon and wait for the next sermon next Sunday. That one will apply to me.”
It would be easy for you to think that because you don’t have what you consider an abundance of riches. But that is not true. This passage applies to many more than just the so-called “super rich.”
Most of you know that Fortune magazine reveals its Fortune 500 each year. It is a pulse of the financial wealth of the most influential people of the world. It seems like they just never run out of zeros at the end of peoples’ worth.
Like the poor, the rich will always be among us. But before we dive into this passage I want to make something clear. It is not true that only the poor go to heaven and the rich go to hell. There are some very ungodly, poor people and some very godly, rich people. There always have been and always will be.
It’s been said that you can classify all people economically and spiritually according to four major categories:
First, those who are poor without and poor within. They have very little of this world’s goods and know nothing of Jesus Christ. These are the multiplied millions that go to bed starving every night. Many of these people live in what we call the “10/40 Window,” which refers to the Eastern Hemisphere between 10 and 40 degrees north of the Equator. Over 80% of the poorest of the world’s poor live in this region of the world.
Second, those who are rich without and rich within. They have it made economically and spiritually. Abraham was one. As was Joseph, Daniel, and Job. In the New Testament, godly men like Joseph of Arimathea and Barnabas seem to have been wealthy.