Summary: The way I acquire and use wealth is a good measure of my spiritual health.
I grew up in a typical blue collar family. My dad managed one of the very first fast food restaurants – the Lucky Wishbone – and my mom stayed at home taking care of four kids. She didn’t work outside the home until all of us got older, so for much of my life, our family got by on one nominal income.
But we always had food on the table and clothes to wear to school. We usually took some kind of vacation each year – often a camping trip, but occasionally we’d splurge and go somewhere like San Diego or Disneyland. So I never felt poor. At least not until I got to high school.
I went to Amphi High School and back in those days, the Catalina Foothills school district hadn’t yet built their own high school so many of the high school students from that district went to Amphi. So when I finally got my driver’s license in the middle of my junior year and saved up enough money to buy a used yellow Ford Pinto for $1,600 and drove to school for the first time, I found my Pinto parked among the Porsches and BMW’s driven by some of the Catalina Foothills students. And for the first time in my life, I felt poor. But the reality is that I was no poorer than I had been up to that time. It was only when I began to compare myself to others that I began to see them as rich and myself as poor.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because it’s real easy for us to look around at others and see them as rich and myself as poor and then ignore the passage that we’re going to read in James this morning as he writes to the rich. But frankly, compared to the world as a whole, probably every one of us here this morning is rich and therefore we need to heed James’ words.
Did you realize that if your family income is $10,000 a year, you are wealthier than 84 percent of the people in the world? If it's $50,000 or more a year, you make more than 99 percent of the people in the world. Nearly 1 billion people in the world today subsist on less than $1.25 per day – about the amount of money we’d spend to buy one item off the Value Menu at McDonalds.
So with that perspective in mind, let’s read the first 6 verses in James chapter 5:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
(James 5:1-6 ESV)
This is the second section in his letter where James does not address his audience as “brothers”. And just as we saw in the first instance at the beginning of chapter 4, James turns his attention to those who are associated with the Jewish believers in the churches to whom he is writing, but who demonstrate by their actions that they are not genuine believers.