Summary: Every person must choose which god he/she will serve. James challenges us not only to recognize the choice, but to choose the God who will never fail us.
I recently heard a story about several guys who were in the locker room of a private exercise club. They were all talking when a cell phone laying on the bench rang. One man picked it up without hesitation, and the following conversation ensued:
"Honey, It’s me."
"Oh, hi dear!"
"I’m at the mall two blocks from the club. I saw a beautiful mink coat. It is absolutely gorgeous! Can I buy it? It’s only $1,500."
"Well, okay, if you like it that much."
"Thanks! Oh, and I also stopped by the Mercedes dealership and saw the new models. I saw one I really liked. I spoke with the salesman, and he gave me a great price."
"Okay, but for that price I want it with all the options."
"Great! But before we hang up, there’s something else. It might seem like a lot, but, well, I stopped by to see the real estate agent this morning, and I saw the house we had looked at last year. It’s on sale! Remember? The beachfront property with the pool and the English garden?"
"How much are they asking?"
"Only $450,000! It’s really quite a bargain, and we have that much in the bank accounts to cover it."
"Well then, go ahead and buy it, but make an offer for only $420,000, okay?"
"Okay, sweetie. Thanks! I’ll see you later! I love you!"
"I love you, too." At that the man hung up the cell phone, closed the flap, and raised it in the air. "Does anyone know whose cell phone this is?"
There isn’t a subject on the planet that will get folks more worked up than talking about money. People are very passionate about their material possessions, and when you start to get close to someone’s wallet you are getting very close to their heart. I have to tell you that we preachers often have been intimidated away from preaching about money. It happened so subtly that it slipped up on us. Satan used several things to intimidate us.
- I grew up hearing a preacher apologize for preaching on money. It was a once a year ritual, and every time he did it he began by saying, “You know, I really don’t like to preach about money but this is the Sunday we need to, and it’s important.”
- In the 1980’s several television preachers were exposed as frauds as they raked in millions of dollars at the expense of their viewers. In response preachers backed off.
- Church growth experts recognized the need for Churches to be “seeker sensitive.” That means that we explain things better for people to feel more comfortable. We make our worship services more easily understandable. We make our buildings easy to get around in. When seeker sensitivity has gone bad, it has meant that we should soften our message to appeal to people.
- Since I have been preaching, I have had several people come to me and thank me for not preaching much on money. At times I was tempted to wear it as a badge of honor that money was not very frequently mentioned in my sermons. What I didn’t pay any attention to was the fact that over 1/2 of Jesus parables dealt with proper use of money. I ignored the truth that Jesus said a whole lot more about money than He did about prayer. I failed to notice that Jesus certainly wasn’t very seeker sensitive when he spoke to wealthy people who didn’t have their priorities straight. Unfortunately, my preaching schedule has at times been determined more by the culture we live in than the Christ we serve. I am not alone. As I hear from other preachers, we are all coming to realize our failure here. You see, by being afraid to challenge people’s obsession with material wealth, we have often shirked our responsibility to confront the most prominent idol that Americans bow down before.
I believe that the result of our not addressing ourselves to the issue of money in the church has been tragic. Too often there is not a significant difference between the values of church members and people who don’t know Jesus Christ as Lord. In our culture it is expected that we are to devote ourselves to pursuing “the good life.” It is the American way. (Pause) But it is not God’s way!
In the fifth chapter of James’ letter, there is not a hint of timidity as he challenges his listeners to think very seriously about who or what they worship as god. Now we need to realize that up to this point in his letter, James has been speaking to the Christians he wrote his letter to. From reading the letter it seems that most of them were poor. (Note that in chapter 2 he speaks about the rich oppressors and the way that the church members sometimes showed favoritism to the rich people to try to get something out of them.) But when he comes to the verses we are looking at this morning, it’s almost like he walks over and raises the windows on the church building, then he speaks a little louder so that the rich people down the road who aren’t in worship can hear him. Listen to what he tells them.