Which God For You James 5:1-6
Adapted from a Tim Bond sermon
There is 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.
You ever hear a preacher apologize for preaching on money. Some make it a once a year ritual, and every time they do it they 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 past, 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.
Some years ago several people have commented that I don’t preach 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 many 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, a lot of preacher’s schedules have at times been determined more by the culture we live in than the Christ we serve. I am not alone. I believe other preachers, are coming to realize our failure here also.
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. 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.
Remember in chapter 2 he wrote about the rich oppressors and the way that the church members sometimes showed favoritism to the rich people, giving them the best seats, perhaps 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.
Let’s read what he tells them.
James 5:1 NET Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure!
4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.
Those are some very disturbing and condemning words! And whether they are heard by people who are secure in their wealth or by those who only wish they were wealthy, the result is the same. James wants all of us to recognize that the most important thing in life is not how much money you have.
A dying millionaire called 3 men to his bedside. He wanted his preacher, his doctor & his lawyer to be with him when he passed. He gave each of them an envelope with $250,000 in it. He told the preacher to take $200,000 & put it towards a new multi-purpose building the church wanted to construct. $50,000 he wanted the preacher to put in his casket before he was buried.
To the doctor he said $200,000 should go for the new maternity wing being built. He wanted the doctor to put in $50,000 his casket. The lawyer was known to take a lot of pro-bono cases so $200,000 would go towards that and of course he wanted the lawyer to put $50,000 in his casket. After the funeral each of these men slipped an envelope in the coffin as they paid their last respects.
On the limo ride back from the cemetery the preacher said, “I have to confess men, I didn’t put the full $50,000 in the casket. I knew his dedication to Christ & he would really want the new multi-purpose building up & serving God ASAP. I only put $15,000 in with him.” The doctor spoke up, “I knew he loved seeing the newborn babies and would want the new maternity wing up & running ASAP. I only put $10,000 in the casket,”
At this the lawyer’s face gets red & he raises his voice. “I can’t believe you two! He trusted us to carry out his dying wishes so he could take that money with him to the other side.” One of the others had a sharp reply. “I can’t believe you put the whole $50,000 in with him! Your envelope wasn’t thick like ours!”
“I did too put every cent he told me into the casket! I wrote out a personal check for the full $50,000!”
James is speaking to people who faced a choice between following God or trusting in what money could do for them and they are making the wrong choice. Look at what was going on with them.
They were stockpiling their money. 2Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. 3Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you.
It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure!
People who trust in money for their security can never have enough to make them feel like they are completely secure. The result is usually a growing bank account and a dwindling sense of peace.
They weren’t paying their employees a fair wage. 4Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. When the bottom line is the only important thing, often people get taken advantage of in the process.
They were spending their money on material pleasures.
5You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth.
The rich people were not paying their employees a fair wage, but they were living large themselves.
You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. James confronts them with the picture of a cow in the field on market day.
That cow thinks life is great with all the grain she has been able to consume. What she doesn’t know is that the purpose of the fattening process is her own destruction.
They were destroying people with their power and wealth. 6You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you. These people knew that money is power, and they used their influence to bring down the people who got in their way.
Now at this point we need to recognize something. The Bible never condemns anyone simply for being wealthy. It is not a sin to be rich. Some of God’s most honored servants were wealthy. Abraham, Job, David, Joseph of Arimethea were all rich people who served God with their wealth. But what the Bible does condemn is the practice of trusting in wealth rather than trusting in God.
You see, it is very easy to think that if you just had enough money, you could become untouchable. It is possible to believe that money can buy you anything, health, satisfaction, and peace. You don’t have to be rich to think that. You can turn on the television to watch some of the info-mercials where they are trying to get you to learn how to buy and sell real estate to make a fortune, and they are trying to convince you “This is the way to lasting peace and security.”
The reason James is coming down so hard on the rich is that he is trying to shake them out of their sense of security. He is challenging their faith in their wealth to try to get them to place their faith in someone that can really make them secure. Hoarded riches and the power that comes from wealth won’t get you anywhere in the eternal scheme of things. James is trying to get these rich people to trade in their false sense of security for something that is real, something that will last forever.
You remember the old game show “Let’s Make A Deal?” On that show audience members would dress up as turkeys or Mother Goose characters or in some other crazy costume, all with the goal of gaining the attention of the show’s host, Monty Hall. They bounced and squealed until Monty’s attention fixed on them, then the games would begin.
The contestant would be offered $50 to produce a hairpin or a grapefruit. Then, through a series of transactions and choices, that contestant could trade and deal their way into or out of a stockpile of goods. By choosing door #1 Little Miss Muffett could get new living room furniture, or she might get a bucket of curds and whey. It was the chance of gaining more than you lost or losing everything that you had gained that made the show entertaining.
When I read about the encounter Jesus had with a man in Mark 10, I am reminded of that old game show. When you read the same story in three of the gospels, there are a variety of adjectives used to describe the guy Jesus met. Matthew tells us he’s young. Luke describes him as a ruler. All 3 highlight his wealth. Today we most often combine their descriptions and label him the “Rich Young Ruler.”
Money, youth and power; that’s a pretty powerful combination for any one person to possess.
Mark tells us that one day this guy ran up to Jesus, fell to his knees and asked “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.” You have to wonder about the drama of it all. As we will soon learn, it almost seems as though the man is more interested in proclaiming who he is and what he has done than in finding out what else there is to do.
Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: "'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.' “ Mark 10:18,19 NETIt was one of those “keep your nose clean” kind of lists that Jesus knew nobody could possibly keep perfectly.
Surprisingly, the young man was satisfied with his own ability to keep his nose out of trouble, and he responded confidently that in his 30 or so years he had been a good rich young man. Jesus loved him too much to let him get by with that kind of false belief, so he raised the bar a little.
“You lack one thing.” He said. “Go, sell your Jaguar and your mansion with the pool. Clean the Armani’s out of your closet, give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then you won’t have any reason to stay around here so you can Then come, follow me.” It was a bold choice that Jesus offered the man. Here was his chance to trade his fist full of cash for the unlimited potential behind door #1.
The Bible doesn’t say how long that rich young man pondered the choice. Maybe he wondered for a moment what it would be like to wake up and not have to check the overseas market first thing. For a split second it must have sounded appealing to not have to worry about wintering the yacht and making the payroll.
We don’t know how long he took, but Mark records, But at this statement, the man looked sad and went away sorrowful, for he was very rich.
Mark 10:22 NET
I wonder if that was the first time his great wealth had made him sad?
It could be that when his head dropped he caught sight of the Rolex his daddy had given him.
What would become of the family fortune? What would his friends at the club think? For whatever reason, the rich young ruler was so possessed by his wealth and power that he decided to keep the $50 he had in his hand rather than risk it on the unproven riches behind door #1 that Jesus offered.
When Jesus saw the choice the rich young man made, he shook his head and in frustration mumbled that it was easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than to get a rich person to choose the narrow door that he offered. Mark 10:23 NET Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
The late Francis Schaeffer was an insightful student of our culture. Just before he died he said, “It is my observation that Americans are driven by two things—that we are driven by affluence and personal peace.” To put it in more common terms, what makes the American culture tick is the drive for cash and comfort.
Now understand, I have nothing against cash and comfort. Compared to poverty and pain, cash and comfort are great. The rub comes along when you have to choose between cash and comfort and following Christ.
What James is saying in chapter 5:1-6 is that if you have to choose between investing your money in the Kingdom of God or building a bigger bank account, invest in the things that will last forever.
James tells business owners that if you have to choose between increasing your company’s assets or giving your employees a fair wage, take care of your employees. He says that rather than investing your wealth in luxuries that will break down or increase your frustration, invest your wealth in the things that will truly give you peace and security for eternity.
As James sends his words out to those rich people who might be listening, or to those who want to be rich that are sitting right in front of him, he is telling us all; “If you have to choose between cash and comfort or Christ, always choose Christ!” Remember, it is only when we choose Christ over the things of this world that we come to know peace and security and hope that can never be taken away from us.