A Warning to the Rich (James 5:1-6)

November 13, 2022

Series: James

Book: James

Scripture: James 5:1-6

We are going to get back into James today. You know what, we’ve covered a lot of ground with this letter that James wrote to these Christians who were dispersed outside of Israel, probably going through some persecution. James is kind of a hard-hitting book. He just sort of lays it out there. And one of the things told you at the beginning is just do it.

That’s kind of James mindset is just do it. Do the right thing and follow God. Now, the title of today’s lesson is a Warning to the Rich. But before we get into that, I want to remind you with all the things we’ve covered, personally, I think the one that Marcus did last week where he talked about how we can make all of these plans, but we need to train ourselves to consistently say if it is the Lord’s will. If it is the Lord’s will.

Or in the old King James Version, thy will be done. And if we can get to where we’re making all of our plans and we’re consistently saying that we’re going to do okay. And the cool thing about Jesus is that he set us that example. You remember when he was in the garden of Gethsemane? He says, Lord, may this cup pass from me, but nevertheless not as I will, but as you will. So Jesus shows us what that kind of a lifestyle is all about.

So let’s learn to consistently put that one into practice. Now, like I said, our focus today is a warning to the rich or to those who want to be rich, okay? Because I know what’s going to happen. Some of you are checking out already because you’re thinking to yourself, I’m not rich. I’m a college student or I’m not even in high school yet.

Little Charlotte, I know you’re rich, Charlotte, because I know your parents. But anyway, but you know, you’re thinking yourself, I’m not rich. So what do you possibly have to say to me today? But the bottom line is that and we’ve heard people say this, according to the world standards, we’re all rich. We got clothes, we got food.

If we have all the basic necessities, we’re rich, okay? And we know that. But I don’t know about you, but I would always get trouble when people would say that because I say I’m not in the world, I’m in America, okay? And so according to America’s standards, I’m poor. I ain’t rich here and all of that.

But here’s the deal. Whether you’re rich according to American standards or not, if you desire to be rich, this lesson is for you. So don’t check out. James has some really strong things to say in this and I think you’ll learn a lot as we go through it. And the big thing is simply this, contrary to the prosperity gospel.

And you know what that says? It’s okay. If you just follow Jesus, you’re going to get lots of money. You’re going to get cars, you’re going to get wealth and fame. Contrary to the prosperity gospel, wealth is not usually a blessing.

It is actually a curse. And some of you are thinking, well, wait a minute, I’m pretty poor a little bit can’t be too bad. Well, we’re going to get into it and see what James has to say. Now, why is this so important? Even Jesus in Matthew 19 says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to make it to heaven.

Now, I just happened to bring a needle here, and poor Megan, she had to make sure I didn’t poke her with it. She said, what is that? It’s a needle. It’s part of my prop for today’s sermon. And right at the base of it, there’s a little hole for you to put the thread through and all that kind of stuff.

And Jesus said, it is easier for a camel to go through that little hole than it is for the rich to enter the kingdom.

Wait a minute. I said, you can’t get a camel through that. So, Jesus, are you saying if you’re rich, you can’t make it at all? And I remember struggling, and I don’t know about you, but every now and then you may read something in the Bible that causes you a little bit of angst. Don’t just go by it, study it out.

And so I tried to study this thing out about the needle and the camel and all this stuff, and some preacher along the way came along and he shared this story about how in Palestine there would be this little gate, kind of a little archway, and it was low. And the only way for a camel to get through that gate would be if it got on his knees and kind of crawled through. I like that explanation, because that one makes sense. That one says to me, it’s not impossible. You just got to humble yourself.

You got to get on your knees. And so it’s okay. I can deal with that. Problem is, it doesn’t square with the Scripture. The kind of needle Jesus is talking about is that one.

And the main thing I want you to understand is that if riches have gripped your heart, there’s no way for you to be saved.

That’s what Jesus is saying. That’s what James is getting at. And he’s got some pretty strong things to say. So let’s read our text for today. And I think you’ll see where he’s going.

Now listen how he starts. He said, now listen, you rich people weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth is rotted, and moss have eaten your clothes. 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. Look the wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.

You have condemned and murdered the innocent one who was not opposing you. Some pretty strong stuff. And in these first six verses of James five, he has two main aims. One is he wants us to understand the ultimate worthlessness of earthly riches. He wants us to get that.

But then secondly, he wants us to understand the detestable character of those who possess these riches. Now, why does he want to do that? He wants to make sure you and I don’t make our aim, our focus, and our desire, the material things of this world. He wants to get us on the right track. And so what he essentially says to these rich folks, if you knew what you were doing, if you understood, you would weep and wail at the terror of judgment that’s coming upon you.

And I thought, wow, I look at rich people and they look like they’re doing okay. And he said, man, if you understood this whole thing really the way you should, you would be weeping and wailing. And the word here, in some places, they translate it shriek or howl. He said, you will be wailing. You will be weeping, you will be man, God help me here.

I am so messed up with where I am in life and my attitudes or whatever. And there are a lot of places in the Old Testament where used terminology like this. I’ll read a couple for you. Isaiah 13:6 says, well, for the day of the Lord is near, it will come like destruction from the Almighty. Isaiah 14:31. Wail, you gate, howl you city, melt away all you philistines. And there’s just a lot of places where it says you need to wail. God is saying, if you’re in this state, instead of being fired up about it, you need to weep and wail. And I think you’ll see why before we’re done today. In James five, verse two, he says, your wealth has rotted and moths have eaten your clothes, your gold and silver are corroded.

Now, James is very selective with his words for a reason. There were three main sources of wealth in the east, and one was produce, corn and grain. It’s what you grew. And if you had a bountiful crop, you were considered wealthy. And you remember that was that story of the parable of the rich fool.

You remember that? I had this huge bountiful blessed crop, and he said, wow, I am rolling, man. I need to make some bigger barns. I got to store all this stuff. He had a lot of wealth, but God had another plan.

It’s kind of like he didn’t get in touch with God’s plan, like Sean and Tessa were sharing today. God had to deal with him. So you got the wealth of produce, corn, grain, that kind of thing. But secondly, you got the wealth of garments. I was really intrigued when I saw how many times garments and clothing are talked about in the scripture as a form of wealth.

Let me give you a couple of them. You remember after Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers, and one of the things he said he did was he gave them all changes of clothing. And it’s the kind of thing you can sort of miss if you’re not looking for it like we are today. Here’s another place, the story of Aiken. Who remembers what Aiken did?

Just a quick question.

Yeah, he stole first of all, he stole some things that were devoted to destruction. But one of the things that you could easily miss that he stole was he stole this beautiful Babylonian robe. Again, it’s the kind of thing that you could miss if you’re not looking for it. But we’re looking for it today. When Samson gave his riddle, you remember his riddle by out of the eater or something sweet and all this stuff, what did he promise anybody who could figure out his riddle?

He said, I’ll give you 30 sets of linen garments and 30 sets of clothing. It’s just in there in a lot of places. But one of the places that’s really cool is that Paul, when he talked about the integrity of his ministry and he was talking to the elders at Ephesus, and one of the things he said to show you my integrity, he said, I did not covet any man’s silver, gold or clothing. So this idea of wealth is produce its garments, and of course, it’s silver and gold. But even with the silver and gold, what James says is it’s all going to go away at the end.

It’s all gonna be gone. But here’s something that’s kind of interesting. Silver, when exposed to the elements, gets corroded and rusts. Gold does not. But what James says is that your silver and gold are corroded.

And I said, okay, James, what’s your point? I believe his point is that even the most precious, the most apparently indestructible things are doomed to destruction and dissolution. So, guys, for you and me to put all our hope in stuff, in the things of this world is foolish. But at the same time, we also damn ourselves to destruction in the end. And you gotta see that. The Bible condemns dishonest gain all through the scripture.

Here are just a few references. I mean, Amos talks about how wrong it is to tread on the poor while you have your beautiful hewn houses. The rite of Proverbs says that the one who trusts in riches shall fall. Not maybe, but shall fall. Luke quotes Jesus is saying, Woe to the rich.

Luke 6:24. And then, of course, the one where it says it’s difficult to enter the kingdom except through the eye of a needle. Now, the Bible does not say that wealth as such is wrong, but as a book, it really hones in on the responsibility that we need to take when it comes to material things. We’ve got to take that very, very seriously. And if you’re blessed with the world’s goods, he said, that’s not a place to pat yourself on the back.

And again, I think you’ll see why as we go through this a little further. So there’s a great danger. Let’s look at James, chapter two, because you remember what James does is he’ll hit a theme in one chapter, he’ll come back to it later. He’ll kind of refer back. Well, he did this with riches in chapter two. And I want you to just go along with me with this. It says, Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, here’s a good seat for you. But say to the poor man, you stand there or sit on the floor by my feet. Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters, has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him. But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? James isn’t condemning Riches, only the wrong attitude of those who defer to the rich or otherwise prominent people.

His words are powerful and he echoes what’s taught throughout the Bible. So what are the sins of the selfish rich? And that’s what we’re going to hit on here for a few minutes before we close. Hear the sense of the selfish rich.

It says you’re withholding wages. There’s self indulgence and luxury and then specific acts of evil. Let’s talk about this for just a few minutes. Let me read those verses for you, James. Five verses four to six.

Look the wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvest have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one who was not opposing you.

So James has some strong words for the selfish rich, very strong words. And the first thing he says is that the selfish rich have gained their wealth by injustice. By injustice. Deuteronomy, powerful scripture that shows why this was so bad. It says, do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that work is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns pay them their wages each day before sunset because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry out to the Lord against you and you will be guilty of sin.

I mean, very straightforward. Back then, if these people didn’t get paid every day, they literally wouldn’t eat. And yet these folks that James is writing to, they were doing that. They were withholding the wages of these people. Now, what will really mess with your mind is you think yourself, okay, well, surely these aren’t Christians. But who is this letter written to?

It’s written to Christians, it’s written to us. So don’t again, don’t check out and assume that there isn’t some way that we might not be just as guilty because he’s writing to Christians to get them on track and it’s really wrong. There’s so many other places I won’t get in those. Let’s look at the second thing.

The selfish rich have used their wealth selfishly. In verse five, it talks about how they lived in luxury and self indulgence. The idea here is that they use their money to just gratify themselves and to take care of their own lust. That’s all they cared about and not their fellow man. And that’s why you look at things like the rich man and Lazarus.

You remember that story? The rich man says he was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. I mean, he is having the life, and at his gate is laid this beggar Lazarus covered with sores and he did nothing. I think that’s why God was so upset with this whole scene. Guys, we don’t want to be that way.

The third thing about the selfish rich. The selfish rich who choose this pathway have also chosen the end of it. Verse five. You have lived on earth in luxury and self indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in a day of slaughter. The end of a fattened calf was a barbecue, okay?

That’s why you fatten that calf. You’re getting it ready for barbecue. And he is telling these guys, you’re being self indulgent. You’re feeding yourself. You get nice and plump and you’re just getting yourself ready for the day of God’s barbecue and the day of Judgment.

That’s all you’re doing. And guys, we got to see it. James is not mincing any words. You’re just fattening yourselves for the slaughter at the end. We don’t want to do that.

The end of their pleasure is grief. The goal of their luxury is death. Selfishness always leads to the death of our soul. And the fourth one, James says, the selfish rich murder the innocent. That’s verse six.

You have condemned and murdered the innocent one who was not opposing you. Now, it’s hard to know for sure what this is referring to. It can be looked in more than one way. Some think he’s referring to the prophets who preached the word, and a lot of them died innocently at the hands of wicked men. Could be that. Some think it’s referring to the people who are victims of the system.

In other words, we’ve got poor people around us, and we’re not caring about them they may die. And in one sense, not only are we guilty for their suffering, but we’re also guilty for the death, because we could have made a difference, some think that could be the approach. A third one is simply a reference to Jesus. Bible says when they hurled the insults at him, he made no threats.

Jesus continued to do what God wanted him to do. And so I believe that’s probably a big part of what’s going on here. So big question is it wrong? Is it wrong to possess material goods? I don’t think so.

I don’t think so. The Bible talks about people who are wealthy. Abraham was wealthy. Remember Job was seriously wealthy.

Lost everything, got it all back and had even more at the end than at the beginning. David was wealthy. David contributed tons to the temple and all of that. But here’s the thing I want you to really think about, and I want you to hone in on this.

I want you to think about what happens when we get money, okay? What happens when we get money? Let me just assume all of you are poor, and I know better. And that’s something interesting about the proverbs. It says, one man dresses so that he appears rich and he’s poor, and another man dresses like a bum, and you have no idea.

You may be sitting beside a bazillionaire. We don’t know. We don’t know who it is. But it’s really kind of interesting. There was a young lady named Carolyn Gregory who did a study on how money changes the way you think and feel.

And here are some of the findings from that study. It says, more money, less empathy. People with less tend to show more empathy. They’re a lot more concerned. Secondly, wealth can cloud your moral judgment.

Wealth can make you feel morally entitled. Hey, I got a lot of money. I can do whatever I want. When you’re poor, you don’t make those kind of claims. Wealth has been linked with addiction, both in adolescents and adults.

Kids who are in these wealthy families, they tend to have more struggles with drugs and alcohol, and even the adults have just as many problems. And more than the others who are less fortunate, money itself can become addictive. The pursuit of wealth itself can become a compulsive behavior. You got money, and you just want more money. You want to make more.

You want to make more. You’re trying to figure out the next deal you get up, you got to check the stock market. How am I doing today? I mean, there’s some people who can’t even go through a day, I guess, in my 403B with the church I have something in the stocks.

I don’t look at that stock. I get discouraged. I don’t want to see the numbers going up and down. It’s like I can’t do anything about it anyway. You know what I mean?

So why torture myself? But it can become addictive. Wealthy children may be more troubled, and this is the kind that really messes with my soul a little bit. Wealthier children tend to be more distressed than lower income kids and are at higher risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, cheating and stealing. That just tends to be more of the lifestyle they get into.

Six, we tend to perceive the wealthy if you’re on the lower end, you can perceive the wealthy as being evil and cold and heartless, and that’s probably an attitude problem with the lower end people. And then lastly, money can’t buy happiness. So we pursue money, we pursue success because we think it’s going to bring us happiness, but it doesn’t.

Here’s the thing about our church, and I want to just share this because I want you to hear it. We are blessed with incredibly amazing people, some who are very wealthy, and you never know it because they’re generous, they love Jesus, they share. I have one brother, I’m on the board of directors, so I get to know some of these things. When one brother came along and says, I want to give $100,000 to the church, and another sister. I want to give $40,000. And these people don’t even know that the other is doing it, that’s just the kind of heart that I see in the church. And the reason why I say that isn’t so that you’ll feel like, man, wish they would give it to me.

It’s to help you to see that there are people who can have the right attitude about money. They know what they have they have from God. It’s a blessing from God. And we’ll wrap up with some thoughts about that.

But here’s the Living Water challenge I want to put before you before we close. In James, five one through six, the question there is simply, how do we fall into this trap as followers of Jesus with this attitude about money? So, just take some time to think about that and marinate on that. Okay, how do we fall into the same trap? Because James has strong words, if you desire to give wealth, you are messing up.

You’re going down the wrong path. I’m not saying don’t be the best that you can be, you should be the best that you can be on your job. And if God gives you promotions or you do well, then amen. But just remember, whatever you have, you got it from God. And then the second question is, talk about the difference between preference and favoritism, because I think there is a difference.

I may choose to sit beside Marcus Overstreet at church, and according to Marcus is not because Marcus is wealthy, okay? He’s already made that one clear. It’s not because he’s wealthy. It’s because he’s my friend. There’s nothing wrong with preference, but there’s a difference when it’s favoritism.

When you look at it, somebody say, oh, yeah, I want to sit beside Jake because Jake looks like he makes money, you know? I want to get close to him, you know? I mean, you know, you don’t want to do that. So those of you living water challenges just to think about those things, here’s the thing I want to say to you in closing. Don’t desire wealth.

And I know I’m preaching to the choir here. You may be thinking, but boy, a little bit won’t be so bad. But don’t desire wealth, because look at what it says in timothy. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

Some people eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. Guys, you’ll fall away. You will fall away from God if you got that wealth and money grip your heart, you will fall away from God. So don’t desire it. It’s not worth it.

Let’s learn to trust in God, and let’s learn to use what he’s given us. Let’s remember that it’s a gift from Him. Let’s learn to use what he’s given us for his glory and to build up his kingdom. And let’s remember that we’re just stewards who have been entrusted with what we have.

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