Series: Authentic Faith
July 31, 2022
We see warning signs everywhere. Signs that tell us of pending danger ahead on the road. Signs that tell us something is poisonous to ingest. Signs that tell us a floor is slippery. The list goes on and on. Each of these harbingers carry a similar theme: "Misery is coming if you choose not to heed the warning signs." ---------- We find ourselves viewing such warning signs from James as we begin the fifth chapter of his letter as we continue our sermon series on Authentic Faith. In a decidedly prophetic manner, James warns his readers about the misery coming to those whose focus is fixed on the accumulation of wealth, especially at the expense of more godly pursuits.
Introduction: Warning Signs and Parable of the Rich Fool
…Jesus told them this story:
A rich man's farm produced a big crop, and he said to himself, “What can I do? I don't have a place large enough to store everything.”
Later, he said, “Now I know what I'll do. I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I can store all my grain and other goods. Then I'll say to myself, ‘You have stored up enough good things to last for years to come. Live it up! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.’ ”
But God said to him, “You fool! Tonight you will die. Then who will get what you have stored up?”
“This is what happens to people who store up everything for themselves, but are poor in the sight of God.”
—Luke 12:16-21 (CEV)
- In focusing on himself, he forgot the needs of others
- In focusing on his blessings, he forgot the One who had blessed him
- In focusing on plans for today, he forgot to prepare for eternity
James echoes these sentiments in the beginning of chapter 5:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.
—James 5:1 (ESV)
In light of the materialism and favoritism James has addressed throughout his letter, he now provides a solid and emphatic reminder of the temporary nature of human wealth.
To remind them of this he effectively takes on the role of a prophet and speaks in terms reminiscent of OT prophecy.
His pronouncements are obviously no longer addressed to the Christian community alone, even though the letter was intended to be read by that community. His words are designed to awaken his readers by means of a firm list of warnings about the miseries associated with wealth and it accumulation.
James is not saying “the rich” will weep and howl in repentance for what they have done, but as an expression of remorse in the face of judgment that would come on them.
We see warning signs everywhere. Signs that tell us of pending danger ahead on the road. Signs that tell us something is poisonous to ingest. Signs that tell us a floor is slippery. The list goes on and on. Each of these harbingers carry a similar theme: "Misery is coming if you choose not to heed the warning signs."
We find ourselves viewing such warning signs from James as we begin the fifth chapter of his letter as we continue our sermon series on Authentic Faith. In this decidedly prophetic manner, James warns his readers about the misery coming to those whose focus is fixed on the accumulation of wealth, especially at the expense of more godly pursuits.
- WARNING: Don’t define your life by possessions
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.
—James 5:2-3 (ESV)
- That which is new, doesn’t stay new… that which is valuable doesn’t retain value… but that doesn’t stop us from the disease of always wanting more… wanting better… wanting to upgrade our lives.
- Your prized possessions ultimately become rotted riches
- Your finest fashionables ultimately become out-of-date duds
- Your treasured troves ultimately become wasted wealth
- The seeds of death and decay are found in all of creation. It is a great mistake to think there is security in wealth.
“Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it.
—Luke 12:33 (NLT)
- The physical deterioration of your treasures will often mirror the inward decay of your moral and spiritual life
Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
—Luke 12:34 (NLT)
- God meant wealth to be used for the good of mankind. It also will destroy the rich themselves—shall eat your flesh as it were fire.
- By itself, money is not sinful; it is neutral… it is simply a thing. But “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10) and leads to destruction and devastation.
- As the Bible commentator Warren Wiersbe stated “‘Thou shalt not covet’ is the last of the Ten Commandments, but it is the most dangerous. Covetousness will make a person break all the other nine commandments.”
Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.
—1 Timothy 6:17-19 (NLT)
A SPIRITUAL CONTRAST
- Be humble about what you have
- Recognize God as generous to you
- Use things to do good and to show generosity
- Always be ready to share
- WARNING: Don’t demonstrate your greed by exploitation
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.
—James 5:4 (ESV)
Throughout history, and not only in James’s day, men of wealth have often been guilty of holding back the wages of the laborers who work for them. This does not mean they did not pay them, but rather that they fraudulently paid them less than was right.
- Profiting from unfair compensation
Never take advantage of poor and destitute laborers, whether they are fellow Israelites or foreigners living in your towns. You must pay them their wages each day before sunset because they are poor and are counting on it. If you don’t, they might cry out to the Lord against you, and it would be counted against you as sin.
—Deuteronomy 24:14-15 (NLT)
- Putting them in constant debt
- Putting them in constant desperation
‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’
“I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers.
—Isaiah 58:3 (NLT)
- Capitalizing on unjust procedures
ILLUSTRATION: A famous preacher, known for his long sermons, was asked to give the annual “charity sermon” for the poor. It was suggested that if he preached too long, the congregation might not give as much as they should. The preacher read his text from Proverbs 19:17…
If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord—and he will repay you!
—Proverbs 19:17 (NLT)
His sermon indeed was brief: “If you like the terms, then put down your money.”
The circumstances pictured by James are very much true to life. First-century Palestine, before A.D. 70, witnessed an increasing concentration of land in the hands of a small group of very wealthy landowners.
As a result, the small properties of many farmers were assimilated into these large estates, and these farmers were forced to earn their living by hiring themselves out to their rich landlords, becoming share-croppers with no hope of ever truly being free from the landowners control.
- Being abused because of their need
- Being abused because of their circumstance
Such greed and exploitation was not going unnoticed by God and would lead to their destruction.
“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.
—Zechariah 7:9-10 (NLT)
A SPIRITUAL CONTRAST
- Judge and treat others fairly (give to others what is right)
- Show compassion for those in need
- Choose to encourage others through your actions
- Always be ready to be generous without an agenda
- III.WARNING: Don’t designate your success by extravagance
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 5:5-6 (ESV)
All of us are grateful for the good things of life, and we would certainly not want to return to primitive conditions. But we recognize the fact that there is a point of diminishing returns. “Tell me what thou dost need,” said the Quaker to his neighbor, “and I will tell thee how to get along without it.”
Jesus said, “Beware and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15, nasb). These rich men James addressed were feeding themselves on their riches and starving to death. The Greek word pictures cattle being fattened for the slaughter.
- Self-indulgent luxury is waste and waste is sinful
- There is a great difference between enjoying what God has given us and living extravagantly
- Living on what we have withheld from others
- Living on what we have been given as a gift or inheritance
A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, “I want my share of your estate now before you die.” So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.
—Luke 15:11-13 (NLT)
- Even if what we have has been earned lawfully and in the will of God, we must not waste it on selfish living. There are too many needs to be met.
“There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.
—Luke 16:20-21 (NLT)
- Self-indulgent luxury has a way of ruining character
- If you match character with wealth, you can produce much good; but if you match self-indulgence with wealth, the result is sin
- This self-indulgence (this lapse of moral character) often leads to a sense of invulnerability.
- A feeling that one is above the consequences and convictions others might face.
- A rationalization of what is known to be wrong in the eyes of God
ILLUSTRATION: The story of David and Bathsheba
Before I confessed my sins, my bones felt limp, and I groaned all day long.
Night and day your hand weighed heavily on me, and my strength was gone as in the summer heat.
—Psalm 32:3-4 (CEV)
So I confessed my sins and told them all to you. I said, “I'll tell the Lord each one of my sins.” Then you forgave me and took away my guilt.
—Psalm 32:5 (CEV)
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
—Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)
A SPIRITUAL CONTRAST
- Admit your sinful choices
- Be devoted to the things of God
- Be unselfish with what you have
- Be sacrificial to those who need help
- Build a legacy of joy and generosity
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