Filthy Rich

Tom Pennington James 5:1-6


We return this morning to our study of the letter of James. We've come to the fifth and final chapter of this great letter. I've entitled the first six verses of this chapter as Filthy Rich. We use that expression to refer to those who are richer than we think they ought to be, and certainly there are those like that in the world today. In fact, recently I came across an article entitled The Jet Set Unmasked. Jetsetter is a word that's been around for some time, ever since the dawn of jet travel. But today the word jetsetter has a unique connotation, it refers to those who own their own private jets.

Two researchers surveyed this group to find out exactly who they were and how they spend their money. The average private jet owner has an annual income of over $9 million, two principal residences worth $2 million each and an average net worth of close to $90 million. Their average age is 57 and 70% of them are men, only 34% of them, and this I could learn to envy, open their own mail. And 19% of them pay their own bills. And so, the surveyors not only had to ask them questions, but because they are often out of touch with how their money is spent, the researchers had to discover from their accountants how exactly their money was spent.

Here it is, here's how the jetsetters, those who own their own private jets, spend their money, starting at the bottom. The smallest category of expenditures in this little list was $30,000 a year on wines and spirits. Now think about that for a moment, $30,000 is two thirds of the median household income in the U.S., these people spend it on alcohol. The next category is experiential travel, like guided tours, safaris, Brazilian rainforest tours, kayaking in Baja. They spent, on average, $98,000 a year on those kinds of trips, $107,000 on spas, $117,000 a year on clothes, $147,000 on watches; hotels and resorts, $157,000 year. They rent villas and chalets to the tune of $168,000 on average per year. They spent $226,000 a year on cars. Now sometimes I feel like I'm spending that much in repairing mine, but I don't think it comes close to that. $248,000 on jewelry. On boats and yacht rentals, there's a crucial category, they average $404,000 a year. $542,000, you see we're climbing here, $542,000 a year on home improvements. That makes me feel a lot better about that couch I need to buy for my den. But by far the biggest average expenditure for the jet setter is on art. They spend $1.75 million dollars a year, on average, on art. Just those categories I've given you account for about half of their annual income.

My reaction to that list, as I read it, is probably the same as yours. What a waste, what a horrible waste of resources, what incredible self-indulgence. Now, while private jets and many of the things that today's rich spend their money on may be new, the problems that come with wealth are not new. In fact, they were often a concern even in the millennia before Christ. They are frequently, these issues of wealth and its abuse, are frequently the target of the Old Testament writers.

There are many passages that I came across this week, let me just take you to my favorite. Turn to Psalm 73. Psalm 73, of course, is the first psalm in the third book of the psalter. And most of these psalms in this section are written by Asaph, a man who was a songwriter connected to the temple. And he explains to us in verse 3 of Psalm 73 that he had a sin problem. He "was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked." Here are the filthy rich of his day. And he says, here's what I saw, verse 4, "there are no pains in their death," they don't seem to die like the rest of us, "their body is fat," in other words, they have more than enough to eat and they're constantly indulging themselves. "They are not in trouble as other men," they don't have the same problems the rest of us seem to have,

they are not plagued like mankind. Therefore pride is there necklace; the garment of violence covers them.

They are exalted in their pride. They take whatever steps they think necessary to gain advantage. "Their eye bulges from fatness; the imaginations of their heart run riot." They imagine that they can do whatever it is they choose to do, whether it's within the confines of the law or not.

They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; they speak from on high. They have set their mouth against the heavens.

In other words, they even talk against God. "And their tongue parades through the earth." There's a picturesque expression. It goes on to say in verse 11,

They say, "How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?" Behold, these are the wicked; [Asaph says,] and always at ease, they have increased in wealth.

Rather than all of that getting them trouble and trial and difficulty, they've actually grown in their wealth even as they flaunt all of these sinful lifestyles and patterns. Throughout the Old Testament, that same issue recurs over and over and over again, as the writers identify the wicked wealthy, the filthy rich, who live just as Asaph describes it here.

When you come to the New Testament, it's addressed there as well. And perhaps nowhere more like the Old Testament prophet than in James 5. In James 5, here in the first six verses of this fifth chapter, James addresses the same issue, the prosperous wealthy wicked. Let me read it for you, James 5:1,

Come now you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; and he does not resist you.

Now, before we can take this really fascinating paragraph apart, we have to begin by asking ourselves who exactly are these people? He merely identifies them in verse 1 as the rich, "Come now, you rich." There are a few commentators who believe that James is here addressing sinning Christians, that these are wealthy Christians who have allowed their wealth to get the better of them. But I find myself agreeing with the majority of commentators that these are, in fact, wealthy unbelieving landowners of large estates, which were so typical of the first century.

The reason I think that, several reasons, let me just recount them for you. For example, in this passage I've just read for you, there is no exhortation, there is no call to repentance, as there was in the previous paragraph, when he was talking about the Christian rich who planned their businesses without referring to God's sovereignty and His providence. So, there's no call for repentance. There's no expectation of salvation. There's only judgment. But I think the strongest argument for these being unconverted wealthy people is the transition that occurs in verse 7. Notice the beginning of verse 7, "Therefore," James writes, "be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord." He's going to tell them that the judgment is coming on these wicked people he's just described. So it seems pretty clear, when you look at that transition, that the first six verses are really addressed to unbelievers.

Like many of the Old Testament prophets who wrote of judgment on foreign nations, who didn't read the letter, best we know, James writes, addressing people who would probably not have been present when the letter was originally read. The question is why? If he's speaking primarily to and about unbelievers, why would he include it in a letter addressed to believers? What are his reasons for including this paragraph? Let me give you a couple of ideas. First of all, I think it was targeted at the wealthy unbelieving rich in hopes that they would either hear about it or read it and be confronted with their sin. He addresses them directly, "Come now, you rich." I think there's some hope and expectation on James' part that they might hear about this letter he's written and they might read it or be exposed to the truth that's here and be confronted with their sinfulness, and hopefully come to faith in Christ as a result.

A second possible reason for including this paragraph in his letter to believers is to help us as believers understand God's perspective about the ungodly rich in our world. Because we, like Asaph, can easily be tempted to envy their prosperity, and to think like Asaph, "I have washed my hands in innocence all day long and I've got nothing for it." But I think thirdly, and probably most importantly, James includes the section addressed to unbelievers so that we can listen in, we can listen in and be guarded as believers from the madness of materialism. I think he wants us to see materialism run amok, gone to its furtherest extreme, and in so doing to guard our own hearts.

James begins his diatribe in verse 1 with a pronouncement of God's coming judgment, "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you." The Greek verbs weep and howl occur frequently in the Old Testament, in the Septuagint, to describe the response of the wicked to the day of the Lord when it comes. For example, in Isaiah 13:6, "Wail, for the day of the Lord is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty." In fact, that second word translated howl in our translation occurs only of violent grief, and it always occurs in the Old Testament in reference to God's judgment. So this must mean that the miseries verse 1 talks about are not a drop in the stock market. We're talking here about the miseries that will come upon the unbelieving wealthy when the day of judgment comes. And it's coming.

Jesus told the wicked rich of His day to expect the same thing. You remember Luke 6:24, He said, "'woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.'" Brings up memories, doesn't it, of Luke 16? Where Jesus told the story of the rich man who fared sumptuously every day and lived in purple and fine linen, had everything he wanted. And then there was Lazarus, the beggar laid at his gate, full of sores, the dogs licking those sores, and desiring to have even a crumb that fell from the table. And then death came and roles were immediately reversed, because one of them was righteous and the other was wicked. And eternity brought the reality of that to bear. But when Jesus said these kinds of things, you have to understand that it was a shock to their sensibilities, because in first century Judaism they embraced what we call retribution theology. By the way, retribution theology is still around and alive in the church.

Retribution theology teaches that there is a direct link between your physical circumstances in this world and God's view of you. So, for example, retribution theology looks around and it says, if you see someone who is rich and blessed, who doesn't seem to have many physical problems, then that means God is honoring that person, that means that person must be righteous and God is blessing them as a result of that. On the other hand, retribution theology says, if you see someone who is poor and struggling and going through all kinds of physical difficulties, that means they are unrighteous and God is laying His hand heavy upon them. And the two are always tied together in retribution theology. Now there is an element of truth to that, God does bless His own, not always in physical blessings, however, take Lazarus as a great example.

This mindset, this idea, retribution theology, is alive and well, particularly in what we call the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. Those people who say, if you're a Christian, God wants you to drive a Mercedes, and you know, He wants you to have a house here and a house in West Palm Beach. That's absolutely not true, but this is the mindset they had. You remember when Jesus in Matthew 19 said, "'it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.'" How did the disciples respond to that? They said, "'Well, who then can be saved?'" I mean, after all, the rich are rich because they are righteous and God has blessed them. And so, if they can't be saved, then how can the rest of us? This is the mindset. This is the context in which James pens this first verse of chapter 5, "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries are coming at the judgment." Your wealth is no indication of God's being pleased with you.

By the way, you need to understand, even as we go through this, that the Bible nowhere condemns wealth. There's no problem inherent in wealth itself. In fact, wherever you find in the Bible, wealth acquired by legitimate means, by means like working, saving, investing, inheriting, it is identified, in fact, as a gift of God. We won't take time to turn there, but you remember, in Deuteronomy 8, when Moses is talking to the children of Israel, and he tells them, you're going to go into the land and you're going to inherit houses you didn't build and vineyards you didn't grow, and you're going to have all of this material prosperity, he says, remember, it is God who has given you this wealth and it's God who gives you the power to make wealth. So wealth acquired by legitimate means is a gift from God.

In Scripture we learned that a number of the righteous were wealthy, Abraham, for example, Job, David, Josiah. You come to the New Testament, Lydia, the first convert in Macedonia, the Book of Acts, Philemon. So while the Bible addresses the problems that come with wealth, it nowhere condemns wealth. And when it does condemn the wealthy, listen carefully, when it does condemn the wealthy, it's not for the wealth. Instead, it is always because of three things, one of three things or a combination there of. When it condemns the wealthy, it condemns them, number one, because of how their wealth was acquired, how they got it, by deceitful, dishonest means, etcetera. Secondly, by how they use it, by what they do with the wealth they have. And thirdly, for the attitudes they allow to develop because of their wealth, thinking that somehow they're responsible, and therefore they can take full credit. When the Bible condemns the wealthy, it is for one of those three things, or a combination of them, how it was acquired, how it's used, or the sinful attitudes that results from it.

So if it's not for their wealth that James is condemning these people, what is it for? What are the sins of these people in James 5. Well, in the next five verses, and we're going to look at them very briefly this morning, he focuses the spotlight on four sins that tend to attach to those who are wealthy, four sins. The first sin is the sin of hoarding. Notice verse 2, "Your riches have rotted." That's a sort of general introductory comment. Then he adds, "your garments have become moth-eaten." The Greek word for garments refers to the long loose flowing outer robes that were so common in the Middle East. But the wealthy would take those garments, and first of all, they would be made of the finest material, they would be died a color that only the wealthy could afford, something of purple is often used or scarlet. And in addition, they would beautifully decorate them and even embroider them. And so, as you walked down the street, you literally wore your status, people knew how rich you were by the clothes that you wore. They were of great value, these garments were, and were even willed to their children. The wealthy would take the garments, because they had a number of them, this demonstrated their wealth, and they would store them in trunks. But of course, in that hot climate, if somehow a moth or moth larva got inside that trunk, it could cause extensive damage. And James says, that's exactly what's happened, "your garments have become moth-eaten."

Then he adds, "Your gold and your silver have rusted." Now, hopefully you know that gold and silver, as we know them, don't rust. So what does James mean here? Well there are two possibilities. It was true that in the ancient world, there was enough alloy mixed with precious metals in the making of coins, that sometimes they could rust, there would be a residue that would come off on your hand, like a bad penny, you know, come off on your hand, or get in your clothes. It's possible that's the reference. But most likely James is saying this, your money isn't working, it's rusting. It's a figure of speech. He's saying it's so stockpiling that you never touch it. It's not doing any use for anyone. Instead, it is metaphorically rusting.

You see, people who hoard wealth are, in fact, depriving others. John Calvin, in commenting on this passage writes, "God has not appointed gold for rust, nor garments for moths, but on the contrary, He has designed them as aids and helps to human life." And when you and I hoard, when we accumulate more than we need, those things begin to be of no use to us or to anyone else. That's exactly what James is attacking these people for.

Now notice that James gives three compelling reasons that hoarding makes absolutely no sense. Notice verse 3, he says, "their rust will be a witness against you." In other words, the disuse of your resources, because you're just stockpiling them and not using them, the disuse of your resources will serve as evidence against you at the judgment. God gave them to you to use. Secondly, notice the reason he gives that hoarding makes no sense. He says, "they will consume your flesh like fire." It's a very hard phrase to understand, but I think the best way to take it is this: In the judgment, their rusty unused wealth will become part of the reason for their eternal destruction.

And the third reason he gives at the end of verse 3, "It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!" Last days, of course, is a reference to the reality that the day of judgment is drawing near. Here's what James is saying, he's saying, how foolish is it to spend all your life consumed with storing up treasure when the end is so close? Boy, if that was true in the first century, how much truer is it today? Commentator J.A. Motyer writes this, I like the way he puts it, he says, "These people lived without watching God's clock. They stored earthly goods as if there was nothing to expect but this life and its needs. They planned to live forever, but on the earth."

Now, what are you and I to do with this? How can we guard ourselves against hoarding? Well, Jesus addresses this very specifically. Turn to Matthew 6. If this is what the wicked wealthy do, how are you and I, as we listen in to James confront them, how are you and I to live differently? Matthew 6:19, Jesus says,

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves [instead] treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Verse 24, "'No one can serve two masters; either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.'"

Now, as I read that passage, and as I've studied James 5 this week, I find myself asking the question, how am I to apply this? When is hoarding occurring? What does that look like? Because you and I understand that the Bible teaches that it's wise for us to save for the future. Were pointed even to the ant and said to consider her ways who, when the harvest is there, she gathers and collects and stores for the difficult days ahead. And over and over again, we're told that the righteous saves while the wicked spends everything he gets. So it's right to save for difficult times when we're unable to work, it's right to save for our children to pass on an inheritance, the Bible encourages that.

So when do we cross the line between reasonable savings and it becomes hoarding? Well, I think James 5 gives us a key clue. When you look at this passage, I think the answer to the question of when do you pass the line from reasonable saving into hoarding, is when you pass what can reasonably be used, when you pass what can reasonably be used in the ways the Bible intends. Notice, that's the indictment James gives of these people, you have riches that have rotted, you have clothes that have been stored so long they are moth eaten, you have precious metals that are so unused we can say they have even rusted from lack of use. Folks, you and I need to ransack our savings accounts, we need to ransack our closets, we need to look in our homes and ask ourselves, what is it that we are accumulating and hoarding that we don't use.

There are a lot of practical applications with this. I can tell you one for me, I intend over the next couple of weeks to go through my closet and ask myself, what have I not worn within the last year? Somebody can be using that. I don't need to hoard that. There are a lot of practical applications here. But the bottom line is, when it becomes what we can no longer effectively use as the Bible encourages us to use it, whether saving for our own future when we will use it, or saving for our children when they can use it, when it gets beyond that. And you know, I know you're sitting there thinking, you know, I wish God had just given us a dollar amount. You know, I wish He had given me a dollar amount so I would know. Well, He didn't, He expects us to use wisdom and to search our own hearts before the Lord, and say, when do we cross the line between what we can reasonably use and begin to hoard.

What should we do instead with the wealth that we can never really use, that we're just hoarding? Jesus tells us, look at Matthew, excuse me, let me have you turn to Luke instead, Luke 12. Verse 33, Jesus says,

"Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Jesus isn't saying, sell everything you have. We're told, even by Timothy a little later, that we have a responsibility to provide for our own families, even our extended families. We're told to save. What Jesus is saying is this, don't hoard; get rid of what you cannot reasonably use and make it work for the kingdom.

This is what Jesus says over in Luke 16, just a few pages over, when he tells the parable of the unjust steward, which I don't have time to go into this morning, but the bottom line is, here's the point he makes, verse 9 of Luke 16, "'I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness,'" in other words, money, "'make friends for yourselves,'" "'so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.'" You know what Jesus is saying? He's saying, take that excess money, that's only going to rot, that's only going to decay, and put it to use for the kingdom, so that when you reach "eternal dwellings," that is, heaven, there will be people there who are there because you invested your resources in the kingdom. Don't hoard.

The first sin that the wicked rich are guilty of and that we must never tolerate in our lives is hoarding. The second is fraud. Look at verse 4, "Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth." The word laborers here in the first part of that verse is a very familiar Greek word. It's a word which means day laborers. These were the men at the bottom of the social structure and the food chain. Many similarities between them and today's immigrant workers or day laborers. They were the poor underprivileged. They had no visibility, no status, no means, and no recourse. And so it was not uncommon for them to be taken advantage of. Over and over again, you read this. Even back in Deuteronomy 24:14-15 we are told, do not keep the pay of the day labor overnight; give him his money before the sun sets, because he depends on that money.

And throughout the Old Testament you see that the people of God, the people of Israel, violated that command and the prophets jump on them for depriving the worker of his wage. Jeremiah 22:13 speaks of that as does God's judgment in Malachi 3:5. This was a common problem. In fact, while I was in California, there there are a lot of migrant workers and day labors, they gather on certain street corners and, you know, you can go by and hire them for the day. That happens even here in our area. And I remember, when I was in California, hearing horror stories about how unscrupulous men would sometimes hire these workers and at the end of the day refuse to pay them based on some technicality. The workers were left, of course, with no recourse. It's not like they could appeal to the authorities.

That's the very scenario here. In verse 4 you have the scenario of the wheat and barley harvest when extra workers would be needed to get the work done. They hired these day laborers. One group, notice, has been hired to mow, that is, to cut and shock the grain. The second group is supposed to complete the harvesting, but the landowners here have withheld the pay from both. Probably, again, on some technicality. Well, you'll just have to wait, we'll get that to you, maybe the end of the week, maybe next week. Notice in response to that, that there are two cries in verse 4, there is the cry of the pay you withheld, in other words, the very act itself cries out for God's justice. And there's the cry of the workers, who cry out to God; God, where's justice? James says, you can be sure God hears, "the outcry reached the ears," he says, "of the Lord of Sabaoth," the Lord of hosts, that's a Hebrew expression meaning the Lord of armies. Don't you imagine for a moment that God isn't capable of dealing with the wicked rich. He does hear and He does respond.

Now, the cultural context in which James wrote was primarily an agricultural, agrarian culture. So the examples that he cites are from his own culture, but the principles here transcend his culture and are eminently applicable to our own. How can we defraud others? Well obviously we're forbidden from, clearly, withholding from others what is rightfully theirs. If you're an employer, pay your employees, and pay them in a timely manner. That matters to God. If you work for an organization that purposefully, as a manner of practice, defrauds, whether it's investors or clients or customers or the government, if it defrauds, purposefully, in order to make a profit, then you need to start looking for another place to work.

But every one of us can also violate the spirit of this passage simply by taking advantage of others in order to promote our own financial advantage. Let me ask you, do you timely, in a timely way, pay those who provide you with services and products under the terms that you've agreed upon? It's becoming a common business practice in today's world to delay payments to vendors in order to make some additional interest on their money. You read about it in many of the publications. Even homeowners will do this, knowingly, purposefully, delay payment to the businesses that they buy from, or receive services from. That's exactly what this is talking about. Those people depend on that money and you have no right to keep what belongs to someone else. Sadly, it's not uncommon even for people in the church to owe money to somebody else in the church and just not pay them back. It's fraud. We have to ask ourselves, are we guilty of fraud, of seeking our own financial advantage to the detriment of others? This is one of the sins of the filthy rich.

Hoarding, fraud, the third sin he warns us against is self-indulgence. Notice verse 5, "You have lived luxuriously on the earth and lead a life of wanton pleasure." Here James uses two separate verbs with different nuances to describe the sin. The first is translated "lived luxuriously." It refers to a soft easy life, extravagant comfort. The second verb is translated "led a life of wanton pleasure." This verb is used only negatively in the Bible. It only occurs two other places. In 1 Timothy 5:6, about the widow who lives in "wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives," and in Ezekiel 16:49, describing the guilt of the people of God of Old Testament Israel it says that, "she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy." This word refers to a life of unrestrained self-indulgence with no self-denial whatsoever.

What's James point here? I think he's making the same application as Ezekiel, these people that he's talking to lived in self-indulgence, oblivious to the plight of others. They were wasteful and extravagant. As one writer describes it, they were into conspicuous consumption. But here's the irony, look at the end of verse 5, "you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter." What a frightening word picture that is. You know what James is saying, he's saying, these people are like beasts that are eating and indulging themselves and growing fatter every day, unaware that each day and each hour brings them much closer to the butcher. A graphic description of God's judgment.

So what's the application for us? What does James want us to get? Well, I don't think I can say it any better than Kent Hughes said in his commentary, he says, "There are times for sumptuous celebration. There are times to feast and lavish our loved ones. But a life of conspicuous consumption, delicate, soft luxury is not Christian. Do not be fooled by the evangelistic gigolos who tell eager ears, you're the children of the King, live like it." He is exactly right.

The fourth and final sin of the filthy rich is injustice. Verse 6, "You have condemned and put to death the righteous man." Now James has already alluded to this problem. Back in James 2:6, he describes the rich as those "who oppress you and personally drag you into court." And here he describes exactly what it looks like, how it happens. It's a form of judicial murder, if you will. He says, "You have condemned the righteous," that's the language of the court, it implies a judicial verdict. You see, the wealthy often have sway and influence in the courts and they use them to get their own will and to get their own advantage. And here he says, this is what you've done, and you've even "put to death." Now that may be a reference to literal death, it may mean you managed to arrange to get this guy killed in capital punishment, or it may be simply the practical outcome of their actions by taking the guy to court, stealing whatever way he had to make wages for his family; they've essentially starved him to death. Either way, notice the end of verse 6, "he," that is, "the righteous man," "does not resist you." As Douglas Moo says, "The righteous are helpless victims of the stratagems of the rich and powerful."

But there's coming a day when that's not true, when all such injustice will be made right. listen to the prophet Zephaniah, Zephaniah 1:18, "Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them on the day of the Lord's wrath; and all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy, for He will make a complete end, indeed a terrifying one, of all the inhabitants of the earth." Money won't matter that day, it won't protect you that day. By the way, it's our awareness of that, it's our awareness of the end of the wicked rich that keeps us from envying them. Isn't that what Asaph said, back in Psalm 73 where we began? You remember, he recounts all of his envy and when he gets to the point, he says, but then I came into the sanctuary, and I thought about You, and I thought about their end, "You have set them in slippery places," he says, and they will soon slide away to destruction. We don't need to envy them. This is their future.

Now again, we have to ask ourselves what's the application of this to us, how are we guilty of injustice? You probably never use the courts to destroy someone's life. I hope not. And you've certainly never used the courts to bring an end to someone's life. So what are the applications? Well, think about the modern manifestations of this sin. You see, there is a kind of injustice that happens all the time, particularly in the business world. Let me ask you a very pointed question, do you have your position at work today because you climbed up on the backs of others? Are you ever tempted to use your influence and power to advance yourself at the expense of someone else? Do you wrongly criticize others to make yourself look better? These are all forms of injustice that stand us in every bit as much guilt before God as what these wealthy rich were doing. By the way, this can even happen in the church. I've seen it among church staff. Have you ever treated someone unjustly to gain a political or financial advantage? All of those are injustice and God condemns them.

So there are the four sins of the rich, that make them filthy in the sight of God, hoarding, fraud, self-indulgence, and injustice. And James tells us about them because he wants us to avoid them. As I thought about this, I couldn't help but think about Paul's admonition on the same front. Turn to 1 Timothy 6 as we close our time together. First Timothy 6, you see Paul tells Timothy, if you don't have wealth, don't pursue it. But that's not us. Listen to me for just a moment. Listen carefully, you're sitting there thinking I'm not rich, none of this really has any ramifications on me. If you are seated in this auditorium this morning, by virtue of the fact that you live in America, you find yourself in the 30 percent richest people in the world. You're in the top 30 percent of the richest people in the world, simply by virtue of the fact that you live here in America. If you look at the population, five billion plus, of the world, you look at their annual incomes, we're in the top 30 percent, even the poorest of people here in the U.S. Every one of us finds ourselves in this passage, in James 5, and here in 1 Timothy 6.

So how are we to handle the wealth we have? First of all, notice the warnings he gives us. He begins the chapter by talking about, in verse 3, about false teachers, and he ends verse 5 by saying those false teachers think that godliness can be a means of financial gain. And he turns the tables in verse 6, and he says, "godliness is a means of great gain," spiritual gain, "when it's accompanied by contentment." You didn't bring anything into the world, you're not going to take anything out. And verse 9, he says, "those who want to get rich." Stop there a moment. Ask yourself this question, do you want to get rich? Listen to Paul,

those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and some by longing for it have even wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

If you don't have wealth, don't pursue it. But as I said, to some degree all of us have wealth, by the standard of the world in which we live.

So how do we deal with it? How do we handle it? Well, very quickly, Paul tells us here. Let me tell you how you and I are to handle the wealth we have. Number one, be content. Notice verse 8, "If you have food and clothing, with these be content." Whatever you've got, be content with it. Number two, run from the love of money. Verse 11, "But flee from these things, you man of God." What is he talking about? Well, the previous verse is the love of money, he's telling Timothy, run from the love of money. So be content with what you've got, run from the love of money. Number three, don't become proud. Verse 17, he comes back to the issue, "Instruct those who are rich in this present world," that's all of us, "not to be conceited." Don't get proud about it. Don't think your brilliant intellect and great business plan, got you where you are. Don't be conceited.

So be content. Run from the love of money. Don't become proud. Number four, don't trust your wealth, but God. Verse 17 again, "Instruct those who are rich in this present world to fix their hope on God and not the uncertainty of riches, on the very God who supplies us with all things to enjoy." Don't imagine for a moment that there is security in wealth. It can be gone in a heartbeat. Trust God. And number five, use what God has given you for the kingdom. Notice verse 18,

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, [we're talking about heaven here, like Christ did] so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

Listen to James' warnings against the wicked rich. Don't be guilty of hoarding. Don't be guilty of the sin of fraud. Don't be guilty of self-indulgence. Don't be guilty of injustice. Instead, be content. Run from the love of money. Don't get proud. Don't trust your wealth, but God, and use it for the kingdom. May God help us to respond to what He's given us like this. Let's pray together.

Father, we confess to You that we are so easily attracted to the wealth of the world. It's so easy for us to want these things, to want wealth and what it brings. Father, forgive us, help us to see in our own lives, the sins that James identifies in this passage we've looked at together this morning. Lord protect us from sinful hoarding, what we'll never use. Lord forgive us for fraud, from withholding something from others, for hurting others to our own financial advantage.

Father, I pray that You would forgive us for our sinful self-indulgence, the lack of any self-denial, but pursuing everything we want, for a soft and easy and extravagant life. Father, forgive us as well for unjustly treating others, to get it or to keep it. Instead, Father, help us to follow the teaching that You've laid down through Paul that we've just looked at. Help us to give ourselves to contentment, to give ourselves to pursuing You and the kingdom, instead of our own comfort and ease. Lord, help us as a church, in such a wealthy area, to live counterculture like this.

Lord, thank You for what You've given us. We acknowledge that we are wealthy by the world's standards because of Your goodness. But Lord, don't let us set our hearts on these things. Don't let us ever reach the point where we have to have them. Help us to be willing to give them up for the kingdom and for Your sake. For the sake of Your Son, in whose name we pray, amen.


God Rules! - Part 3

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Filthy Rich

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When Life's Not Fair - Part 1

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