This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on January 20th, 2013. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – James4c-5a.
This morning we are going to look at a passage about wealth. How do we as believers talk about wealth in a way that doesn’t turn into a business seminar? How do we move beyond the different attitudes that reflect our culture – namely, either the idea that God smiles on the rich and self-indulgent – the health and prosperity gospel – or, on the other hand, the idea that wealth is bad – and that we are called to renounce all possessions and enjoyment and live in poverty? This morning, we mean to speak in a balanced, scriptural way about the pursuit and meaning of wealth.
We Long for Wealth.
Why Do We Long for Wealth? I want to start, again this week, in Genesis, chapter two. The stories in Genesis show us who we are as human beings – they are packed with insight into who we are and how we were made to live (Gen.2). Notice that in the Garden of Eden, we are shown a paradise, a picture of wealth and beauty and peace. There is everything that is needed for contentment and enjoyment – God’s provision is lavish! And this is a picture of what we were made for – our true environment.
The point is – before we start into what James is going to say – that we were made for this place of contentment and wealth and beauty – in the presence of God. We were made to be provided for, and we know this down in our souls – that we are supposed to be complete. We appreciate beauty. We enjoy good food. We find rest in comfort. We want security. These things are, in a sense, our natural environment – because they reflect the glory and presence of God. Consequently, wealth, beauty, comfort – these things which reflect the presence of God – these are things which, in the truest sense of what they are meant to be, we are exiled from.
We Have Become Our Own Providers: So we long for the environment for which we were created. We are like people trying to get home. And yet, we are prone to pursue the trappings of home apart from the Father who makes the house a home. Consequently, we tend to pursue business and wealth as though they were ends in themselves. In doing so, we lose sight of the meaning of wealth and consider only the human pursuit of business.
James confronts those who consider only the human pursuit and control of business – “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Why, you do not know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
WAIT, James is saying, you are pursuing that which looks like it will bring contentment – but which, on its own, alone, is an empty shell. You were not made for the mindless pursuit of wealth and business – apart from the Father. You have divorced provision and wealth from the Provider – and it has become, no longer provision, but a fearful and consuming activity.
Warning: We Must Not Allow Wealth to Consume Us.
Wealth is to Be Used – Not Hoarded: “Weep you rich… your wealth has rotted and moths 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.”
If, in our fear, we think of wealth as security, then we become hoarders. If we understand wealth as the provision of God – then it is something that we use for our needs. Some of the harshest language in the New Testament is reserved for those who hoard unused wealth. Their gold and silver are corroded, even though gold does not corrode, (and James would know this). But James is taking a symbol of security and he turns it into an image which is corrosive and harmful – it burns the flesh of those who have hoarded it.
What James is saying is fairly clear – hoarded wealth will consume us – it will become our life, our anxiety (even as it pretends to be our security). It’s corrosive effect on our lives will be revealed in the day of judgment.
Wealth Should Be Used to Bless – Not Withheld to Harm: “Look! the wages you failed to pay your workman who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of God Almighty”
Here again, if we are driven by fear – if wealth is our security – if we use wealth to have power over other people – we will withhold it and act unjustly. And here, James personifies wealth – it becomes something that cries out against us when we hold onto it unjustly. The wages of the workman that cry out against those who withhold them and become accusers.
Again, James’ warning is clear – wealth can become our accuser if we use it unjustly.
Wealth Must Never Own Us: “You have lived on earth in luxury and self indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men who were not opposing you.”
In this third section of his tirade, James changes focus to those who use wealth for self-indulgent, luxurious lifestyles. When we worship comfort and acquisition we anesthetize ourselves to the struggle and suffering and need of those around us. Our luxury and wealth separate us from God as a provider – for we have no need of him to provide.
Here, James uses the image of a calf fattened for the day of slaughter. Wealth and the pursuit of wealth can become the appetite that drowns out all other concerns as we live out selfish lives.
Trust God As Father and Provider.
Submit to God as Your Father and Provider: So what is James’ solution? He turns us back towards God, the Father and Provider. We are made for and long for the atmosphere of the Garden of Eden – beauty, every provision, wealth – but these things are a reflection of the presence of God – which is what we truly long for. James calls these believers to submit themselves to God as provider – “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that”.
This is more than just asking God to sign off on our plans – nor is this making God into a master manipulator who controls us by giving us good and evil turns of fate. We are being called to, “…put [our] hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”- (1Tim.6:17-19). We are being called to believe – to act – to be in conversation with God as our Father and Provider. We are being called to accept what God provides and to trust that he does provide. And there is some mystery here about how and when and why God provides the way he does for each of us. Trying to understand how God is caring for us, how he is leading us, what he is teaching us through the ways he is providing for us – is going to be a struggle, both for those who have much and those who have less – struggle in different ways.
Believe and Trust that God is a Good Father and Provider: This is the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 6 & 7 – of which this passage in James is an echo (see Matt.6:19-24, Matt.25-34 and Matt.7:7-12). This is the issue with which we struggle – part of our deep distrust of God – part of what was distorted when mankind fell into a sinful, distrusting relationship with God.
We are being called to believe that God is a Father who gives good gifts to those who ask him. We are being called to a trust that turns against our fallen distrusting nature. And the issue here is more than what we have – it is a question of the goodness of God – what we believe in this most practical of issues.
Believe that In Christ Jesus, We are Rich: James makes this statement back in chapter 1:9-11 – “9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.” The high position of the poor man is that, through Jesus, he has inherited the Kingdom of God and eternal life – and is a child of God. The low position of the rich man is that his riches mean nothing before God. Whether we are rich or poor or middle class – our glory and our hope are in Jesus.