I received a text this week from someone close to me that read, “Just read James 5:1-6. I felt like I’ve been punched in the stomach. Hard message to read.”
We agreed to get together and discuss it. So, wanting to be prepared for our discussion I read James, then specifically focused on the verses referenced.
The result was very convicting to me as well. It led me to a more extensive study of money and what the Bible says about money and what is associated with it.
I was forced to take a hard look at myself. With my business being down over 40% this year, has it revealed sin in my life? Has it revealed that I am way too concerned about money?
As always when I write, I am preaching to myself. Writing helps me process things better and allows me to circle back and re-read what the Lord put on my heart that day or week. I am hoping you will be blessed by this post in the same way that it convicted me and refocused me on what God has to say about riches.
Let’s start with the text referenced:
James 5:1-6 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 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. 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. 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.
The first 4 words are, “Come now, you rich”
Before we get too far into this, I think it is important that we define rich. I know when I think of “the rich” I think of billionaire business owners, and millionaire athletes and movie stars, or someone along those lines. I listened to a couple messages this week on James 5 and the preacher defined “rich” and I think it makes sense for us to define it this way as well:
He said, “The ‘rich’ is anyone with discretionary money. They have more than what is needed to feed, house, and cloth themselves and their family. The poor is clear, the have less than or only just enough to survive, there are no discretionary funds available.”
WOW! It would be tough to argue his definition of rich. I think we would be wise to adopt this definition as well, and if we do, I think it would be safe to say that the majority, if not all, of us reading this are rich.
Let’s take a look at what we know the Scripture says about money before circling back to James 5.
Jesus said, we cannot serve both God and money; therefore, if we want to serve God we must see to it we are not serving money. In other words, we better make sure money is not our god, we must make sure money is not our love.
Matthew 6:24 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Luke 16:13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."
Jesus said many things that are difficult to hear, and some difficult to understand, but what He said about “your treasure” is as simple and straight to the point as it gets:
Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
This is one of those things where honest self-evaluation is important. I think we can agree, we all need shelter, we need transportation, we need clothing, and we need food. The question is, can it be said of us:
You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. (James 5:5a)
I must confess, I have more house than I need, I have more car than I need. How am I to reconcile this with God’s Word? That is why I say, we must wrestle with these things ourselves. Even now I as I write I am wrestling with things.
On one hand I know that money is not bad, but it is the way I use that money that matters; and after all, there are many Godly men in the Bible that had much. On the other hand, is having too much house and too much car living in luxury and self-indulgence?
We might justify what we have by what we give, but look what Jesus says about this:
Mark 12:41-44 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."
Once again it comes back to the heart, the condition and intent of the heart. We know from Scripture we are called to be generous, cheerfully generous. That would be a good place to start our self-evaluation. Are we cheerfully generous, or do we give out of a sense of obligation? Or do we give at all? Do we give only out of our abundance?
2Corinthains 9:7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
As I write this, I feel conviction and then my mind is also drawn to the reality that I have a responsibility to my family, how do I square that with what I just read?
1Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
I read this verse and then my mind goes to reconciling storing up treasure on earth. I feel like I save money to make sure my family is taken care of, but am I showing a lack of faith in doing this?
Matthew 6:19-34 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves 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. "The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
We can see, up to this point, that the condition of our heart, where are treasure is, and our generosity are a dead giveaway about our relationship with money. Let’s take a look at some other verses that address this subject:
Psalm 37:21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives;
Proverbs14:21 Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.
Proverbs 14:31 Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
Generosity is not only crucial, but so is the way we give:
Matthew 6:3-4 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Let’s be real – we have a hard time giving without wanting someone to know what we’ve done. Whether we give of our time, talent, or treasure; we have this strong desire to be recognized for it. Resist this fleshly desire, and give in secret, not just because we are commanded to, but when you give in this way “your Father who sees in secret will reward you”.
Not only is generosity, and how you give important, but how you go about acquiring what you share is also:
1Timothy 6:9-10 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Psalm 10:3 For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.
1Corinthians 6:10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Once again, the condition of our heart is important, we must resist being greedy, yet we must work. Part of my conviction this week is; Do I work too much? Do I work for the wrong reasons? How we work is also important:
Ephesians 4:28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,
1Thessalonians 4:11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you,
2Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
The one word that jumped out at me today in this verse is “willing”. The reality is, some people are “willing” to work, but are not able to. It is important that we not be too hasty to judge their situation, it is always best to err on the side of grace and be generous to those in need. But we must also be discerning regarding the idle:
1Thessalonians 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
2Thessalonians 3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you,
Paul had certain rights he could have called in as a preacher of God’s Word, but he did not want to do that as not to create a stumbling block for those he was trying to reach with the Gospel, and he did not want to burden those he was ministering to.
2Thessalonians 3:8 nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.
As I write this, I am also reminded of the parable Jesus told about accumulating wealth beyond what is necessary:
Luke 12:16-21 And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry."' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."
What is to be learned from this parable:
• The man showed no indication that he would be generous and share with those in need
• The man showed no indication that he would continue working, but instead was going to be idle, he was going to “eat, drink, and be merry”
• He was not interested in the things of God, he was only interested in storing up treasure for himself
I am not proclaiming to be an expert, or have it all figured out, but my takeaway from this week is this:
We are to work, but not be obsessed with money or greedy for gain. We are to work to provide for our family and share with those in need. In our sharing we are to do it gladly and with generous hearts, and we are to do it in secret as far as it depends on us, we must not do it for the praise of men. If we have others working for us, we must pay them what is due, not holding back. We must be generous toward God, for the building up of His church – giving to missions, evangelists, the local church, the persecuted church, or whatever else would glorify Christ. We must find a balance between providing for our family and being excessive in our accumulation of wealth.
We would do well to remember this:
Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."