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Jan 15, 2017

When Money Is Misery

When Money Is Misery

Passage: James 5:1-6

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: James

Keywords: hoarding, inflation, judgment, justice, luxury, poor, rich, wealth

Summary:

Wealth has always held great attraction for people. But we tend to downplay the dangers it brings, usually until it is too late. James, in addressing the misuse of wealth in this world, is calling God's people to the proper, godly use of wealth (and the power that often attends it).

Detail:

When Money is Misery

James 5:1-6

January 15, 2017

INTO:  I’ve got to admit—some of the best advertisements I see these days are from casinos and lotteries.  In fact, the Washington Lottery has branded itself “The Department of Imagination.”  Smart advertising.  Which of us doesn’t enjoy using our imagination just a little?

And, which of us, driving to Coeur d’Alene, hasn’t glanced at the MegaMillions & Powerball digital sign on I-90 and thought, “What I could do with $137 or $121 million dollars!” (which is what each lottery is at right now respectively).  There is something in most of us that feels drawn to extravagant wealth

            So when we come to a passage such as we’re in today in James 5 where God seems to be taking aim at wealthy people, we may also be tempted to think, Sounds like sour grapes to me.  Why is God so down on money, anyway?” 

            The easy answer is, “He’s not.”  The harder answer is, “He is…at times…and for good reasons.”  But let’s begin by reading God’s Word to us in James 5 about wealthy people. 

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 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.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.

Back in September of last year, I preached on the Holiness of Giving.  In that message, some of you may remember that I talked about the fact that almost everyone in this room is literally rich compared to the other 7 billion people on this planet. 

  • If I told you that you were richer than 7 out of every 10 people in this world, would you agree that you are rich? You only have to have $5,000/yr. pass through your hands to fit that category (income, food stamps, gov. assistance, disability, SSI, etc.)
  • If you have $11,000/yr. to live off of (just below the “poverty” line in the U.S.), you are wealthier than 80% of the people in the world (4 out of 5 are poorer than you).
  • If you live off of $20,000/year, you are wealthier than 90% of the world’s 7.4 billion people (i.e. 6.66 billion people).

It’s odd how our perception of “rich” is always “those people” with more than we have…even when what we have is significantly more than what 80 or 90% of people in this world have.  

            So when James says, “Now listen, you rich…,” we really need to stop thinking he is talking about someone else!  Whether you are in the world’s top 30 or 20 or 1%, you’re still richer than 70 or 80 or 99% of people alive today. 

            So as James begins to talk about the attitudes, heart and actions of “rich people,” we really need to assume that he is talking about attitudes and actions WE are probably susceptible to.  It would probably do us well to assume that it is highly probable that the way he describes “the rich” is the way he would describe us if he was writing to us today. 

            Can we also assume that James is not trying to offend all of us today…or run everyone with any money out of church?  The biblical writers were not trying to discourage and beat up on God’s people.  They wrote because the Holy Spirit moved them to address issues that would challenge and plague every generation of Christ-followers in the Church.

            What is difficult about this passage today is that James sounds like he is speaking to people who are not Christ-followers.  Misery “is coming on” them (vs. 1).  Their wealth has ruined and rotted them (vs. 2).  That corrosive effect will be like a witness in court against them and will “eat [their] flesh like fire” (vs. 3). (Almost sounds like hell, no?) They’ve cheated their employees to such a degree that those employees are crying out to God…and God sounds like He is going to judge them for their Scrooge-like indifference.  And their self-indulgent lifestyle seems like it is preparing them for nothing but judgment (vs. 5) as well as making them abusive power-mongers (vs. 6).  None of that sounds like someone whose life is filled with Jesus and directed by the Spirit of God. 

            But if James is targeting the outside world, people without God and without faith in Jesus, why spend your time “preaching to the choir”?  Why rail against people who aren’t there to hear your message or, if they happen to hear it, aren’t going to see it as authoritative or binding on them? 

ILL:  As a teenager…or a parent…did you ever give or receive a mini-lecture that went something like this.  “You know, if you keep hanging out with those kids, you’re going to end up skipping school, failing your classes, doing drugs and God knows what else! You’re going to become like THEM!  You ARE headed down the wrong road, and you better decide pretty quickly which life you want—before you lose the ability to dig out of that hole you’re putting yourself into!” 

Now, most of the time that interchange doesn’t end really well.  Usually the kid thinks their parents are overreacting and totally unhinged.  Why?  Because they aren’t skipping school NOW…nor failing classes NOW…nor strung out on drugs NOW…nor living on the street NOW.  From their perspective, their parents sure seem to be overreacting.

And the parents?  They actually do know how much peers can influence choices and behaviors.  They do know how easy it is to develop a habit that will destroy a life.  And they are pretty good at overstating the case for how this could lead to some really bad years or a very painful lifetime.    

So why would James pop off with a message like this to a bunch of 1st- century churches scattered all over Asia Minor?  I think he’s trying to spiritually parent a family of people who are in danger of getting sucked into a mindset about wealth that is going to waste their lives.

I think James isn’t railing against the wealthy or “income inequity” like a good Socialist Marxist.  I think he’s trying to wave all of us off of a life of twisted material desires and failed financial results.  I think James is calling all of God’s people to repudiate and reject the prevailing materialistic mindset that has such a strong siren-call to people of every generation.  And one of the ways to do that is to show how the world’s use of and attitude towards wealth will corrupt and corrode even the best of people.  That’s a message for all of us regardless of our net worth.  Because ALL of us have attitudes and actions towards wealth and people that can either bless and build up both them and us OR rot and destroy them and us. 

So let’s see what cliff James is trying to wave us away from in order that we might have a truly meaningful and rich life from God’s vantage point. 

When it comes to wealth, we tend to think that the more we have, the better our life.  We think of all the things we would do, all the joy in life we would have, IF we just won the lottery.  But, how often have we stopped to think about all the DANGERS that actually come with wealth?

There is this sort of willful ignorance about what wealth can do to damage our own hearts, to ruin relationships and to rob us of eternal blessing. God is not content with that kind of ignorance.  So as we look at the dangers and damage wealth can do from God’s perspective, let’s also ponder the blessings and good that godly attitudes and use of wealth can bring.

James attacks the dangers of wealth by addressing the actual realities of what far too many people DO with their wealth and the resulting impact that will have on their relationship with God.

  1. Wealth wrongly handled leads to sorrow unnecessarily stockpiled.

 Vs. 2-- Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 

One of the deceptive things about sin is that it often delivers some sense of immediate happiness while robbing us of larger and longer-term (and sometimes eternal) blessings.  The immediate allure of what might be had in sin eclipses the longer-term “misery” of the regret that sin pays.         

            This happens on not only a temporal level but as well on an eternal level. 

ILL: We feel it temporally when we or someone near us chooses a course of action God has warned us against. Some sins have huge regrets and pain while others bring smaller ones.

  • Theft, assault, murder—those clearly corrode our souls and often mark decades of life.
  • But more socially acceptable sins can also scar large swaths of our lives and others. Divorce, adultery, unrighteous anger, hatred, bitterness—they all may feel right or justified in the moment but universally bring unforeseen and unwelcome pain over time.

God has designed temporal pain to be a part of sin.  It can be a sort of warning light on the road of life meant to turn us back from an eternity of agonizing separation from God and his great goodness.

The words “weep and wail” are used frequently in the Old Testament to talk about the eternal judgment that will fall upon godless people on “the Day of the Lord” (Is. 13:6; 15:2-3; Hosea 7:14; Amos 8:3).  We must take by faith the disaster God warns will be ours in eternity for misusing wealth in the temporal realm.  But as with all faith God calls for about eternal realities, there are indicators in time that His promises and warnings are true.  We need look no farther than the temporal pain sin brings.

With this warning that wealth wrongly handled leads to sorrow unnecessarily stockpiled, James moves to some of the WAYS in which wealth can be wrongly handled.

Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded.

Q:  If I were to ask you what we use today to measure and amass wealth with, what might you reply?  What are the lifestyle changes that having wealth usually produces? 

  • Real estate/houses?
  • Cars?
  • Education? (Ivy League)
  • Entertainments (travel, clubs, restaurants, sports, cultural events, etc.)
  • Bank accounts, investments, “net worth”, etc.

James here mentions at least 3 measures of wealth in the ancient world:

  • Grain/agricultural wealth (that rots)
  • Clothing (that gets moth-eaten)
  • Gold and silver (that doesn’t actually corrode…but that metaphor is being used here)

The whole point of James three targets here is the second thing to get clear about wealth:

#2. Earthly wealth is always temporary and fading.

Like SAND you could scoop up and try to enjoy in your hands, you can’t hold onto it or enjoy it for very long. 

  • Sand is a simple, amazing form of rock that is enjoyable to feel and fascinating to watch pour through your fingers.

But if you hold it in your hands, there isn’t much else you can do at the same time. 

You’ll starve to death at some point unless you let go of it. 

You can’t eat it.

The more tightly you try to hang onto it, the more you lose

            It is the same with earthly wealth.  We cannot hang onto it forever.  It blows away right before our eyes.  It is fading even while we are amassing it.  The more we look to wealth to be a lasting thing, the more it seems to take wings and fly away. 

            Curiously, the images James uses still apply today.  We need look no further to see that this world’s wealth fails the permanency test…the longevity test. 

ILL:  I had a rather sad and sloppy experience with this the fading nature of material “wealth” a couple of summers ago.  As some of you know, I enjoy beekeeping as a hobby. 

            So a couple of years ago, I pulled off a fair amount of honey from my hives at the time, about 300 pounds.  I decided to store it in my garage on some sturdy shelves I’ve constructed for all my bee boxes and supplies until I could get to it in the fall when I planned to borrow an extractor from a friend and extract the honey from the combs. 

            All was going according to plan until one day, when I went into the garage to get some gardening tool, I noticed that there was a big puddle of honey sitting on the garage floor by the door.  I quickly traced it back up the shelf to the boxes of comb filled with honey.  “Hmmm,” I thought.  “Some of the honey must have come uncapped and the August heat is making it flow out of the comb.” 

            So I dug into the first box of comb.  Lo and behold, as I pulled the first frame of honey out, I got an education.  Not only was it dripping honey onto the shelf.  The frame was covered with little worms that were eating their way through the comb and honey causing it to spill out of the box.  I continued to dig, and found that those little worms had multiplied and taken over about 3 of the 6 or 7 boxes of honey.  It took me hours to clean up the sticky mess not to mention the job of quarantining the pest-ridden frames in the freezer for 3 days while trying to save the worm-free frames in airtight bins. 

            But that was only the beginning of the fun.  You see, worms like that hatch from eggs, eggs that are laid by little gray moths.  As it turned out, those moths in our garage found their way into our house.  Over the next few months, we’d be sitting at the dinner table and notice a moth fly by.  We’d be watching TV in the family room and see a moth fly in front of the TV.  I’d be shaving in the bathroom and a moth would land on the mirror.  They invaded every room of the house!

            But the most fun was (anybody want to guess where?)… the KITCHEN!  You know those Tupperware “airtight” storage containers you put cold cereals in…or rice…or oats…or lentils… or flour???  Turns out, they’re NOT so “airtight” as you might think!  I won’t go any further or some of you won’t ever come to dinner at our house again. J

            And, by the way, I’ve been noticing more and more little holes in some of my shirts over the past year too.  

James was right.  Clothing still gets moth-eaten, no matter how fine and expensive it is. 

Now, we tend to acknowledge the temporal and passing nature of food stuffs like honey and flour and even clothing.  But surely not gold and silver—hard currency and cash.  Surely not annuities and insurance policies.  Surely not stocks and bonds.  Surely not….

            The illusions of longevity in these forms of wealth are the same as all the other “indicators of wealth” we mentioned a while ago.  Some may appear to last longer.  But NONE will cross into eternity.  NONE will stay in our families indefinitely.  NONE will be of any use to us for more than our brief, fleeting lifetime.  In fact, they may actually be a liability to us both in this life and the next if we don’t believe God about the true worth and use of wealth. 

            Here is one of Satan’s biggest deceptions about wealth:  that it can be hoarded and amassed and saved indefinitely in a way that makes this life better.  The truth is, it can only be SPENT to make this life… and the nextbetter—better for oneself, better for others, better for Christ and his kingdom.

ILL:  Wealth is like gift cards. Because we shop at Ace Hardware, every now and then, Ace will send us a “Rewards” card worth a certain amount.  Usually it is something like $5 off a purchase of $20 or more.  But last month we received one that was $5 off of any $5 purchase.  In effect, that was like a $5.00 bill. 

            Problem is, there is this little thing called “fine print” at the bottom that always says, “Expiration date.”  In this case, the date was 12/31/2016.  I failed to use it in the time allowed. As a result, that $5 was lost, “expired” to be exact. 

            More and more things come with expiration dates these days—gift cards, reward miles on your VISA, milk in the refrigerator, medication, etc.  But the reality is, everything you and I can see in this world has an expiration date.  It just isn’t printed on every item. 

ILL:  The meat in the fridge has an expiration date but so does the latest technology on the shelf.  If you doubt that, just go to some pawn shop on Sprague and check out what’s on the shelf…or better yet, try to pawn your old 8-track…or cassette deck…or even DVD player.  If you haven’t noticed, there not in high demand any more.  They’re value has “corroded” significantly from when you or your grandparent bought them for hundreds of dollars decades ago, dollars, by the way, that are now themselves worth far less.

ILL:  Which leads us to the most universal “corrosion” of wealth taking place by the trillions of dollars every year—inflation.  The paper money looks the same.  The silver coin looks the same.  But here is how much things have changed in ½ a century or 50 years (from 1965):

  • Cost of a new home: $21,500 >> $320,000  (15x)
  • 1st class postage stamp:      $.05 >> $.47  (8.5x)
  • 1 regular gas $.31 >> $2.65  (8.5x)
  • Cup of coffee $.30 >> $2.75 (9x)
  • Hershey chocolate bar $.05 >> $.75/1.00 (15-20x)
  • New car $2,650 >> $33,600 (12.7x)

The reality is that everything we can hold, touch, spend, invest and have is inflating away every single day even if it isn’t rotting, spoiling or going out of style. 

            Then there is this little thing called “death.”  I hate to throw cold water on the party.  But in terms of material wealth, every item you and I will ever “have” has an expiration date that matches our “death-date.”  Not your birthday; your “deathday.”  While your children may enjoy the house or car or money you leave them, for you and for me, the day we die, we lose all possibility of investing or spending those resources on kingdom priorities.  The only exception to that is if you leave a will that specifies where you want your wealth to go…and you’ve made eternally wise provisions in your will that leaves that wealth to people or organizations that are going to use it to build God’s kingdom.  But even then, who knows nowadays.  Some nub-job heir could contest your will in court and end up with all you worked so hard for.

            As the little adage says, “Do your giving while you’re living so you’re knowing where it’s going.”   

So what is God’s direction in the face of such realities? 

#3. Hoarded wealth brings judgment; shared wealth brings blessing.

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.

            If we really believe these words of God, we need to seriously grapple with when we may be crossing the line into hoarding. 

            God isn’t opposed to saving money in a prudent way or to growing wealth over time.  But unless we have a clear grasp on the PURPOSE of wealth from God’s perspective, we will never be able to answer the question, “How much is enough?”  “When am I hoarding and when am I using money in a godly way?”

APP:  Let’s bat that one around for a moment.  What determines when hanging onto something has become hoarding?  When saving has become selfishness? 

  • More than a modest lifestyle needs.
  • Our resources sit unused. (Cars, homes, time, etc.)
  • We don’t share them with those in need of them.
  • ???

James gives two clear examples in vss. 4 & 5 about the wrong handling of wealth.

Vs. 4Look! 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. 

            God is clearly telling us that one of the chief purposes of wealth is to bless people.  Creating employment for others is one of the best ways to use wealth.  We are truly rich in God’s eyes if we are able to help others by giving them work and a wage that meets their needs as a worker.

  • If you’re an employer, you get to bless your employees with money.
  • If you’re a husband or wife, mom or dad, you get to bless your spouse/children and grandchildren with the wealth you earn.
  • If you’re a stranger walking down the street and you see someone in need of food or clothing, you get to bless them with a hamburger and a few minutes of your time.
  • If you’re a neighbor to anyone, this winter you get to bless them with that snow blower or snow shovel you bought.

All wealth has potential to either bless the giver and receiver OR corrode the soul of its owner. 

Look at the next verse:

Vs. 5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.

Kind of graphic, don’t you think.  The image is of a fat cow that just keeps feeding its face on the green grass, not realizing that it is headed to the slaughter house shortly. 

            Obviously, God is not a fan of “luxury and self-indulgence.”  Those characteristics often represent the lifestyles of the rich in this world.  But since most of us won’t live or move in those circles, what can MOST of us gain from this warning? 

Besides the 3 principles we already mentioned, let me suggest a couple more.

  • Clearly, God does not see wealth as usually beneficial for developing the heart and life of Christ in his children.
  • Clearly, God does not want His children spending their God-given days and years chasing wealth as the world does.
  • Clearly, lusting after wealth or envying those with wealth is NOT God’s desire for His children.

I’m not saying that wealth is evil or bad.  Sometimes it may be a blessing from God.  It is just as possible to have little and be walking in sinful attitudes and actions regarding that little wealth as a rich person does.  And it is possible to have great wealth and be walking in holiness and spiritual health.  The amount one possesses does not determine the evil or goodness of the one possessing it.    

But again we’re left in this verse trying to answer the question, “When does wealth and use of it become “living in luxury and self-indulgence” rather than living faithfully and prudently as a steward of God’s resources? 

            Legalism would lead us to believe that I can answer that for you and everyone else.  It would also say that there is a set-standard by which every person’s use of wealth in every situation can be measured.  It would tell you what is “luxury” and what is “necessity.” 

            License, on the other hand, would say that we should never question anyone else’s use of wealth.  License would say that it doesn’t matter to God whether you spend $1,000 in a way that pampers you or whether you spend it in a way that, say, saves 15 children from starving this year or takes the Gospel into a people group in China or India that needs Christ. License would say you can live at the highest standard of living allowable by your wealth.

            So how would godliness/righteousness distinguish self-indulgence from loving, Christ-like use of wealth?

            How would the Spirit-led person avoid luxury while enjoying the fruits of their labor as God designed us to do?

APP:  As our closing application this morning, I want us to wrestle with that challenge together for a few minutes.  I want us to come up with some principles or answers that may help each of us avoid the traps of self-indulgence and luxury while embracing the God-given enjoyment and stewardship of wealth in our lifetimes.  

Q: What regular practices will help us guard against SELF-INDULGENCE?

  • Giving
  • Giving to the poor. (Why is this different?)
  • Ministering to/serving the poor (poorer than us).
  • Generosity to others

Q:  What regular practices will help us guard against living in LUXURY?

  • Experiencing poverty
  • Choosing poverty
  • Inviting the poor to our events/parties/celebrations (Lk. 14:21—invite the poor, crippled, blind and lame)

APP:  Before God, take a look at your attitude towards wealth

  • Are you usually hungering/longing for more? Or are you content with what you have?
  • Do try to use it as a means to bless others or more often to indulge/satisfy yourself?
  • What is God inviting you to do in giving or serving the poor that will help you guard against the corrosive nature of wealth?
  • Hoarding

 

FURTHER STUDY & APPLICATION QUESTIONS

  1. What are the primary factors that should influence our standard of living? (i.e., What should determine the kind of housing we live in, the transportation we use, clothes we wear and even food we eat?)
  2. What examples have you seen personally of people who lived well below their level of wealth? What examples have you seen of people who sacrificed their own pleasures so they could bless others?
  3. What principles and practices do you live by in order to avoid hoarding wealth or living in luxury and self-indulgence?
  4. When it comes to leaving wealth behind upon death, what principles should guide our practice of passing wealth to others either in our families or in ministries/organizations?
  5. Name as many dangers wealth brings as you can think of. Which of them do you think you are particularly susceptible to? What can you do to guard against them?
  6. When it comes to God measuring people and wealth, what are the standards He has used/uses according to the Scriptures? How should those standards shape our management and use of wealth?