James: Worldliness and Riches

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on October 20, 2002

James 5:1-6

James 5:1-6
Worldliness and Riches

If
you have your Bibles, I’d invite
you to turn with me to James
chapter 5. We’ve been studying
through the book of James for
a number of months now, and
in particular in the last three
weeks we have seen James address
the issue of worldliness. If you look at James
4:11, all the way through James 5:6,
that compact section in the book of James deals with the subject
of worldliness.

Last
week we noted that James addressed
two areas in which he saw professing believers struggling with an insipient
worldliness. One was in speech
that was harmful or hurtful of
the brethren or our neighbor.
Another was in presumptuous attitude and speech saying,
“I’m going to do thus and so,” and “I’m going to accomplish this and that,” and never
factoring God into that equation.

He
gets to the third area of
insipient worldliness in James 5
verses 1-6, and it is in a wrong
view and use of wealth.
This too, James says, is a
mark of worldliness. So let’s hear
God’s word in James 5 beginning in
verse 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; he does not
resist you.” Amen.

And thus
ends this reading of God’s holy,
inspired and inerrant word.
May He add His blessing to it.
Let’s pray.

Our
Lord and our God, James’ words are
jolting and bracing. They are convicting.
Especially for us who live
in a prosperous land and a prosperous culture,
who experience the blessings
and benefits of widespread prosperity.
And so we would think Christianly about this.
Give us a mind to hear Your
word. Search us out to see if
there is any unclean thing in us.
Challenge us, we pray, by Your
word. Help us not to resist,
or to be tempted to apply this word to someone else
other than ourselves. At
the same time, O Lord, it may be
this very sin that reveals to
someone in this room the need for saving grace.
If that be so, draw that
one to Jesus Christ. All these
things we ask in Jesus name. Amen.

James’ words are, to be blunt,
blunt. This isn’t very nice
language. To give you an even
sharper appreciation for how blunt
James is, let me share you
Gene Peterson’s paraphrastic
rendering of this passage
in his version of the message. “A
final word to you arrogant rich.
Take some lessons in lament.
You’ll need buckets for the
tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt,
and your fine clothes stink.
Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your stomach
destroying your life from
within. You thought
you were piling up wealth.
What you piled up is just
judgment. All the workers you have
exploited and cheated cry out for
judgment. The groans of the
workers you used and abused
are a roar in the ears of
the master avenger. You’ve looted
the earth and lived it up,
but all you’ll have to show
for it is a fatter than usual corpse. In fact, what you’ve done is condemn and murder perfectly
good persons who stand there and
take it.”

James’s
words are blunt. And we have to
ask ourselves, “To whom is James
speaking? Is this how you would
expect a Christian minister to speak to a congregation that he assumes
to be brothers and sisters
in Jesus Christ. After all, over
and over in the book he refers to us as ‘brethren.’

I. Your
use of money may reveal the presence of worldliness in your heart.

What’s James teaching? Well, he’s
teaching us – and here he’s
teaching us the same thing the
rest of the Bible teaches us, that our use of wealth is an
important spiritual indicator.
And in this passage he shows
four ways that we can see
problems with our use of money. He
shows us four ways in which we can
see that the problem of
worldliness in the use of wealth
is not just a problem for
someone else, but a problem for ourselves. And I’d like you to see
those four things.

First, he
begins with his master point. You see it in verse 1.
“Come now you rich, weep
and howl for your miseries which
are coming upon you.”
In this verse James gives a
call to the rich to consider the
final judgment to come,
and to tremble in light of
that final judgment. And James is
teaching a very important lesson
in that verse. He’s simply reminding us
that your use of money may
reveal the presence of worldliness
in your heart.

Now
there’s considerable debate
amongst commentators as to whom
these comments are directed to.
Is James speaking about
wealthy Christians in the
congregation? Or is he speaking
about wealthy unblievers,
Jews or gentiles, around
the congregation? And there are
some good things to argue both pro and con.
For instance, people will
point out the fact that James
frequently reiterates when
he is speaking to believers in
this book the word, using
“brethren.” And in verses 1
through 6, you will remember that
the word “brethren” was not
used. On the other hand,
the very phrase “come now”
which introduces the section was
used in reference to believers
just a few verses before in
chapter 4. So there are reasons
to read it both ways. But
the bottom line is this. Whoever
you think James is directly
speaking to, he is clearly
intending to speak to believers.

At
the very least James’ words are
designed in part to create a
mindset amongst believers
about wealth. Let’s say that James
is talking about wealthy
unbelievers. Let’s just assume
that for a minute.
The fact that he’s writing
something that he’s directing at
wealthy unbelievers, but he’s writing in a book
that he’s sending to believers,
indicates that he wants
believers to hear what he’s saying to those unbelievers,
to think about it, and to
have it impact their own mindset with the way that
they deal with their own
material wealth. And let me say,
it’s also tempting because
of the language James uses to say, “Well this is not something he’s writing to me.
I’m not rich. I don’t have an annual
income of above $200,000,
or a million dollars, or wherever
you want to set it artificially,
wherever rich becomes. But
whatever it is, it is always
$l0,000 more than I’m making.”
Now rich is up there somewhere.

Before you’re quick to excuse
yourself as not being among the rich,
let me ask you to think about
it three ways;
historically, globally, and
personally. Historically, it is simply
a fact that we live in the
wealthiest nation in the world,
and we live in the
wealthiest nation in the history
of the world, and we are the
wealthiest Christians in the
history of the world. That puts us,
no matter where your income is in
this congregation – you don’t have
to be in seven figures, you can be
in five figures – and you’re still
among the wealthiest Christians
to have ever walked on this
planet. You are rich by comparison.

Think
globally as well. Amongst the
Christians who live on this planet
right now, you are without question
the wealthiest Christians
on this planet. I was speaking to
a Gideon this morning, and I believe
he was telling me the Gideon’s
give Bibles out and have
organizations in 176 countries. In
only 11 of those countries do the
Gideon’s break-even. So 11
countries are supporting the work of the Gideon’s
in the rest of the countries
of the world. Now my guess
is every mission organization
could repeat that very same statistic.
And of course, we are the country that is giving the most in that regard,
because our Christians have more than others.
I might also add that our
Christians don’t give
proportionally more than others.
We only give absolutely more
than others. But that’s another story
for another day. We are the
wealthiest Christians in the world.
We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing starvation.
I just received a letter
from John Kyle, known to many of you,
who works with the Evangelical Association of Mission Agencies.
And John shared with me the
recent reports about the potential of 6,000,000 dying
of famine in Africa. Now
many of those 6,000,000 will be
Christian brothers and sisters. We need to remember
what we have in a global
perspective. And we need to take
account of what we have
personally. Think of what you have
in comparison to your parents,
your grandparents and your great
grandparents. James’ words are not
for somebody else.
They’re for us. Let’s not excuse ourselves.

And
James uses jolting language. And
he calls on the rich here to
lament their impending doom
because of their misuse of wealth, and by implication
he calls on them to repent.
He wants us to consider our
use of wealth in light of God’s
scrutiny of that use of wealth.
He wants to consider our use
of wealth in light of the
final judgment. Richard Baxter
asked, many years ago,
this question. “Ask yourselves often how you shall wish
at death and judgment your estates
had been spent, and use them
accordingly now. Why should not a
man of reason do that which he
knows beforehand he will
vehemently wish that he had done.”
James is saying, “Look at
your use of wealth in light of the
final judgment, in light of God’s
scrutiny, in light of God’s
standard of measurement, in light of God’s evaluation, and live accordingly.”

In
the background of James’ directive
here you can hear the words of
Jesus in Matthew 25 and the
parable of the talents; and God’s
judgment of how those men used
their resources. James is
reminding us that our use of money
reveals something about either the
spirituality or the worldliness of
our hearts. Our attitude toward
and our use of money and things
is a major indicator of
either our Christianity or our
worldliness. And, I suspect, for
many professing Christians
in this room, it’s an indication of both.
In other words, it’s an
indication that we do have a
spiritual desire to follow the
Lord. But on the other hand we
see a lot of the world in our
heart. We need to realize
what we are. We are rich
and that brings certain challenges.

It
first struck me how much I had, I
think, when I heard Ralph Davis
share this story. He says that
every time he takes out the trash,
twice a week, he is reminded of the
bounty of God to him. In
other words, God has given him so
much that twice a week he has to
throw out stuff. And it
struck me that I was not viewing
myself as the recipient of
God’s bounty as I ought to
just when I consider taking out
the trash. And James is saying
that our attitude towards, and
use of money and things, is
a major indicator of our
Christianity and worldliness.

Do
you view yourself as the rich
recipient of God’s bounty?
And do you use your money
and things in light of that? Now
James knows that’s a problem and
so he doesn’t just give you
that general counsel. By
the way you can find that counsel all through the Bible.
You can find it in Moses.
You can find it in proverbs. You
can find it in Jesus. You can find
it in the rest of the New
Testament. Over and over the bible
says that the way you use your money
is an index of who you
really are. Not just the money,
by the way, that you give to church
and charitable organizations, but the way you use all your money and things.

II. Your
home inventory (and the general presence of extras) may reveal
wealth-worldliness.

Well, James gives you four
areas to look at to make an
evaluation of your own money and things.
Here they are. In verses 2
and 3 here’s his first area.
He gives here a specific
condemnation of hoarding wealth
and things. A specific
condemnation of the hoarding of things and wealth.
Let me put it provocatively.
Your home inventory and the
general presence of extras
may reveal something about wealth worldliness
in your life. Notice James’
illustration. “Your riches have
rotted, your garments have become
moth eaten, your gold and silver
have rusted. He speaks of
overage, spoil, of moth-eaten
clothing, and of disused wealth.
All of them are signs of
hoarding wealth. A person has so
much they can’t even get around to
using what they have. So their
clothes end up being mothe-eaten.
They never get to use the riches that they have
so those riches rot, and
even their gold and their silver
tarnish because they never can use
them. They never can clean them
and prepare them for use.
He’s speaking about the hoarding
of wealth.

My
closet first taught me that this
was a sin that I had to deal with.
I have the largest closet
that I have ever had in my life. My closet is larger than the closet I had when I was a kid
growing up in the home. It’s a
larger closet than when I was a
teenager in the second house
that my family lived in.
It’s a larger closet than the apartment that I had
when I first came to Jackson,
or the apartment that Anne and I
lived in when we were first married, or in the first home
that we owned. Probably
twice as large as any closet that
I have ever had.
And it’s full. My closet taught me that
I have too much stuff. Have
you ever wondered, when you buy a
house that was built in the 50’s,
“Where did they put their clothes?”
You’ve got to expand the closets.
Why? Because we’ve got too
much stuff. We hoard.

The
hoarding of wealth is a sin in
three ways. It’s a sin because
it’s an improper use of wealth.
There’s a quote in your bulletin.
Take a look it on the top of the guide
to the morning service.
It’s a great quote from Randy
Alcorn. He says, “God prospers me
not to raise my standard of living
but to raise my standard of giving. God gives us more money
than we need so that we can
give generously.” When we hoard,
we’re improperly using the wealth that
the Lord has given us. He
has given it to us that we might
be more generous in giving.

Secondly, hoarding of wealth is a
sin because it perhaps speaks of a
person who finds his satisfaction
in things rather than God.
And you know, you don’t have to have
a lot of money to fall into
that sin. You can just be used to
being able to buy a cup of
coffee or buy a Coke at a drive through every day like 95% of the rest of the people in the world can’t do.
And you can take a great delight
in being able to do that,
and the satisfaction in that to
the point that you are sinning.

Hoarding of wealth is a sin,
thirdly, because it shows no
awareness of God’s scrutiny and
final judgment, that one day He
will come and take account.
Good money management and
wise financial planning alone is
not Christian stewardship. Learning to give away,
to evaluate real needs, to
limit expenditure on self and
family is essential.
Isn’t that the point of
Jesus’ story of the rich fool in
Luke 12? If our wealth use is
self-use, and often disuse,
then we don’t have a
kingdom view of wealth. In the
kingdom view every dime counts.

Now
we tend to be scrutinizing when it comes to the church
or the charitable organizations
budget, and then we tend to
allow our own portion of the
budget to be unscrutinized.
But both ought to be scrutinized.
God prospers us that we might
be generous in our giving.
And our home inventory itself may
reveal a wealth worldliness.

III.
Your lack
of fair treatment of employees may reveal wealth-worldliness.

Secondly look at verse 4. Here
James gives a specific
condemnation of the mistreatment and lack of concern for the
well being of employees. He
says that your lack of fair
treatment of employees may reveal
a wealth worldliness. The image
here is of wealthy landowners,
and they are taking advantage
of farm workers. Now this
is not an ad for labor unions.
This is not an encouragement
for you to vote socialist
at the next election.

The
accusation here is of dishonesty
and dishonorable dealings
with those who are not in a
position to buy with the wealth
and the influence of the landowner.
And it is indeed a lack of
appropriate concern for those
laborers, and a desire for ones
own self-aggrandizement that leads this person to
withhold the pay to these
laborers who have worked in the
harvest. And such elements in our
own individual and corporate
ethics reveal a deep-seated worldliness that God says
that he sees and judges.

Now I
suspect that there are relatively
few of us who actively practice
that kind of wealth worldliness.
But let me ask you this. Is
our biggest problem here in the
area of a sin of omission? Of not
thinking about those who work for
us? Of not caring for them
adequately; the day laborers,
the people who clean our
homes, and keep our yards? Are we
not adequately concerned for those who are less advantaged?

IV.
Your
self-indulgence may reveal wealth-worldliness.

Thirdly if you look at verse 5
James identifies another area. he
specifically condemns selfish
extravagance in our use of wealth.
He’s saying that our self-indulgence
may reveal a wealth worldliness.
James has really started
meddling now. He says, “You have lived luxuriously on earth
and led a life of wanton pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts
in a day of slaughter.” He
attacks extravagant comfort and
the softness of luxury.

What
he’s attacking is a life without
self-denial. Any general pattern
of the use of our wealth
that is only self-focused and
self-pleasuring is sinful. We must learn to
deny ourselves. We need to
ask questions like this;
“What have we given up to
support the work of the church or
of missions, or to care for poor
Christians?” Not, “What have we
given?”, but, “What have we given
up? What have we denied ourselves?
What have we refrained ourselves in?”
If our spending and our
Christian giving does not have a
component of self-denial,
then we’re sinning. And
this is especially the case in
light of the greatness of the
needs of the world.

I was
talking to Jim Stewart this
morning, our minister of missions
and outreach, and I said,
“Wonder how much of our money, in our congregation,
is thrown away on
personally trivial things during
the year, which if we totaled up
would have made up the deficit
in what we had desired to
give to missions this year.” You
know, I’m not sure I even want to
see that number. Are we giving up
in our giving? If we’re never self-restraining, if we’re never self-denying, then we’re in sin.
It’s just that simple. No
matter where our level of income
is, if we’re not denying ourselves
from time to time, we’re in
sin. And frankly the more you have, the harder it is to deny
yourself in that way.

V. Your
use of (or desire for) wealth in such a way that hurts others may reveal
wealth-worldliness
.

Fourth, James mentions in verse 6
another area; a specific
condemnation of a use of wealth
in such a way that it harms
others. He says, in verse 6, that
your use of wealth, or your
desire for wealth, in such a way
that hurts others reveals a
wealth worldliness. The
language is strong here, “You have
condemned and put to death a
righteous man.” It’s the language of wrongful
judicial murder. It speaks
of the betrayal of a willing
victim.

You
notice how stories from Jesus’
life and parables of Jesus are
behind almost all of James’
illustrations here? Do you
remember what that one is from?
There was once a man named
Judas, who all the gospels tell
us, and the book of Acts as well, betrayed Jesus for money.
He was a greedy man. He put
to death a righteous man because of his love of money.
In other words, James is speaking in general here about taking advantage
of someone who doesn’t
resist us or fight back, perhaps
because they can’t. And James is
condemning this kind of grasp for,
and use of, wealth.

Notice again in each of James’
statements, there is no
condemnation of wealth in and of itself.
Nothing wrong with it. This
is no class warfare that’s being
enjoined, urging poorer Christians
to resent what wealthier Christians have,
but in each case it is a
condemnation of how that wealth is
used.

You
see, wealth itself is not sin. Sin comes in in three ways.
First, it comes in in how
we get our wealth. Do we get our
wealth at the expense of our
neighbor? Secondly, it comes in in
our heart attitude towards wealth.
Do we love that wealth,
that worldly wealth, too much
rather than loving God and fearing
him above all else? And thirdly,
it comes in in our use of wealth.
And therefore, the giving of a
significant proportion of our
wealth for the Lord Jesus,
a giving of a significant
proportion of our wealth for the
aid of the needy, a moderate and
modest self use of our wealth,
are all three conducive to
our resisting sin in these areas.

You
know, we’ve come up, and here we
are again in October, and as has
almost become a routine, we’re in
a significant cash deficit at first Presbyterian Church,
some $400,000 in the red
right now. And in the past the
congregation has been very faithful and
generous in making up for that,
and in December an overage
usually comes in. This year we
have a challenge before us. Because a lot of you who give from stocks and other things
aren’t going to have
anything to give when December
comes. What a wonderful challenge.
Because we’ll be able to
sacrifice this year in order to
make that up. It’ll hurt. Some of us have gone
through a tough year. Some
of have been without jobs. Some of
us have been creamed in the
markets. Some of us have suffered
changes in employment. And
we’ll have an opportunity this
year to give like it hurts. Because it will.
And that will tell us a lot
about our own hearts. James has
some strong words for us.
Not just about our stewardship
to the church, but about the stewardship
of everything that we have.

May God give
us grace to respond to his message
with both generosity and
prudence. Let’s pray.


Our Lord
and our God, search us out. Convict us of our sins.
Change us. Make us to be a
more generous people. Help
us to resist the onslaught of a
world that tells us that real life
is in the taking, and help us to
believe what Jesus says.
That real life comes when
we give it away. This we ask in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.

To view recordings of our entire services, visit our Facebook page.

Print This Post