Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you. James 5:1-6 (NLT)
The Message NT translates that last phrase a fatter than usual corpse. It’s James’ way of describing the not-so-wonderful transformation that can happen to you, when your preoccupation in life is on material things.
Two businessmen, vacationing at Miami Beach, were comparing notes. I’m here on insurance money, one said. I collected $500,000 for fire damage. Me too, the other replied. But I got $1,000,000 for flood damage. After a long pause, the first man asked, Tell me, how do you start a flood?
Let’s remember the distinction here about money, or things. Money has no spiritual characteristics, no morality; there is nothing intrinsically negative or positive about money.
James is not saying it is a sin to be rich. That’s just a matter of how much money you have. Rather, James wants us to see that the potential for spiritual problems is the relationship or attitude one bears towards money – his own, or that which his neighbor possesses (and he wants).
That is what gives money its power to become a god. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy the apostle said:
…the love of money is the root of all evil: 1 Ti 6.10a
The love of money – materialism; when things become gods.
Let’s take a look at what you become, when things become your gods.
Jesus told the story of a rich fool (Luke 12). The man had so much his harvest was many times larger than his barns. He decided to hoard it all; he would build bigger barns. That night he died – and he kept nothing. He was a fool.
We have that mentality in our culture today. Get it, spend it on yourself, or hold onto it for dear life.
Friend, it doesn’t matter if you’re a spendthrift, always in debt, wondering how you will pay this month’s light bill, or if you’re filthy rich and enjoying every luxury. Or if you’re a skinflint, pinching every penny, stuffing 401K’s under 12 different assumed identities.
The problem with spending or hoarding is the sickness of selfishness; it is self-idolatry.
You tell God with your actions that generosity, willing to give to my neighbor in need, is wrong, while getting for me, and holding on to what I get is right.
It is a form of idolatrous gluttony. Things become gods. Greed makes you an idolater.
If you’re successful enough to control a lot of money, you can then control people with it. Jesus told another story – a rich man/poor man story found in Luke’s gospel; it’s about Lazarus (a poor beggar) and Dives (an important and wealthy businessman (Luke 16). Lazarus was the poor beggar, sitting at the Dives’ doorstep. He got scraps for his living.
In some way the rich man was responsible for the poor man. We know that because when they both died, the rich man went to hell – and Jesus tied the fact that the rich man wound up in hell to the way he lived his life in relationship to the poor man. It is the same as Cain and Abel. God told Cain that the blood of his brother Abel called out from the ground to convict Cain for his actions.
In our day we also have excuses. I can’t feed everyone; the government should do it; God helps those who help themselves; et al.
In our country we should be ashamed to use such excuses. The poorest of us have ten times more than half the world’s population. Most Americans have a hundred times more than 90% of the world’s people.
Oppression is when you have – and others do not – and you won’t even try to help. It means the possessions you have possess you! Things have become gods, and with the power you have because of your wealth you ignore the impulse to help the poor. Idolater, Oppressor, and…
The Kingdom of God is populated with people who voluntarily place themselves near the King. It means we love what the King loves, do what the King wants – we love the King.
The fact is that God is not materially minded. He spoke the universe into existence – along with the cattle on a thousand hills. All of that means little to Him – he simply did it to display His sovereignty and His glory.
Our correct response as His created beings is to worship the Creator, and enjoy what He has given us.
When we begin to worship our stuff, our nature changes.
We place ourselves outside of the Kingdom.
Outside the kingdom? This is what it means to be an outsider:
Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie. Revelation 22.14-15 NLT
What should be the cure?
How do you begin to address the materialistic tendencies we have?
James is really specific. He tells us what to do.
#1. If you’re poor, have Patience
Jesus is the Master Gardener, and he knows when the time will be ripe to settle everything.
We are not to grow impatient with the way He handles things. Simply be faithful with whatever He places in your hand; after all, if He owns it all, He can decide where it goes.
#2. If you’re well-blessed, be Generous
If God has placed material resources in your hand, a lot or a little, the faithful response is what, Lord? What shall I do with this to be your faithful child?
This is a good reminder – things are NOT gods.