These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the book of James. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
At the end of James 4 we were introduced to a business minded person who was making plans regarding a business adventure. They had a plan, but their plan did not include God. His plan was a pretentious plan, which is a plan that is designed as if God does not exist. This was James way of encouraging us to make plans with God.
As we move into James 5 we are given a strong warning of what happens if we pursue money and get rich apart from God. It’s like James is saying, “You can make your business and financial plans and make a lot of money over your life time. You can do all that without giving God one thought about what you are doing. But I’m telling you there are serious consequences when you get rich and your wealth is all about you, rather than what God wants.”
With that said, let’s take a look at James 5:1-6, Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. 2 Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. 3 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. 4 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. 5 You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you (NLT). This is the most upfront and in your face statement in James. At this point, James is not holding anything back. As difficult and harsh as this may sound I want to remind you of Romans 15:4 which says, “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scripture give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled” (NLT). For some of us this will sting and for others we will find encouragement from it.
Before we dive into this I want to make something clear. Wealth is not the problem. It’s the love of wealth that is the problem. The Bible is full of examples of godly, walking by faith, generous people who were very wealthy.
Listen to Proverbs 10:22 which says, “The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it” (NLT). Wealth is a blessing from God. Wealth is something you need to be thankful for.
Listen to 2 Corinthians 9:8 which says, “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others” (NLT). God will provide for your needs and if we manage it right we will have plenty left over to bless others.
Wealth comes from God. You can be wealthy and godly at the same time. The wealth you are given is to provide for your needs and to bless others. Keep that in mind as we go through James 5. So, what do we learn from James’ warning about wealth?
Wealth can lead to great heartache
Number one, wealth can lead to great heartache. James 5:1, Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you.
The phrase “Look here” is a call for our attention. We might say something like, “Listen up!” or “Get this!” or “Pay attention!” It’s like he is saying, “Stop doing whatever you are doing and listen to this. This is extremely important. I don’t want you to miss this.”
He specifically addresses “rich people.” As you will see this is addressed to people with a lot of money. The principles we will be thinking about apply to all of us, the example he gives makes it easier to for us to see within the very wealthy. So keep your attention locked in on what God is saying to you this morning.
So James says, Look here, you rich people: weep and groan…. “Weep” (klaio) means “to sob out loud,” or “to lament.”
- It was used to describe the wailing that took place when someone died (eg. Mark 5:38-39; Luke 7:13; 8:52; John 11:31, 33; 20:11; Acts 9:39).
- It also depicted the outward reaction that sometimes accompanied intense shame and guilt (e.g. Matt. 26:75; Luke 7:38).
“Groan” (ololuzo) goes beyond mere lamenting and refers to shrieking or screaming. Taken together, “weep and groan” picture an intense sense of despair and uncontrollable grief. James is telling us that when money and materialism becomes our god and we realize this, our reaction should be one of intense agony of the heart. We become consumed with this godly sorrow that leads to repentance.
The reason why our hearts should be weeping and groaning is because of the “terrible troubles ahead” of us. Terrible troubles (talaiporiais) refers to hardships, suffering and distress. The idea is that these people are living as if there was no God, no judgement, no eternity, no heaven and no hell. Not only will they experience some of these “troubles” in their lifetimes, but they will experience the full brunt of this when they stand before God when they die, apart from Jesus.
The verses that follow explain what it is they are being judged for. It is not wealth that is the issue, but rather, what is done, and not done, with that wealth. James highlights several sinful traits; and as we go through them, it is important for us to check ourselves against them too.
Wealth can lead to spiritual short-sightedness
Number two, wealth can lead to spiritual short-sightedness. James 5:2-3 says, Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. 3 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.
This is referring to hoarding things and selfishly gathering things. God wants you to save, but not selfishly gather things. God will entrust you with many things and a certain amount of wealth so you can use them for His glory. Part of that includes…
- providing for your family (1 Tim. 5:8)
- and used to advance God’s kingdom (1 Chron. 29:3; Mark 12:42-44; Luke 6:38; 1 Cor. 16:2-3; 2 Cor. 8:2; 9:6-7).
- Specifically, believers are to use their wealth to win the lost (Luke 16:9),
- care for those in need (Gal. 2;10; 1 John 3;16-18),
- and support those in ministry (1 Cor. 9:4-14; Gal. 6:6).
In other words, those who claim to be followers of Jesus are not to build a fortune that is uselessly stashed away without regard for God’s will (Job 27:13-17; Ps. 39:6; Eccl. 5:10-11; 13).
In his condemnation of hoarding and selfishly building wealth, James described the three main ways wealth was valued in his day (apart from land and houses).
James says, Your wealth is rotting away (food). The word “wealth” (ploutos) can refer to wealth in general, but the use of “rotting away” suggests a more narrow reference to food. The word “rotted” (sepo) was used to describe rotten wood, decayed flesh, and rotten fruit. James is saying these people hoarded food (meat, grains, fruit, etc.) that would eventually rot and be useless to them or anyone else. Like the rich fool in Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:16-21), they believed their hoarded food would allow them to “take their ease, eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19) for years to come. But in the end, it would only rot and be of no use to anyone.
Then James says, …and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rages (clothes). During biblical times wealth was also measured by clothing. These “fine clothes” (himitia) referred to outer garments, such as robes, mantles, or cloaks. Often richly embroidered and embellished with jewels, such “fine clothing” were frequently handed own as heirlooms. But hoarding them was as foolish and useless as hoarding food, since such “clothing” were in danger of becoming “moth-eaten rags.” James sees all this hoarding as senseless – what is the point of feeding moths?
Then James says, Your gold and silver are corroded (money). Another way wealth was measured in biblical times was through “gold and silver.” Much of their gold and silver were mixed with alloys and could rust or corrode under certain circumstances.
Hoarding one’s possessions – whether food, clothing, or money – is foolish. Proverbs 23:4 says, “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. In the blink of an eye wealth disappears, for it will sprout wings and fly away like an eagle” (vs. 4-5, NLT). Have you ever notice a dollar bill has an eagle on it?
Then James adds this statement. He says, 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. Wow! In the judgment, their hoarded, selfishly gained, rotted, moth-eaten, corroded treasures will give graphic testimony to the sinfulness and lostness of their hearts. Their greedy, selfish, compassionless, earthbound approach to life will provoke their condemnation.
This is a picture of massive waste, of lavish possessions left to rot, like luxury foods that have never been eaten and now never will be. Clothing has become moth-eaten. Expensive jewelry has corroded. All of it was amassed for it’s own sake. The owner, it seems, never wanted to use it; they just wanted to have it.
James shows us that to pursue wealth just for its own sake is ungodly. What is wasted “will testify against” us, for it exposed the sinfulness of the human heart that needlessly acquired it all. This doesn’t mean we shun the good things of this world, but it does mean we do not put great stock in them.
Saving is not ungodly if it is for a godly purpose, such as providing for ourselves so that we are not a burden on others, and providing for others. Wealth is to be used, not amassed.
Wealth can lead to many sins
Number three, wealth can lead to many sins. James says it like this James 5:4-6, 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. Three things we need to see here.
Their wealth was unjustly gained
Number one, their wealth was unjustly gained. Look at James 5:4 again, 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.
When it came to their wealth they sinfully acquired it. Instead of being generous to the poor as Scripture commands, they exploited and cheated them. How did they do that? These “field workers” were day laborers. During Bible times it was very common for a wealthy business man and farmer to hire extra help one day at a time. At the end of each day these “field workers” were to be paid for that day’s work. These “field workers” were very poor and they did not have the security of a steady income and depended on each day’s wages to feed and clothe their families.
When they are cheated and misused in this way they cry out to God for help and God sees this unjust and unfair use of the poor as an act of war against Him. Therefore, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will respond to this cry for help.
It is all to easy for the wealthy to overlook the needs of others and their responsibility to them. Affluence can lead to carelessness and insensitivity. Don’t be like that.
Their wealth was selfishly spent
Number two, their wealth was selfishly spent. Look at James 5:5, You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. James is not saying we cannot enjoy the good things of this world that God gives us (1 Tim. 4:1-5) – that is a denial of the goodness of God and of what He has made. James is talking about a selfish attitude that sees yourself at the center of it all. Your income is about your happiness, your joy, your pleasure, and your comfort. You satisfy your desire first and then if there is anything left over you might bless someone else.
The bottom line is, I don’t think we should live as well as we could. Unless you are at the poverty line I would suggest you think about living below the standard you could actually live and be generous with the rest of it.
Having increased their wealth unjustly, these selfish rich added to their sin by using their wealth for their own self-indulgence. James described their self-indulgence using three phrases.
- James says, You have spent your years on earth in luxury – This word “luxury” has the basic meaning of “softness.” They decided to live in soft, extravagant luxury at the expense of others.
- James goes on to say they were satisfying [their] every desire. This is simply giving yourself to the pursuit of pleasure. If it makes me happy, then do it, buy it, own it, or take it. A life without self-denial soon goes out of control in every area. Paul described such people as dead even while they live (1 Tim. 5:6).
- Then James says, You have fattened yourselves – You have fattened your life with things and pleasure. If you have blessed very few, if anyone. It’s all been about you.
In keeping with the metaphor of the wicked rich having fattened their hearts, James warns of a coming “day of slaughter.” This is a frightening picture of judgment. In vivid language, he depicts the self-indulgent hoarders as fattened calves, headed for the slaughterhouse of divine judgment. And, apart from saving faith in Christ, that is the realty that awaits them.
Their wealth was ruthlessly acquired
Number three, their wealth was ruthlessly acquired. Look at James 5:6, You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you. After unjustly taking and robbing from others and spending the money on their selfish desires, they went even further and “condemned and killed innocent people” to gain more wealth or to keep the wealth they had. In some way, either out on the streets or in the courts, these people were having innocent people killed to protect their own lifestyle.
These “innocent people” were so poor they didn’t “resist.” They had no money or backing to fight the corruption and they gave in. Maybe for some, who were believers didn’t “resist” because they decided to commit themselves to God, as did Jesus, in to the care of God when falsely accused (1 Peter 2:23).
The love of money can lead to many sins, instead be generous.
Wealth can lead to many blessings
Number four, wealth can lead to many blessings. If God has blessed you with wealth choose to be a blessing to others. Use the wealth God has given to you to help others and further the kingdom of God. But that can only happen if you are “rich in faith” James 2:5) and “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). If wealth is to be a source of blessing, it must not be uselessly hoarded, unjustly gained, selfishly spent, or ruthlessly acquired.
To finish our time together I think it would be helpful to read 1 Timothy 6:17-19, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life” (NLT).
As we approach Christmas and a new year, let’s make sure our financial budget reflects that God is in control, that we trust Him with our finances, and let’s use our money to do good and bless others and support the kingdom of God.