Today’s sermon can be viewed here.
Money is an amoral object. We as human beings, spending our adult lives in the great effort to make it and spend it, are not amoral. Yet it is in the making and spending that we will show whether we are moral or immoral human beings. God has given to us every penny to manage—to steward—for his glory, for our needs, and for the good of others. In the end, we will be called to account as to how we steward—how we manage—the money God has given.
So as we open up God’s Word, I want us to look closely and see the trouble that the rich have gotten into, due to the treasure that they seek, which has lead to treachery on their part.
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you,” (James 5.1, ESV). The rich people to whom James wrote, did not realize it but there was trouble in their future. Before long, these people would be standing before God having to give an account, and they would be found guilty of mishandling funds.
James used two words here in an effort to call these people to repentance: weep and howl (wail). These are the words of Old Testament prophets to the nations of Israel or Judah. Joel said, “Awake, you drunkards, and weep, and wail, all you drinkers of wine because of the sweet wine, for it is cut off form your mouth,” (1.5, ESV). Isaiah called out, “In that day the Lord God of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sack-cloth,” (22.12, ESV).
This is a prophetic call to repentance. The day of the Lord is near. The day of trouble was coming soon. Much like many today, the rich either did not take the day of judgment seriously, they did not believe in the day of judgment, or they didn’t know that they would have to give an account for the way they spent their money.
Jesus told the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. A talent was a measure of money, not an ability to do something. One man was given 5 talents, another man was given 2 talents, and the last was given 1 talent, each according to their abilities. The first man doubled his money; the second did the same. The third however, buried his money, and did nothing with it as he was supposed to. The master said,
So take the talent from him and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” (Matthew 25.28-30, ESV).
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you,” (James 5.1, ESV). There is trouble coming if repentance does not come first.
The issue comes from a misunderstanding about why we have money in the first place. Like I said in the beginning: we are given this money for God’s glory, our needs, and the good of others. But it is so easy to get caught up in treasure-building. That’s what these men have done. They are simply living the American dream sort of speak. “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,” (James 5.2-3, ESV).
Last days is a euphemism for the judgment. These rich men have laid up treasures for the judgment. In other words, what they thought was happiness and to be used for enjoyment will be evidence against them at the judgment. Like Jeffery Dahmer’s freezer, so the stored-up treasures of the rich will be laid bare.
But notice what the treasure is: the riches have rotted, the garments have been moth-eaten, and the gold and silver corroded. James was reminding the rich that all the stuff that they value is transitory. It comes and goes. Cars will rust, houses will fall apart, toys will break, books will mildew, paintings will fade. But these are things we treasure.
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, (Matthew 6.19-21, ESV).
We use the money to express our love to someone, but also to some thing. If we love the Cardinals, we buy Cardinals gear. If we love books, we buy books. If we love cars, we buy cars. If we love movies, we buy movies. If we love video games, we buy video games. Our spending habits are simply a reflection of the heart. And yet, everything we buy will eventually rust, corrode, dissolve, or be stolen.
But it is not simply the treasures that speak against these rich men, but their treachery as well.
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, (James 5.4-6, ESV).
In these verses we see a progression. First, we see that these rich men, made a promise to the laborers but did not keep it. Which leads to their second treacherous act. The money that they owed the hired-hands, was used to live a more luxurious life. Not only did they just keep the money, but they spent the money on themselves. The third treacherous act, was passive but just as real. They condemned the people to die. As a result of withholding their wages the people could not make a living, and thus for all intents and purposes, the workers were condemned to a life of poverty and ultimately death. James wrote, “He does not resist you.” These people did nothing against the rich, but the rich treated them like trash—like they were of no value.
There is repentance to be had if they will simply do it. Jesus came to die even for the sins of idolatry and treachery.