A Warning to the Wealthy

Bible Book: James  5 : 1-6
Subject: Wealth, Danger of; Money; Christian Living; Stewardship


James 5:1-6

You know over the years I have held in my hand many kinds of colorful bills or coin currency that are representative of the places where I've been privileged to minister around the world. I say this as a reminder that sometimes we think we hold the cash but, friends, many times the cash holds us!

James 5 has a warning that comes first of all to the unbelieving world, those who have never accepted Christ and His ways. James takes a turn of events here in chapter 5, as He's been talking  to the Christian church but now he's talking to those who are outside of the faith. But I believe it not only becomes a warning for the world, it also becomes a warning for those of us who live within that world and who can become a part of that old world from which we came. James 5:1-6 is a warning to the wealthy: "Now, listen you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon 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 these last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen 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 innocent men, who were not opposing you.

"Friends we're reminded that money and misery can go hand in hand, but they don't have to. The Bible does not condemn wealth or the accumulation of wealth, but the Bible does have very strict commands and a course of life that helps us to understand how we are to properly use that which we've been blessed with. So as we examine all that we have, we're going to look at four crimes. They are crimes not only against society, they're crimes against Christ. Some of us have committed those crimes. Some of us are in a flow of continual commitment of these crimes. But the good news is that all of us can come to the realization that in the midst of our trial before God, He can draw our  attention towards someone who's more meaningful than cash and His Name is Jesus the Christ.

I. Don't Be In A Hurry To Hoard (vv. 2-3)

The first warning, a crime that the people of the world were committing, is this: Don't be in a hurry to hoard. You know what hoarding is, don't you. Hoarding is holding on to something and you won't let go. Hoarding is not giving, hoarding is holding and some of us are hoarding what we have. Instead of being what the Bible teaches and what we sing so well in our hymn of faith, "Make me a channel of blessing today, make me a channel of blessing I pray," some of us have become reservoirs of ruin. A reservoir is a stagnant pool and it attracts to itself nothing but stench, stagnation and ultimate disease. Our Father who is in heaven has so blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others.

Each year in Augusta millions of dollars are transferred from hand to hand during the first full week of April. This is the week that the world comes to Augusta. They come to that most valued piece of real estate called The Augusta National Golf Course and you and others and I may be privileged to walk that place. We see and hear of cash prizes that are so beyond us that they blow us away. We walk side by side with millionaires and billionaires. We see different license plates that dot the cars of all who gather in our city during these days of The Masters Golf Tournament.

But you know, we're different. We live in the world but we don't have to be of the world. Though the Bible does not condemn the gaining of cash and wealth, it does tell us expressively that we're not to hoard it. We're not to be people who hold on so tightly. Here's what will happen if we hoard:

A. Your Riches Will Rot

Your riches will rot. Recently as I picked up my newspaper and looked at the business section, I noticed of course that the stock market report is there and I glanced and found that there's not only the stock market report, there is an exchange rate for every piece of money that is representative and used as tender and currency around the world that has a dollar equivalency. There are money rates for three months, six months, five years, ten years, and thirty years. Then there's a small spot down at the bottom entitled "Commodities." It's a small part of our world today as far as trading. Most of us are familiar with mutual funds and stocks and brokerage and even exchange rates, but commodities? Some are thinking, "Who cares about crude raw oil, corn or wheat or soybeans?" Well they did in the world of yesteryear. You see the commodities that they held then were not in cash.

They were, literally, in oil and wheat and grain; and as they held them and hoarded them, they rotted.

The rich said that their version of the golden rule was not, "Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you," but, "The one with the most gold rules." They decided to hold on to their stuff and it brought a smell to their society. I want you to picture a garbage can in your church sanctuary with all kinds of rotting food and fumes rising from it. You're probably violated even in your visual image because you don't want to bring that into the church. We want a place that's pure and clean and right.

Well that's what God wants and He wants it not only in the context of our churches at large, but in our individual lives and families. He wants every one of us to be a sweet smelling savor unto the Lord's nostrils and not something like that rotting trash. But the scripture teaches us that it can happen and it is happening.

Not only will our riches literally rot, they will also be moth eaten. You say, "What in the world does that have to do with having a lot?" You see the rich then, and the rich now, have so many clothes in accumulation that they don't even bother to look in their closets and the moths get to them before they get to them. Instead of wearing them or giving them away to be worn by somebody else, they're just accumulated row, by row, by row, by row. So there's nothing else for the moths to feed on and to  feast on but those stacks of clothes. It happened then and it's happening now. The Bible is very strong in it's warning about being a channel of blessing and not a reservoir of ruin.

B. Your Coins Will Corrode

But you see the problem wasn't just with the commodities and cash, the problem was also with coins. The fact is that your coins will corrode and that's what the Bible teaches here in verse number 3. It says that your coins have become corroded; and in the original context of the writing, the word for corrode can be translated in three different ways - as corrode, as rust or as tarnishing. Their coins, which were made of gold and silver and used as well as commodities, were not held in their hands and passed from person to person. They were just put away where more coins could be added to them later and they began to tarnish because they weren't being used at all. They were just stacking and hoarding and holding on to them.

The warning that comes here is that it will eat your flesh like fire. What a graphic picture! The people were literally being eaten from the inside out and it was like a fire burning and the wealthy didn't even know it. They didn't know their house was on fire. They didn't know that their hearts were being hardened.

Could it be today that our country, in all of its wealth and well-being, is in the same shape as the people of that day and time? Could it be that even the warning and the wake up call of September 11, 2001, is not enough to bring our country to the realization that what we have today is no guarantee that we'll have it tomorrow? Could it be even for the day and time when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the people were very comfortable and they were staying out of the war and we didn't want to get involved? We didn't want to be too overly aggressive. At that time and moment our nation was aroused, and it has been aroused again these last few months.

But God's church somehow or another continues to sleep; and non- profit organizations and churches are reporting a downturn in giving. Instead of responding to the huge need today for the salvation of our world, which is the answer to our wealth problem, our churches have turned more inwardly. God is warning us again today that our coins will corrode; they'll tarnish. If we simply say that what we have is what we've earned and what we deserve, we will violate the very principle that God has given us. We can touch the world for Christ and we can turn this world upside down if we just won't hold on and if we will just learn to let it go. That's the first crime.

II. Don't Withhold Wages To Workers (v. 4)

There's a second crime and it is this: Don't withhold wages to workers. You say, "Well I'm safe here, I'm not an employer, I don't have any workers working for me, I'm safe, I'm at home, I don't have a job, I'm retired, I'm not a boss or I'm an employee." But until you understand that every one of us has the benefit to bless another, you will not understand the power of this passage.

Verse 4 reminds us that there were workers who were harvesting the crops and their unscrupulous, rich farmers were robbing them because they weren't paying them. You say, "Those people, I can't believe that!" Most of us don't get paid daily. We get paid perhaps twice a month, maybe every two weeks, maybe once a month or maybe you receive an income check from the bank or from Social Security and you have a regular payment and you're not complaining about not being paid daily. But the workers then were expected to be able to be paid at that time and moment.

Just let one paycheck be missed! Miss one Social Security check and I guarantee you will do as they did then. You'll cry out and you'll say, "Hey this isn't fair. This is not what we contracted to do." In fact the scripture teaches us that the employers had failed to pay them. The King James translation translates it this way: They had kept back the coins. This indicates that the laborers would never ever get their salaries! That's the way that it's written in the New Testament language. It's not just that they were delayed in getting it; it's a matter that they weren't ever going to get it because the hearts of the employers were hard.

A. Your Cash Will Cry Out

The Bible teaches that the cash is going to cry out. That's right! It's held in their pockets or in their banks, but it's crying out. I want to graphically express to you what happens. You see as the coins were held instead of given to those who had earned the fair wage, they were crying out, "Guilty, guilty, guilty!" But the wealthy didn't even have ears to hear and the Spirit of the Living God was teaching the church then, "Don't be like them, don't withhold something from someone who has earned it and  who needs it; be a channel of blessing or be one who gives and shares freely.

"Friends, money talks. It really does and sometimes it talks back to us. As a friend of mine said one time, "If money talks so well, all I ever hear it saying is 'good-bye.'" God wants to use what He's given to us to bless others in so many ways because we have been blessed in so many ways. The Bible never discourages the acquiring of wealth. The Law of Moses had specific rules for getting it and for growing it. The Jews in Canaan owned their own property and they worked it and they benefited from their work and they made profit.

Jesus indicated that His perfect and personal will was that people would use their property and their private gain for the glory of God. So the scripture teaches us well on wealth, but it tells us that if we gain it in an illegal manner and if we use it for illegal or immoral purposes, then we have violated the very gift that's been given to us.Leviticus 19:13,14 says, "You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning." Friend, if you have a debt you owe someone, pay him or her. Give them what is theirs. And parents this is true for our children as well. If we promised them something and we haven't fulfilled it, whether it is monetary or whether it is relational, don't withhold that. Give it to them because otherwise your cash will cry out and it will remind you. You know even if your ears don't hear, God hears.

B. The Lord Almighty Will Answer

Note A passage teaches us here that the Lord Almighty will answer. In the cry of the workers who had been defaulted and the cry of the cash itself, God hears and He begins to answer in a marvelous way. You know He heard the blood of Abel in Genesis, chapter 4. God heard the oppressed of Israel in Exodus. And God hears your pleas. If you have been oppressed, if you have been withheld from what is rightfully yours, God hears you. Where man's justice fails, God's justice prevails! These warnings against the crimes that were being committed in their society are just as valid today as they were then. God will vindicate what we do with His wealth. God will guide us to be a blessing to others.

III. Don't Live Only For Luxury (v. 5)

There's a third crime that's committed and it's this: Don't live only for luxury. Did you see that in the 5th verse? It spoke of it with a pair of words. It spoke of luxury and self-indulgence. They're synonyms,  but they're very different. Luxury, the word that is translated there is a soft innovating luxury that tends to demoralize the individual. In other words you become so comfortable with all the cash you have that you want more and you go after something else that puts you on the edge to get you a little bit      more high or makes a little bit more of a risk in your life where you sense a little bit more of a thrill  and ultimately it's personally demoralizing. But the word for self-indulgence here is a different word. It's a word that speaks to extravagance and to wastefulness. It's taking what God has given you and just blowing it, doing with it what you shouldn't' be doing with it and being so wasteful. When a world is crying for food and for clothes and for opportunities, some of us are absolutely throwing it away and the Father warns us about that.

A. Your Hearts Will Harden

In fact the use of the word here about being fat says, "You've fattened yourselves," literally reads in  the New Testament languages, "You have fattened your hearts." In other words your heart will harden, folks. The word that is used there is the word cardia; it's the word from which we get cardiac. Instead of having a physical blockage where some of us are so close to shutting down physically, some of us are even closer to shutting down spiritually because our hearts have become hardened because we have determinately said that we will live for self and for our own well-being, instead of living for the cause of Christ for other people.

B. Your Slaughter Comes Swiftly

It's like cows coming up to a trough and eating and what happens there is that they don't understand that their slaughter is coming quickly. It really is happening quicker than they ever knew it was because you see they're self-satisfied. They're satisfied, they're eating at the trough, they don't understand that there's been a harness placed behind their necks and that they are now just awaiting the time when their life will be taken from them. Within hours these guys are going to be ground beef and porterhouse steaks. They're going to be T-bones sizzling on your grill in the back yard and they don't even know it.

The warning to the wealthy is this: Some of us have become so fattened and so satisfied and we don't even understand that we're setting ourselves up for the judgment, for God indeed looks at what we have and what we have to share.

Jeremiah, the prophet of old, had a word about that as he said in chapter 12, verse 3, "You know me Lord. You see me and you test my thoughts." Then he said as he prayed, "Drag them off like sheep to a butcher. Set them apart for the day of slaughter." What he was saying is when I do and think those things that are only for "me -my - mine," and when I'm so self-centered, would you please slaughter those thoughts, God? Would you please get rid of them before you would rid yourself of me?

This imagery that James uses here indicates that the rich robbers were on the brink of judgment, and the Bible says that ultimately every one of us will be judged. It's not a scare tactic that God's using in His scripture; it's just a warning because He loves us and because He wants us to see all that we have and what we can do with what we have.

IV. Don't Murder Innocent Men (v. 6)

There's a fourth and final crime here: Don't murder innocent men. Some of you are thinking, "Well I'm safe on this one; I haven't ever murdered anybody." I dare say that in an auditorium filled with hundreds of people there are very few, if any, who have taken the physical life of another human being. But you may have taken the life of someone else spiritually, sexually, emotionally or mentally. The way the Bible teaches it here is that there are those who have condemned innocent men and murdered them.

A. You Ruin The Righteous

Are we guilty of condemning others? I think so, in many ways. When it uses the little word or phrase, innocent men, it speaks literally to one word in the New Testament language and it's the word righteous. Basically it's saying you ruin the righteous, the people who are trying to stand up for Jesus Christ. The world is out to ruin them. Just as they persecuted Christ, so they will persecute you.

Jesus said, though, "Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"So if you're being persecuted for standing up for Christ, rejoice! It doesn't feel good and it never will feel good, but it didn't feel good to Jesus either. Examples of those who gave their life for their faith were not only Christ, but there was Stephen, the first Christian martyr; there was James the son of Zebadee and there was later on the very author the Holy Spirit used to give us this letter, James himself. We're in good company. We have people who have hurt. Some of us have been ruined because we want to stand for righteousness. Let's not be guilty of ruining those who are standing for righteousness.

B. You Destroy The Defenseless

There's one final indictment here. It says that those who murder innocent men are also guilty of destroying the defenseless. You see what was happening then is that the Christians weren't fighting back. They didn't pull together an army and say, "Let's get those guys, they're always picking on us. Let's pick up our swords and let's get our spears and let's go after them." No, they heard Christ literally. He said, "If you're struck on one cheek, turn the other." Does that mean you're supposed to be a doormat to everybody? No! It means that God will fight for you and you will know when to stand up and you will know when to sit down and you will know that when you're being attacked that it is God who will give you the opportunity to stand up and be defended. What was happening then is that the wealthy were going out to destroy the defenseless. They weren't even fighting back and they were taking them and destroying them physically and emotionally and financially.

The Lord knows that's not the pattern for us. That's not what we need to do or to be a part of. Those four warnings are all to the wealthy so who, then, is the wealthy? We are! Though we are not the ones to whom James was writing, I think God allowed that to remain within this letter so that we could examine our own hearts and we could see in the world in which we live how important it is to be a channel of blessing to others.

Let me tell you something about life's scale. You see the scale tips to one side or the other. It either tips to the side of the cross where Christ gave Himself and expects us to be a living sacrifice just as He was; or it's tilting to the side of the coins. So is it coins or Christ? Is it silver or is it the Savior? In some of our lives it's Christ. In some of our lives it may be coins or cash that we've accumulated and that we've held on to. All the while God says, "Oh friend, I will bless you in ways beyond your imagination. I want you to have much, but I want you to use it to glorify and honor my Son Jesus.


Three questions and I close.

The first is this: What have you hoarded?

We can hoard cash, we can hoard coins, we can hoard commodities, and we can hoard furnishings and inheritances. We can even hoard God's tithe and say, "Well you understand God, I've got a lot of bills; I cannot afford to let others use my money." And God says, "Whose money?"

The second question: Who have you hurt?

You say, "Nobody, purposefully. I don't mean to hurt anybody. I don't think I've hurt anybody. Have I hurt anybody?" Well examine that from God's perspective. Are there family members, are there business associates, are there teachers, are there parents, are there employees that you have withheld something from that you can give to them freely? It may not be cash; it may be a part of yourself that God is expecting you to share with other people. But you know the one who we hurt the most is God when we don't share with Him what He has given to us to give away.

The final question is this: Where will you invest your wealth?

Every one of us has a certain degree of wealth. Will you invest your wealth upon this earth where it will fade so quickly and where moths will eat it and it will be corroded; or will you invest it in eternity? Proverbs 13:11 says, "Wealth obtained by fraud will dwindle, but the one who gathers by labor increases it." Then we hear these words from Matthew 6:33, "But seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and His righteousness and all these things shall be added or given unto you." What things? Everything you need. That's God's guarantee, everything you need, and it is all contingent upon SEEKING GOD FIRST. Let's do that.