18 Jul Viewing Wealth Through the Lens of the Gospel
As we continue our exploration of the book of James, we are constantly reminded of its emphasis on practical, everyday Christianity. In each verse, we find wisdom guiding us to express our faith in tangible ways. James challenges us to remember that genuine faith inevitably produces fruit in our lives—good works. This does not mean that our works earn us salvation; instead, they serve as visible evidence of the faith that has already taken root within us.
Today, we transition to a new yet equally challenging passage—James 5:1-6. This portion of Scripture provides a robust critique of the misuse of wealth and the injustices that often accompany it. As we delve into these verses, it is crucial to grasp that James is not condemning wealth in and of itself. Wealth is not inherently evil; what matters is how we handle it. Our passage calls out those who abuse their wealth, oppress the poor, and neglect the cause of justice. As we begin to unpack this, we will see how these verses relate not only to the wealthy but to each one of us, asking us to examine how we view and use the resources God has entrusted to us.
The Danger of Misused Wealth
As we dive into James 5:1-2, we are confronted with a stark depiction of the transitory nature of material wealth. “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.” These verses cut to the heart, revealing the fragile, fleeting aspect of earthly possessions. Our homes, our cars, our bank accounts—all of these are temporary, and none can accompany us beyond the grave.
This truth echoes the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” This isn’t a call to poverty, but rather a reminder that our ultimate investment should not be in the temporal, but the eternal.
Turning our gaze towards church history, we find an all-too-relevant example of the misuse of wealth in the indulgence controversy that sparked the Protestant Reformation. This practice involved the church selling ‘indulgences,’ or pardons for sins, which effectively turned spiritual forgiveness into a commercial transaction. The church’s greed and the exploitation of people’s spiritual fears led to widespread corruption, showing us the devastating effects when wealth is misused, even within religious contexts.
The dangers of misused wealth serve as a cautionary reminder, urging us to invest our lives not in material possessions that fade but in eternal treasures that never perish. It beckons us to use our resources wisely, with the understanding that we are stewards rather than owners of what we possess.
The Deception of Material Prosperity
In verse 3, James continues his indictment of the misused wealth: “Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.” Here, James highlights a grave deception—one can amass material wealth and yet be spiritually impoverished. This verse serves as a profound reminder of the illusory nature of material prosperity when it’s separated from a right relationship with God.
Revelation 3:17 speaks directly to this deception when it rebukes the church in Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” The Laodiceans were materially wealthy, yet spiritually they were destitute. Their physical affluence had blinded them to their spiritual poverty—a deadly deception that can snare any of us if we’re not vigilant.
A poignant example from Scripture that illustrates the danger of wealth becoming a spiritual hindrance is the encounter of Jesus with the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-24). This young man had followed the commandments and had accumulated great wealth. However, when Jesus instructed him to sell his possessions and give to the poor, he walked away sorrowful. His wealth, which he could not let go of, became a barrier between him and the Kingdom of God.
This is not to say that being wealthy is sinful. Many figures in the Bible were blessed with wealth and used it to glorify God. The crux of the issue lies in our hearts’ orientation—whether we are mastered by our wealth or whether we master it, using it as a tool for God’s kingdom. James compels us to reflect on this, pushing us to ensure we’re not just rich in this world, but also rich toward God.
The Cries of the Oppressed
James 5:4 is a sobering verse: “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” This passage underscores a vital aspect of God’s character – His concern for justice and the oppressed. The mistreatment of workers, the withholding of what is justly owed, does not go unnoticed by God.
This aligns with God’s declaration in Exodus 22:21-24: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner…Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.” God’s concern for justice is evident throughout scripture, and this verse explicitly emphasizes His attentiveness to the cries of the mistreated and the oppressed.
Reflecting on church history, we find powerful instances of Christians standing up against societal injustices. A notable example is the 18th-century evangelical movement’s involvement in the abolition of the slave trade. Figures like William Wilberforce, stirred by their Christian convictions, became pivotal in advancing the cause of abolition. The stark contrast between the biblical call for justice and the brutal reality of the slave trade led many Christians to oppose it fiercely. Their actions embodied the practical outworking of their faith and their response to the cries of the oppressed.
The challenge for us today is to embody this same commitment to justice in the face of modern injustices. Are we attentive to the cries of the oppressed in our society? For instance, consider the tragedy of human trafficking, a modern form of slavery where people are exploited and oppressed, their dignity trampled upon. And what about the cries of the unborn, whose lives are ended by abortion before they even have a chance to begin?
These are but two examples of many areas where the voiceless and vulnerable in our society are crying out for justice. James 5:4 compels us, as Christians, to not remain indifferent. Are we willing to advocate for the victims of human trafficking and work towards its eradication? Are we willing to stand up for the right to life of the unborn and support measures that help provide alternatives to abortion?
Our faith calls us not only to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ but also to a life of active love and justice. Using our resources—whether that’s our time, finances, or skills—to promote justice is not an optional extra to our faith, but an integral part of it. James 5:4 serves as a stark reminder of this, calling us to ensure our faith and our commitment to justice are inseparably intertwined.
The Warning Against Self-Indulgence
James 5:5-6 presents a stark warning against self-indulgence and the disregard of the needy. The verses state, “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.” These verses caution against the dangers of excessive comfort and the neglect of the suffering, revealing the devastating spiritual consequences of such a lifestyle.
This warning is reminiscent of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. The rich man, who lived in opulence and ignored the beggar Lazarus at his gate, found himself in torment after death while Lazarus was comforted. This story serves as a vivid illustration of the danger of self-indulgence and lack of compassion.
In contrast, the early Church communities, as depicted in Acts 2:44-45, offer an example of a radically different attitude towards wealth and possessions. The believers “were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” They chose to break from the norms of self-indulgence and, instead, generously shared their resources, ensuring no one was in need.
Today, we are invited to reflect on these verses and examine our own lives. Do we live in luxury and self-indulgence, ignoring those in need around us? Or do we, like the early Christians, see our resources as a means to serve others, to alleviate suffering, and to express God’s love? James 5:5-6 serve as a serious reminder that our choices now have eternal consequences, challenging us to live in light of this reality.
The True Use of Wealth
The scriptures provide us with a powerful and counter-cultural perspective on wealth and its purpose. According to Christian values, wealth isn’t merely for our personal comfort and satisfaction. Instead, it is a tool, a resource entrusted to us by God for the service of others and the advancement of His kingdom.
The Apostle Paul’s counsel to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:17-19 provides valuable insight into this. He urges, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”
These verses not only challenge our attitude toward wealth but also our actions. Are we using our wealth to be rich in good deeds, generous, and willing to share? Or are we, like the individuals James addresses, hoarding wealth for our own self-indulgence and neglecting the needs of others?
As Christians, we are called to a lifestyle of generosity, kindness, and care for the poor. This is the true use of wealth in the Kingdom of God—a wealth not of possessions, but of love, goodness, and service.
Wealth and Worth: A Gospel-centered Perspective
As we conclude, we must remember the potent warning James delivers about the perils of misused wealth and the illusion of material prosperity. When prioritized over spiritual richness and justice, wealth can blind us to our true spiritual state and the needs of those around us.
Let this exploration serve as a mirror, reflecting our attitudes towards wealth and prompting an earnest examination. Does our attitude align with biblical teachings? Are we being generous stewards of what God has entrusted us with?
The gospel calls us to a radically different perspective on wealth—one where generosity is not an afterthought but a natural response to God’s own generosity towards us. Let’s strive to embody this gospel-centered perspective, where true wealth is found not in what we possess, but in a life lived in service and love.
Sermon & Sandwiches
Engaging in a discussion about a sermon can deepen our understanding of God’s Word and help us to apply it in our daily lives. Sharing perspectives allows us to explore diverse insights, enriching our spiritual growth and fostering community. The following conversation starters can encourage thought-provoking discussions and keep the Word alive in your conversations:
- “James highlights the misuse of wealth and the neglect of justice. How do you think we can live out justice and generosity in our current setting?”
- “In what ways does the message from James challenge your view of wealth and its purpose in our lives?”
- “The warning against self-indulgence stood out to me. How can we keep each other accountable to not let comfort blind us to the needs of those around us?”
- “The early Church communities shared their possessions to ensure no one was in need. How can we mirror this spirit of generosity in our lives?”
- “James reminds us that our choices have eternal consequences. How does this shape your understanding of stewardship and how you use your resources?”
- “What steps can we take to ensure we’re ‘rich toward God’ as we navigate our daily responsibilities and decisions?”
- “How can we use the resources God has given us to respond to the cries of the oppressed in our society, like victims of human trafficking and the unborn?”
Remember, these discussions should lead us to reflect on the grace and love of God, fostering a gospel response in our lives rather than simply promoting behavioral modifications. It’s not about becoming ‘better’ people, but about becoming more like Christ and living out His teachings in our day-to-day lives.
The Daily Devotion
Monday: Reflecting on Wealth – Begin your week by reading James 5:1-6 and Matthew 6:19-20. Spend time in prayer, asking God to reveal any areas where you might be valuing material wealth over eternal riches. Journal about the insights God provides. Remember, the goal is not to feel guilty, but to receive God’s grace and realign our lives with His heart.
Tuesday: The Deception of Material Prosperity – Read James 5:3 and Revelation 3:17. Contemplate the danger of spiritual poverty amid material wealth. Pray for wisdom and discernment to recognize any such dangers in your own life and to rely on God’s riches instead of worldly wealth.
Wednesday: Hearing the Cries of the Oppressed – Focus on James 5:4 and Exodus 22:21-24. Pray for a heart that hears the cries of the oppressed and responds with action. Consider specific ways God may be calling you to serve and advocate for justice. Again, it’s not about guilt, but about allowing God’s love and justice to flow through us.
Thursday: Warnings Against Self-Indulgence – Reflect on James 5:5-6 and Luke 16:19-31 (the story of the Rich man and Lazarus). Ask God to search your heart for any areas of self-indulgence that might be hindering your relationship with Him or others. Consider what it means to live a life of selfless love in response to God’s abundant generosity.
Friday: True Use of Wealth – End the week with 1 Timothy 6:17-19. Reflect on how you can be ‘rich in good deeds’ and a good steward of the resources God has entrusted to you. Ask God to guide you in using these resources for His kingdom. The aim is not to promote a ‘prosperity gospel’ or to validate ourselves through good deeds, but to grow in generosity and love, following the example of Christ.
Remember, our goal is not merely to modify our behavior but to cultivate a deep, gospel-centered transformation. As we reflect, study, and pray, let’s invite God to shape our hearts and lives according to His Word and Spirit.
Parents, you have a beautiful opportunity to guide your children in understanding the biblical perspective on wealth and generosity. Here’s an age-appropriate discussion guide to help you engage with them.
Start with a simple explanation. “In the Bible, a man named James wrote a letter to his friends. He talked about how we should use the things God gives us. Just like how you share your toys with your friends, God wants us to share what we have with others too.”
Activity: For younger kids, use play money or real coins. Ask them how they might use the money. Listen to their responses and then share the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), simplified for their understanding. Highlight how the rich man did not share, while Lazarus had nothing.
- “How do you think the rich man felt after not sharing with Lazarus?”
- “How could he have used his wealth better?”
Explain that God loves us so much that He gave His most precious gift to us—His Son, Jesus. When we know how much God loves us, we want to share that love with others.
Activity: Have them think about something they can share or do to show love to someone this week. It could be sharing a snack, a toy, or helping with a chore.
Remind them: “Doing good things doesn’t make God love us more. He already loves us the most! But because He loves us and we love Him, we want to be like Jesus and love others too.”
Remember, the goal is to guide kids to understand God’s love and grace, and that our generosity is a response to His great love for us.