Main Idea: We tend to think that once we have a little money, we can relax. But James warns us that this is the time to weep and howl.
I read a true story about a man named John G. Wendel II and his six sisters. They were known as “the Weird Wendels.” Although they had received a huge inheritance from their parents, they spent very little of it and did all they could to keep their wealth for themselves. They never bought new clothes, or made repairs to properties they owned, and John was even able to convince five of his six sisters to never marry so that they didn’t have to share their inheritance with anyone else. John died in 1914, and when the last of the sisters died in 1931, her estate was valued at more than $100 million. Her only dress was one that she had made herself, and she had worn it for over 25 years.
The Wendel siblings are an extreme example of the kind of people Jesus talked about who laid up treasure for themselves, and were not rich toward God.
We talked last week about planning to make money. And even though the Scripture we read seemed at first to condemn planning, we saw from the book of Proverbs that there’s nothing wrong with planning, and there’s not even anything wrong with making financial plans. In fact, making plans can be good when you recognize that God’s plans are far greater than our plans. Therefore, we should always seek to follow God’s plan, even when it means giving up our plans for our lives.
That can be rather painful, can’t it? I’ve been learning, though, that pain isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. Pain can obviously be painful in the moment, but sometimes the pains we experience today can actually lead to a greater degree of hope and joy tomorrow.
Sometimes we’re tempted to shield our children from all pain. But two cliches come to mind. See if you can finish them.
No pain, ___ ______.
Yeah, people who work out say, “No pain, no gain” because the pain actually leads to more strength. Now, I myself don’t like the pain of exercise, which is why I haven’t gained any muscle whatsoever over the course of my life. Because no pain, no gain.
Here’s the second cliche.
It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have ________ ___ _____.
It’s painful to experience loss. But these experiences shape us and mold us to experience an even greater love than we can possibly fathom.
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 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. 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 5:1-6)
Father, help us to see all that we have as Yours. Help us to use what you’ve given us to bless others, and glorify You. And I pray that we use all of our lives for the same purpose, giving our lives to others, just as Jesus gave His life for us. Thank You for mercy and grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Who are the richest people in the world? We could name people such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates. When we think about rich people, we think about them, right?
So it might not be immediately apparent how this passage of Scripture relates to us here today, because not many of us would describe ourselves as rich. Certainly when we compare ourselves with some of these other people, we don’t live the same extravagant lifestyles. We don’t live in luxurious mansions. We don’t own boats and travel the world half the year for pleasure. And yet, as we’ve talked about earlier this year, simply living in America basically means that we’re among the wealthiest people in the world. And, not only that, since we live in the 21st century, we live far more comfortably than most people who have ever lived. For the most part, we’re not poor. We’re very, very rich.
And our Scripture passage this morning tells us that there are certain dangers in being rich. Verse 1 says:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. (James 5:1)
We tend to think that once we have a little money, we can relax, because things are going well. But James warns us that this is exactly the wrong mentality. Once you have a little money, James says that it’s not time to relax, but to weep and howl. Why? It says, “for the miseries that are coming upon you.”
So what are the miseries that are coming upon you?
Once you have money, any money, you’re going to be held accountable for what you do with it. You see, there are certain dangers in having money, any money. As soon as you have a penny in your pocket, you have to decide what to do with it. Do you save it, or spend it, and if so, how do you spend it? And if you have two pennies in your pocket, you have to decide, can I save one and spend one? Or should I save both? Or should I spend both, and what should I spend them on?
So wealth in itself isn’t a bad thing, but a stewardship God gives us. There were many people in the Bible who had a great deal of wealth, and used it in ways that glorified God. Solomon was extremely wealthy, and he built a beautiful temple for the Lord. A group of women in the gospels had some degree of wealth, and they used it to provide for Jesus and His ministry. Wealth itself isn’t a bad thing, but what we do with our wealth can be good or evil.
So in our passage this morning, James condemns four evil uses of our money. The first three warn of miseries that will come upon you when you use your money that way, but the last may actually contain a message of hope. The first is found in verses 2 and 3. It says:
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)
So the first condemnation against how to use money is to hoard it. Now, there’s nothing wrong with saving some money for the future, and the Bible actually encourages us to plan for the future, but this condemnation isn’t really about that. It’s about hoarding our money to the degree that even when we see the great needs of those around us, we don’t spend a penny to help them.
It’s like the stingy millionaire who told his wife that he wanted to be buried with all of his money. So when he died, she honored his request, wrote him a check, and put it in his coffin.
The simple truth is that you can’t take it with you. So if you try to hoard your money for yourself, James writes that your riches have rotted, your garments are moth-eaten, and your gold and silver have corroded. Maybe you don’t have gold and silver, and even if you do, it’s not really saying you shouldn’t. All it’s really saying is that you find your value in such things, in that all the things that you’ve accumulated, that you think are worth so much, they aren’t really worth anything! Hoarded wealth isn’t a blessing, but a burden.
So the logical application of this is to be a giver rather than a taker. Look for opportunities to give.
About ten years ago, I heard about a pastor who received $10,000 that he wasn’t expecting and didn’t really need. I think it was an inheritance or something. Well, since he wasn’t expecting it and didn’t really need it, he gave it all to his church, because they were in the process of purchasing a new church bus, and he knew they could use it. Inspired by his giving, the church then took a collection and gave him back $10,000 as a gift, which he then used to pay down the loan on the new church bus. This happened like four times until the church finally realized that he really didn’t need or want the money!
Listen, I’m not saying that every time you get money you weren’t expecting that you need to give it away. I’m just saying we need to look for opportunities to give.
So of course, be a giver at church, because through our church offerings, we minister to people in our community and all around the world, but also be a giver to the people you encounter every day. Make homeless bags to give out when you drive through cities. When you hear about someone who has a need, seek in some way to meet that need. Don’t consider your money to be your money, but see it as God’s money that He gives you to meet your needs and bless others with as you have opportunity.
Because when we don’t do that, when you hoard wealth, misery will come upon you. It says, “their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire.” You see, in the last days, we’ll be held accountable for our sin. There will be a lake of fire that will burn away all sin. I believe it’s the fire of God’s presence, because God is a consuming fire. So don’t hoard your wealth.
The second evil use of our money is found in verse 4. It says:
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. (James 5:4)
This should be obvious, but it’s evil to use money in an evil way. And it’s evil to not use money in good ways. When you don’t pay people what you owe them, or when you pay people less than what’s fair, you’ve used your money immorally. Basically, whenever we put money or our use of money over people, we fall under this condemnation.
And it says that the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. Scripture is clear that God takes up the cause of the poor and oppressed. When we use our money for ourselves, for our gain, with no thought for the poor, we put ourselves in opposition to God.
In short, we sin and fall short of the glory of God.
The third condemnation flows from the second and is found in verse 5. It says:
You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. (James 5:5)
This is particularly sobering when you think about the type of luxury that James was condemning. To live in luxury 2,000 years ago, when this was written, meant being able to wear a toga and have access to exotic foods that had to be imported from around the world. Today, we can go to a grocery store to get the same things, and even more things. Can you imagine what a rich person from 2,000 years ago would think if he were to walk into our grocery stores today?
And that’s just one luxury we have. They didn’t have air conditioning, or cars, or TV. Think about how spoiled we are, even when we just have what we consider to be the basics.
And when we just take all this for granted, and live self-indulgent lifestyles, we’re fattening ourselves up. It’s like we’re just proving over and over again how sinful we are, and how all our sin deserves condemnation.
And this is interesting. Normally, we’d say that we fattened an animal for the day of slaughter. But James writes that we fattened our hearts in a day of slaughter. It’s like, our slaughter takes place not just some time in the future, but today. Our condemnation isn’t just the hell of the future, but the toil of this life.
Adam and Eve were told that they would die the day they ate the fruit, but they didn’t die. So certain God was merciful in allowing them to live. But maybe when they sinned, they did die. Or, at the very least, they had begun to die. Paul writes that we’re dead in our sins.
When we sin, we show that we’re dead, and that we’re even now living in the day of slaughter. It’s like this whole life is meant to teach us to die to ourselves so that we might live forever in Christ.
The fourth and final evil use of money that James mentions is in verse 6. It says:
You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. (James 5:6)
Woah. That’s kind of a stretch, isn’t it? I mean, I thought we were talking about money? Then all of a sudden, James says that the rich man is guilty of murder! What’s going on here?
Well, I think there are at least two or three things going on here. First, if we hoard our wealth, we truly could be allowing people to die. We have the resources today so that nobody in the world needs to die of hunger or thirst. And yet people do, because enough rich people like us haven’t given just some of our wealth to help them. In a very real way, their blood is on our heads.
Second, I think this whole passage isn’t just about money, but about our lives. Just as we have the responsibility to not hoard our money, spending it only on ourselves, we have the responsibility not to hoard our lives either. We tend to do the things that benefit ourselves and our families. So James is encouraging us to stop living self-indulgent lifestyles. He encourages us to give our lives to others, so that they might see Jesus in us. And if we fail to do that, James gives us a huge warning. Weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Sin leads to death, and unrepented sin leads to hell. And only the grace of God can save us from hell. So weep and howl. So what does it mean to weep and howl?
Well, weeping is obvious. It means to lament, or mourn, in light of the consequences of sin. When you realize that your sin deserves death, it’s good to cry out to God. Some people weep with physical tears, and others simply turn to God feeling the weight of their sin. Either way, the point of weeping isn’t merely for us to feel sorry for our sin, but to realize that we ought to turn from our sin and turn to God. That’s what weeping is.
But it also says that we should howl. So let’s practice that. “Owwwww! Owwwww!”
That seems a little weird, right? Well, the word howl simply means to lament loudly, or weep loudly, so that others can hear. Think about how wolves howl. They howl to communicate with other wolves, especially to warn them of danger. In the same way, when you learn about the gravity of your sin, and the consequences of your sin, and that hell is real, weep and howl, turn to God in repentance, and faith, and tell everyone you know as well.
And that’s not just the pastor’s job. It’s not just the pastor’s job to share the gospel with others. When you see someone hurting, weep with them and howl to them. Not like a wolf, that would be weird. But just say, “I feel your pain. And Jesus feels your pain. So He died to save you from sin and death.”
Because I think there’s also a prophetic meaning to verse 6. Once again, verse six says, “You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.” And ultimately, Jesus is the righteous person that we’ve all condemned and murdered. We sinned, and He paid the price for our sin. And He didn’t even resist us. He gave His life so that we would be saved.
You see, the hope that verse 6 points us to see that Jesus died for our sin. Peter wrote it like this:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18a)
You see, even while warning us of the consequences for sin, I think James reminds us of how Jesus rescues us from the miseries coming upon us. He rescued us from condemnation, and brings us to God.
So believe the gospel. Believe the gospel that Jesus saves you by grace, and allow yourself to be transformed by the gospel. Allow God to transform how you love others, so that you cling less to the things of this world, and use them instead to bless people. Because that’s what Jesus did for you. Jesus gave you His life, so that you might find eternal joy in Him.
Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009. He and his wife, Abby, have four children. Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)
James is one of the most simple and practical letters in the New Testament written to encourage and instruct believers. The fact that this letter is in the Bible is interesting, though, because it actually almost didn’t make the cut. Some well-known Christians throughout history didn’t like it or think that it measured up to… (read more)