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James #18, chapter 5, verses 1-6
Authentic Faith
The Test of Handling Money
James 5:1-6
James 5:1-6
 
I probably don’t have to mention it by now, but just a reminder that James is offering to his hearers a series of tests to help determine the authenticity of our faith. 
 
This epistle is written to a group of Jewish Christians in a local assembly and they are being called to evaluate the validity of their faith.  So all the way through the epistle you have one test after another. And this passage is no different.  This test has to do with how a person feels about and handles wealth.
 
How you feel about money and possessions and material things is a test which reveals the spiritual state of your heart. And James here is obviously speaking to people who, even though on the outside they may affirm faith in Christ and love for God, they have demonstrated an obvious love for money and their life is controlled and governed by that affection. 
 
And I might say, from a preacher’s perspective, he just blisters their hide.  This is one of, if not the most scathing, condemning denunciation that is given in the epistle. And it is directed toward these wicked wealthy people who have been given the benefit of wealth and have perverted and corrupted it and themselves in the way they have handled it.
 
Now before we look at it, I think it important to remember that wealth in itself is not sinful.
It's not sinful to possess money. It's not sinful to be blessed by God.  But we also need to remember it is  a stewardship given by God to some. All of us have some wealth to manage and it varies from person to person by God's design. And God can bless us in different ways, giving some of us more and some of less than others.
 
So it's not wrong to possess it, but obviously it's wrong to misuse it. But keep in mind, the more you have, the more you are responsible to God to manage properly.  And we’re going to have to answer to Him.   
 
And to that point, James is saying you better take a look at what you do with your money because how you manage what you have reveals your heart. 
 
He begins with
 
  1.   The Pronouncement
 
verse 1
 
Once again, he calls them to attention.  “come now”.  It is a call to snap to attention and listen up and pay attention.   And in particular it is directed to the rich.  That's the group he wants to address and he wants them to tune in. 
 
And notice what he tells them to do. "Weep and howl".  Those are two very interesting words.  “Weep” means to sob out loud.  The same word is used elsewhere to describe the wailing for the dead.
 
 
It is also used for the weeping and the wailing out loud that comes as a result of shame and regret and that’s the idea here.  When you come to understand what I’m talking about, it will cause you to cry out loud.
 
Then another word is added and that is the word “howl”.  In addition to the sobbing and crying, there is howling.  It means to shriek or to scream or to howl out loud.  This goes beyond the tears to an outburst of despair that is caused by violent and uncontrollable grief.
 
So James calls for the rich to give this frantic response of overwhelming grief. Why? Look at verse 1 again.
 
It is because of the miseries that are coming upon them.  That word "miseries" used only here and Romans 3:16 has to do with wretchedness. It has to do with trouble beyond trouble, overwhelming trouble, overwhelming suffering, overwhelming distress.
 
And notice how he personalizes it.  It is “your miseries” and they are coming specifically on you. It's not generic. He's not saying collectively all of you should howl because collectively you're all going to suffer.  He’s saying you individually ought to howl because you're individually going to suffer misery.
 
He’s talking about the judgment of God that comes when a person stands before God and is forced to be responsible for what they’ve done.
 
In other words, he says, “Hey you rich folk!  You need to weep and howl because of what you will experience on Judgment Day.”    
 
So what it is that these people did that brings about this punishment?  If it’s not a sin to be rich, then why is this kind of judgment pronounced on these rich people in particular? 
 
Well, James tells us in the following verses.  There are four characteristics of the wicked wealthy that result in their judgment.  First, judgment come because of  
 
  1.  The way they hoarded
 
verses 2 and 3
 
The specific sin is mentioned at the end of verse 3.  “You have heaped up treasure in the last days.”
 
Some translations use the word “hoarded”.  You have stockpiled your wealth. You say, "Is that wrong?" Yes because it's to the exclusion of its proper use. You have uselessly piled it up.  When God blesses us, He has more in mind than creating a savings account or a nest egg. 
 
He does it that we might use it properly for His glory and to the advance of His Kingdom.  And He does it so we can provide for our families.  But he expects that what He gives to us will be somehow used for His glory.
 
I think that means we would look for ways to win the lost and take care of the hurting and be involved in missions and taking care of those who minister.
We have given wealth by God to use in His work, not to hoard away and be selfish, thinking only of ourselves. 
 
Look at the way James describes their hoarding.  It is corrupted riches, moth-eaten garments and rusted gold and silver.
 
This is very vivid language.  The word corrupted describes a putrefying sore that ultimately rots or a garment that has been destroyed by the bugs or riches that have been destroyed by rust.  And in the end, none of it has any value at all.  What could have been used to be a blessing is gone. And what is left is nothing.  
 
And James' point is so basic. How sinful, how foolish, how stupid is it to hoard money, to hoard clothing, to hoard food when it all rots. And even if it remains, you won't.
 
We hoard so many things. Stocks, bonds, savings account, gold, silver, jewelry, possessions, I'd like to see what would happen some Sunday if everybody brought their jewelry and dumped it down here. All the silver and the gold and we melted it down.  People want the building remodeled and what’s wrong fixed.  There’s the way it gets done.  Is that not the way they built the temple?  
 
Where is your treasure? Where is it invested? Where are you piling it up? We hoard so many things.
 
And notice, in verse 3 he animates the rust and it becomes a witness against them.  He says, “One of these days when you face God, your rusted riches will rise up and testify to your ungodliness."
It will testify to your hoarding. It will testify to your stockpiling. All that hoarded wealth is witness for the prosecution declaring their guilt and the just God to condemn them to hell.
 
And then the rust becomes the executioner. And he says it will eat your flesh as it were fire. Listen, rust moves slow but this rust acts like fire and fire is the fastest consumer of all. Corrosion may be slow but fire is the fastest destroyer.
 
That is a reminder that hell is a physical place. There is real burning there. And this particular flame is for those who hoarded their treasure. Hell is for hoarders of treasure.
 
And he draws attention to the fact that all of this is happening in the last days.  I think what is implied there is no regard for redemptive history. You did it in the church age.  You did it when there was an opportunity to evangelize. 
 
Instead of spreading the gospel, you’ve hoarded your with no regard for God's clock, no regard for redemptive history, no regard for eternity.  While the world went to hell, you lived the high life and gave no thought to the souls of men and women. 
 
I'll tell you something. If people who claim to be Christians were really concerned about lost people going to hell and really were concerned about reaching the world for Jesus Christ, they would not be buying half a dozen homes, having millions of dollars in bank accounts, spending millions of dollars on cars and other personal items and spending a fortune to pad their own seat. That's a dead giveaway as to where somebody's heart is.
I don't care who they say they represent. There is a betrayal of what's really in the heart. There is no way you can affirm the salvation of a person like that.
 
That's absolutely inconsistent with any commitment to win a lost world to the Savior. To have the heart of Jesus is to reach out with what you have to people who don't have what they need, not to consume things on your own lust.
 
The only acceptable way to live in the light of the Second Coming of Christ in these last days of redemptive history is to live holding very loosely the wealth that God gives you and to make sure you're using it for His glory.  We don't need to hoard away our riches.  We need to invest in the eternal Kingdom with the promise that God will never allow His people to be in want if they're faithful to Him.
 
There's a second sin. Not only was judgment coming because of the way they had hoarded, but also because of
 
  1. The way they had cheated
 
verse 4
 
Instead of being generous with the poor, they exploited them. Instead of giving to the poor, they withheld from them. Instead of giving them the small wage that they had earned, they kept it back.
 
And verse 4 begins with the word "behold" because it's almost inconceivable, hard to believe, so utterly contrary to their claim to be Christians, so shocking a behavior.
In the economy of Israel there were people who hung around the marketplace every morning and hope that someone would hire them as day laborers. 
They would work for whatever wage was agreed upon.  Old Testament law was very strict on how you paid day laborers.
 
But these folks would make the deal, then renege on it.  The laborers would do what they were supposed to do, then the rich folk would cheat them by fraud.  It isn't that they delayed in paying, it's that they refused to pay what they agreed to pay.
 
And again he personifies those wages like he personified the rust and in verse 4, "The wages cry out..."  To Whom do they cry out?  They cry out to God. 
 
So does God hear?  Look back at verse 4.
 
You better believe He hears.  The cries of those who have been defrauded reach the ears of God. And notice how He is described.  He is the "Lord of sabaoth".  That word “sabaoth” is untranslated.  It's transliterated right out of the Greek into the English and it means “Lord of Hosts”.
 
The cries reach the ears of the Lord of the army of heaven, the Almighty Commander of all the hosts of heaven.  In other words, the one who hears you is the almighty God who commands the armies of heaven and who will call that army into judgment.
 
And the judgment falls on the wicked wealthy because of the way they hoarded and the way they cheated, and thirdly, because of
 
  1.  They way they had spent
 
verse 5
 
After increasing their wealth through robbery and after hoarding it all, you now use it for your own indulgence. And to express the self-indulgence of the wealthy wicked he uses three verbs.
 
 First of all, "You have lived in luxury.”  It is the idea of living in extravagant comfort. 
 
Second, you have lived in pleasure.  Not content to olive in softness, you spared no expense.  And finally, "You have fattened your hearts."   You have become engorged with the idea of living the life of luxury. 
 
If you wanted to buy it, you bought it. If you wanted to do it, you did it. And you drank the cup dry. You started with soft luxury and then you led yourself right into vice and you have satisfied every desire you've had. 
 
And notice that little phrase at the end of verse 5, "As in a day of slaughter." What is a day of slaughter? It has to be a day of judgment. That's a frightening depiction of judgment. You know how they killed animals? Same way they kill them today.  They slit their throats.
 
James says, “You're just like a fat cow headed to have your throat slit.”
 
 
 
Hear what he’s saying?  The wealthy wicked who have uselessly hoarded the money they unjustly robbed and have self-indulgently spent it are nothing more than fattened calves waiting the judgment of God.
 
He says judgment is coming because of the way they hoarded, they way they cheated, the way they spent and finally,
 
  1. They way they had acquired
 
Verse 6
 
You have condemned and killed the just. Follow the downward spiral.  Hoarding greed led to fraud. Fraud led to self-indulgence. And self-indulgence becomes so consuming that you will literally do anything to sustain your life style. You will condemn and kill. You will murder. And the implication here is they use the courts to pull it off. 
 
The word "to condemn" means to sentence someone. And the word "put to death," means to murder. You have sentenced people and effectively you've murdered them by using the courts. 
 
James ends the indictment with an interesting little statement about these poor abused people.  See it there at the end of verse 7
 
"And he does not resist you”
 
It’s difficult to know who “he” refers to, but it seems best interpreted as the innocent one who was abused, the one who is taken advantage of.
The one who is being killed doesn't resist you. Maybe he's a believer and in the grace of the meekness of Christ he doesn't fight back. Maybe he wants to be like his Lord of whom Peter said, "When He was reviled, He reviled not again but simply committed Himself into the care of God."
 
Maybe he wanted to live out those wonderful truths of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5. "Whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue you at the law and take away your coat, let him have your cloak. And whosoever shall compel you to go a mile, that is carrying his burden, go with him two miles. Give to him that asks and from him that would borrow from you, turn you not away."
 
Maybe he's so rich in faith that he commits himself to God like Christ did.
 
In a sense that even makes it worse. Why is there such a harsh condemnation on the rich?  It is because of the way they hoarded, the way they spent, the way they lived and the way they acquired what they had, ultimately stepping on any and everyone who gets in their way. What a frightening way to waste what God has given us.
 
And keep in mind, this was to those who claimed to be Christians.  Obviously they weren’t.  But is there not also a warning to those of us who are?  We want to be sure we use what we have for the glory of God.   May it be so, especially in these last days.
 
Let’s pray.
 
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