Study Notes

James 5:1-8


As we saw last Sunday, James has been speaking of the arrogant attitudes that we can have against the Lord. When we say, "I don't have to love this person," we are refusing to follow God's way. When we say, "Tomorrow, I'm going to this town and making this much money," we are arrogantly refusing to acknowledge God's sovereignty over our lives.

Now, some of the most arrogant attitudes against the Lord come from those who are rich. Because of their ability to control situations in their lives by throwing money at their problems, they often do not recognize how fragile life truly is, how dependent upon God each of us actually is. And so, as we begin chapter five, James addresses the rich, hoping to open their eyes to the truth, to bring conviction to their hearts. And as usual, subtlety is not James' method...

5:1-3 Woes Of The Rich

It sounds like James has some issues with the rich, doesn't it? Why is he so adamant about and even angry at the rich? Should we be embittered against those who are rich? No. There is nothing inherently sinful about money. Although people often say, "money is the root of all evil," what the Scripture really says is,

1Tim. 6:10 "...the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil..."

Money is just like any other thing that God entrusts to us - we must be faithful in its usage.

So we must understand whom James is addressing. Notice whom he is speaking to: those who horde riches, those who store up their treasure, even though the time is short.

How ridiculous it is for people to store up money, never using it for the good. Why? Again, look at those to whom James is writing, for he is saying these things practically as well as prophetically.

Remember that he wrote this epistle just a decade or two before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. After Titus Vespasian invaded in 70 AD, there were no rich Jews remaining. They were killed off or sold into slavery, their fortunes destroyed or stolen. Everything that they had stored up for themselves was gone.

Stockpiling money for ourselves is not what God would have us do. We have all heard the stories of those who amassed great wealth, yet refused to distribute it.

Gordon Ellwood lived in Oregon just over the mountain range from the town I moved from. This was a man who was known in Medford as the guy who rode a bike around, collecting bottles and cans for deposits. He wore old clothes and a bungee cord for a belt. His house had no heat, and he ate the free meals that Medford's social service agencies offered.

Gordon died four months ago. But what was discovered about him after his death was astounding: he had a fortune amounting to $10 million dollars! Unfortunately, stories like these are not uncommon. Why store up riches for a day that will probably never come? How much money do we need to have in the bank before we will be faithful to what God has called us to do: caring for the needs of the poor, of widows and orphans?

The pile of money that people leave behind after their death is a witness against them, James says. Why is it that when they had stewardship of it, they didn't use it for good?

5:4-6 Withholding The Pay

Another practice of many rich people is to use wealth as power and leverage to gain more wealth. The millionaire hires people for minimum wage, and then finds excuses not to pay them.

Maybe you are aware that for the last nine years, Microsoft has been repeatedly sued by temporary contract employees for refusing to pay them equal benefits as other employees. The scam was simple: employ people for years, give them an office and a job, but call them temps. Without being classified as full-time workers, they wouldn't be eligible to receive benefits. What a plan! Finally, just three months ago, they agreed to settle the lawsuits for $97 million.

How can a company worth $472 billion quibble about paying benefits to some employees? Because the richer you become, the more likely you are to oppress the poor, who can do nothing about it.

The Lord addressed this in the Law, saying in Leviticus 19,

Lev. 19:13 ...The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.

Condemning The Righteous

To make matters worse, the rich have not just withheld money, but also justice. James says,

James 5:6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous {man;} he does not resist you.

There are countless examples of rich criminals being let go, while the innocent poor are sentenced to death. Indeed, we live in a country where guilt or innocence mean little, but the lawyer you hire will make all the difference in the world. God's Law has condemned this practice as well:

Lev. 19:15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.

5:7-8 The Coming Of The Lord

The rest of today's message applies to the brethren of James, those who are Christians that have suffered at the hands of the powerful rich, who have been ripped off by the covetous. You have probably been frustrated at the imbalance of this world. The wicked seem to have everything, and the righteous seem to suffer. Asaph wrote out of this same frustration,

Ps. 73:2-3 ...As for me, my feet came close to stumbling; My steps had almost slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant, {As} I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Ps. 73:5 They are not in trouble {as other} men; Nor are they plagued like mankind.

Ps. 73:12-19 Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased {in} wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, And washed my hands in innocence; For I have been stricken all day long, And chastened every morning. If I had said, "I will speak thus," Behold, I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children. When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight Until I came into the sanctuary of God; {Then} I perceived their end. Surely Thou dost set them in slippery places; Thou dost cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!

It is easy to be envious of the ungodly rich and powerful when we see them today. But if we look at their tomorrow, it is less appealing. James says for us to be patient until the coming of the Lord. Because on that day, everything will be very clear. Those who have stored up vast amounts of wealth, those who have invested in this kingdom instead of the kingdom of heaven will have a horrifying surprise.

2Pet. 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

The hope that the rich are holding onto will be decimated. They will find themselves without power and prestige, without a checkbook to sign their way out of the biggest mess they've ever been in.

We, on the other hand, will suddenly be very, very rich. For those of us who have suffered injustice at the hands of the unrighteous, Jesus said this.

Matt. 5:11-12 "Blessed are you when {men} cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

How can we gain that great reward? Live righteously. As for those of us with money, how can we avoid being classified with the ungodly rich? Jesus said,

Luke 12:33-34 "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

This world revolves around money, but we don't have to. We have the great promise of treasure in heaven. So James repeatedly encourages us to be patient, saying that just like the farmer who works hard now for the promise of the crop to come, you too be diligent and patient now, waiting for your heavenly reward.

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