Sermon on James 5:1-6 – “Sins of the Rich”

Sermon for Sunday, May 15th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Jer 9:23-26 ESV] 23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” 25 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh– 26 Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.”

New Testament reading:

[Jas 5:1-6 ESV] 1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 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. 4 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. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

Gospel reading:

[Luk 12:13-21 ESV] 13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

 

Introduction

There is a surprising amount of material in the Scriptures about wealth. And if you listened to the so-call “prosperity gospel” or the “health and wealth preachers” on TV, you’d think the Bible was some sort of key to financial investments and you might think that prayer is some sort of get-rich-quick scheme.

They who preach that false gospel would be surprised to learn — if they read the Scriptures — that it contains frequent warnings against wealth and criticism of those who are wealthy.

Probably the most well known verse on this subject is 1 Timothy 6:10 – “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.”

But that verse isn’t so well known, because if it were well-known it might not be so frequently misquoted. What is more well-known is the misquote saying “the love of money is the root of all evil.” And it doesn’t say that. And this is quite silly. The root of all evil isn’t money, the root of all evil is the sinful nature of all man (and of fallen angels). What the verse actually says is “the love of money is A ROOT of ALL KINDS of evils.” Remember James had said “You desire and you do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” Those who love money — more than friendship — will kill and steal to obtain it. All kinds of evils are done because of the love of money.

This, of course, doesn’t mean MONEY is at fault.

You can’t go into the courtroom and tell the judge “The money did it.”

That is as silly as saying the gun killed the man, not the criminal who fired the gun.

Money is not the root of evil, but the LOVE of MONEY is the root of ALL Kinds of evil.

It was that mis-quote that first led me to lose respect for the writer and philosopher Ayn Rand. I remember thinking, “If She can’t quote the Bible right, I wonder what else she got wrong in her thinking.” And it turns out that her philosophy, like that of all secular philosophers, is really a mess. She loved money and was not shy about saying so. And she hated Christianity because she thought it hated money. But she did not know the Scriptures.

I. Two Definitions of Rich

Throughout the Scriptures, it helps to understand that there are two definitions of “rich” in view.

(1) – A rich person is one who (Simply) Has money.

(2) – A rich person is one who takes pride in money.

A Christian may HAVE MONEY

But a Christian should not take pride in money.

– Joseph of Arimathea is generally thought to have been wealthy and a believer in Christ. He covered the burial expenses for Christ.

– Abraham, the father of the nations, had vast herds of animals.

– Solomon was “richer than any king in the world.” (2 Chronicles 9:2)

– And my man Job (I have a special connection with Job), he had 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, as well as may servants and was “the greatest of all the people of the east.” Yet he was a man who feared God and turned away from evil.

So if you happen to have some money — and frankly on historical standards we are all “rich”—if you happen to have money this isn’t a call for you to dispose of it.

[REPEAT]

A Christian may HAVE MONEY

A Christian should not take pride in money.

Though we have these two definitions in view, we have to understand that those who have money will have a greater temptation towards taking pride in money. In that sense, it is said in the Scriptures “Woe to you who are rich.” And “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.” And even “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

II. The Sins of the Rich Man in James

So in our passage, James lays out four sins of the “rich man.” And this is not the wealthy man, but the man who does not trust in the Lord. Though, the point is that there is very often overlap between the two.

a. Laying up treasure in the last days. (Trusting not in God but in money)

The first of the sins James speaks of is “laying up treasure in the last days.” Or essentially, trusting not in God but in money.

Consider this:

If the world is coming to an end, how much money is needed to stop it?

If you’re lying on your death bed with a terminal illness and look up to the doctor and say “Doc, how much money to fix this?” then you are delusional. No amount of money can perform a miracle. Some things just can’t be bought.

Our days are surely numbered. And the Lord knows them like the hairs on our heads.

Our days are surely numbered. And given the brevity of life we must lay up treasures not on earth where moths will eat them and rust will decay them, but we are to lay up treasures in heaven, the eternal realm.

Laying up treasures on earth is the height of foolishness. All things decay. I’m reminded of some lyrics of my favorite songwriter, from about 50 years ago now. And he speaks about a rich man who’s money is all gone and he says:

Your castle is dingy and dirty and dismal

Your carpets are faded, your walls are all gray

There’s dust on your silver and cracks in your crystal

All your young servants have drifted away

This is inevitable when it comes to wealth. Nothing is forever. No castle stands eternally. No carpet retains its color. Nothing stays clean. And even the most loyal servants move on.

Trusting in the things of the world is sure to disappoint.

b. Withholding wages due to the laborers.

Then, a second sin of the rich that James speaks of is “withholding the wages due to laborers.”

This is a clear example that we’re looking here not primarily at those who have money, but those who place money above God. The desire for money is such that they cheat their laborers, men made in the very image of God. Though they would not muzzle an ox when it treads the grain, they would withhold wages due to the laborers. This is outright fraud.

It must be said that many employers are good citizens. Not morally perfect, but good civil people. A person who owns a business must have his act together. And many of them pay fair wages and pay on time. But the rich man who withholds wages gives a bad name to employers in general.

It is not wrong to employ a man. There is even no comment on what the wage is to be. No talk of “a fair wage.” But when a wage is agreed upon, and the work is done, then the payment is due!

c. Living in luxury and self-indulgence.

Then James speaks of a third sin, the sin of the rich man in “living in luxury and self-indulgence.”

With their stolen money then these rich people use it not for charitable purposes but for living in luxury and self-indulgence. They perhaps buy perfumes and oils from afar. They eat foreign foods. They dress in silk and think only how they can gain, how they can grow their own kingdom, not God’s kingdom.

The rich today own super-yachts and operate laboratories like cartoon super-villains. The activities of the rich may change, but the mindset does not. They care not of the things of the Lord.

While a few wealthy people are called of the Lord and do support churches and care about things of the Lord, in general MONEY DISTRACTS a person from the Lord. This then is a warning about money. Don’t let it distract you from God.

In times of need man cries out the Lord, but in times of plenty man pats himself on the back and says “well done.” But the increase – the financial gain – is from the Lord and must be recognized as such. We should thank God for the resources He gives us, and use them well for His glory and His kingdom.

d. Condemning and murdering the righteous person.

Then, fourthly and lastly, James says that rich people are guilty of the sin of “condemning and murdering the righteous person.”

This may be general, — that is, it may be referring to rich people in general using the justice system with undue influence.

But it sounds a lot like a reference to Jesus. Who is “the righteous person” but Jesus Christ? He was condemned though he was without sin and he was murdered on the cross though he was not guilty.

And it was the wealthy Jewish religious leaders and the wealthy Roman governor who made this happen. The rich murdered Jesus.

But as our scorn for the rich grows, let us stop and realize our own guilt on these matters. The sins of the rich are the sins of us all.

We err in laying up treasures on earth,

we withhold that which is due others,

we live in luxury and self-indulgence.

Our lifestyles would look downright decadent to a person from 100 years ago. We have cars, tvs, phones, meat on the table every evening. These were luxuries not all that long ago. We could live with far less.

Then, while it was the rich Jews and Romans who literally had Christ killed, carried out by the Roman soldiers, his death was for the sins of us all. For your sins and mine, Christ went to the cross. Is it a stretch then to say that WE condemned and murdered the righteous person? It was for our sins that He was killed. Jesus paid the penalty due to us.

So this is a call for all to repent and believe, not just the wealthy. All need Christ, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

III. Jesus Christ, Our Treasure

Because of who Jesus is and because of what He has done, He is to be our treasure.

Those who don’t take pride in wealth may better focus on the Lord.

And the Lord God Almighty is to be our greatest treasure.

Proverbs 11:4 tells us “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.”

All the things of this world — whether money or other goods — all will fade away, but the Lord is forever. Treasuring Him is sure to never disappoint. And we treasure Him above all else because He is the source of all else. Whether family, food, rain, or clothing, everything we have comes from the Lord. To put any THING above Him is an affront to Him who made everything and is so generous to man in providing for all.

Luke 12:15 – “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

So then, Where is your treasure? What DO YOU treasure?

Let us treasure the Lord Jesus Christ, and the salvation we know in him. This is by far the greatest treasure. Forgiveness from sins! And the promise of eternal life! I know of nothing that compares. The contemporary song is right when it says “nothing I desire compares with you.”

So, imagine the promised messiah, the very Lord of the universe, is walking the earth and some people are more interested in money than in him. The forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed. The kingdom of God is being preached. But the rich are comfortable in their own houses. In modern language they say “We don’t need no Jesus.” But Jesus IS needed, above all else. The grass withers, the flowers and all other things fade, but the treasure of our Lord is forever.

So what are we to do if we are rich? And what are we to do if we are poor?

Christians have historically outperformed non-Christians financially, as we limit drinking, avoid frivolous expenses, and avoid ostentatious purchases. But Christianity is not about wealth or the lack therefore.

Christians come from all walks of life. Any wealth we have is to be stewarded, to be used well. And we know, as the Lord says, the poor will always be among you.

If however we are “rich” in the sense of trusting in money, we are called to repentance. We are called to recognize the futility of that lifestyle. For no matter how much money you have it can all be lost in an instant in a stock market crash or a house fire.

The opposite of “rich” of course is “poor.” And I don’t know if the Scriptures use this phrase of Christians, but it could be used. The Scriptures compare the “wise” world with the “foolishness” of the Gospel. We are “fools” for Christ and we are “poor” in the eyes of the world. We may even be literally poor in possession.

All of this is to call us to the Lord.

We may be poor, but let us be rich in Jesus Christ.

We may be poor, but let us be rich in the spirit.

We may be poor, but let us be rich in our love for others.

There is an old adage about the American poor that, unlike in other countries, they think of themselves not as forever stuck in poverty but as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

We might say that as Christians we are temporarily poor, certainly not embarrassed, but richer than Kublai Khan, Bill Gates, and the Pope because we know Jesus Christ. We have the greatest treasure. How thankful we should be to the Lord for such riches as knowing Christ.

Luke calls this “true riches” (Luke 16:11).

Paul refers to the “riches of His grace.” (Eph 1:7) Riches which are “immeasurable” (Eph. 2:7) and “unsearchable” (Eph. 3:8)

We who know the Lord are truly rich indeed. Praise the Lord. Let us pray.