Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 January 5, 2020
We return today, after hiatus of nearly two months, to our sermon series through James, entitled The Wise Life. In view of the length of time since we last read James’s Spirit-led words, let’s recall a few things about the letter. James, the half-brother of Jesus and pastor of the Jerusalem church, writes to the general church ca. A. D. 45-48. Hence, James likely is the earliest book in the New Testament. Moreover, it is the most Proverbs-like book of the New Testament, with much instruction for those redeemed by and following Jesus Christ by faith. The book is filled with commands—over fifty in this brief letter—and these commands come to our eyes and ears from the Lord, Who knows and desires what is best for us.
We find ourselves, at this fifth chapter’s outset, in a section where the Lord, through James, warns His Church against several wrongs. He urges us to control the sinful passions and to avoid other things—such as evil speech against a fellow Christian and boasting about tomorrow. Now James speaks strongly to certain rich folks—ones certainly present outside the Church, but perhaps also present within the Church. Let us give attention to this reading of God’s Word, that we may be more conformed to the likeness of Christ Jesus Himself.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
James arrests attention (with the same Greek word he used in James 4:13), saying in effect, “Pay attention, you rich ones.” The news for them is not good—and, therefore, James calls them to weep and to howl in view of their pending loss and destruction. James first declares what is coming to them. These rich ones will endure the ruin of their riches, in which they trust, and James describes this ruin vividly. They will endure the decay—yea, rot—of their wealth. They will find their garments, even their fine ones, moth-eaten. They will look to their precious metals—and instead of seeing brilliant luster, they will see tarnish, rust, and corrosion. These rich then face the destruction of their very selves; the corrosion of their precious metals will eat their flesh like fire. This will occur, moreover, despite all appearances to the contrary. It appears wealth will remain forever, and will be valuable forever, but James tells us that this is not the case. The case declared here by James is similar to that of the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:14-22. That church esteemed itself wealthy and in need of nothing. Jesus declared them poor, blind, pitiable, and naked. The certain rich ones of James’s day are in the same boat at Laodicea was a half-century later.
Second, James indicts these rich for what they did. Contrary to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 6:19-24), they laid up treasures on earth. They withheld the wages of their laborers, contrary to the Law of God from Moses’ Spirit-led pen (Leviticus 19:13, Deuteronomy 24:14-15). They lived in luxury and self-indulgence, fattening their hearts in a day of slaughter. Even worse than these, they condemned and murdered the righteous person, who was in no way hostile to them. The case here is similar to that of the rich man and his dealings with a certain Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The unnamed rich man dined sumptuously and dressed luxuriantly, whereas Lazarus desired to eat what fell from the rich man’s table—all the while covered in sores. Both die, and Lazarus receives comfort, but the rich man—who extended Lazarus no comfort though abundantly able—finds himself in torment.
Let us be clear: Not all wealth, and not all wealthy, stands condemned—either here or elsewhere in Scripture. The Lord, through Solomon, declares, “The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22). Note the multiple errors of the rich in James 5:1-6. They trust in wealth itself, not the Giver of wealth. They spend that wealth in service of self, not service unto God or unto others. Furthermore, they harmed others. They withheld wages that were due and payable, they condemned the innocent one, and they murdered him. Not every wealthy one commits the sins (and those like them) described in today’s text—but those who do stand in danger of the judgment described by James in today’s portion of the Bible.
We wish one another a happy and prosperous New Year. I, for one, would have none of you miserable and impoverished. Hence, if God so will, may we indeed be happy and prosperous in Him in this new year, provided we avoid these things condemned in certain rich folks in today’s text. We cannot avoid these things in our own strength; avoidance is possible only by the grace of God in Christ, applied to our souls by the Holy Spirit. Yet, through Christ, we can flee them. In place of them, let’s embrace the opposite. By God’s grace, let’s trust in the Giver of every good gift—and not in the gifts themselves. Let’s us use the wealth granted us in the service of God—to bless His vocational servants, to provide a place and instruments for public worship, and to fund worthy Christian works, among others. Let’s also use the wealth granted us to bless others. ‘Tis more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and with a portion of that given unto us we may bless the needy of any type (the poor, the infirm, the orphaned, and the like). In all of this, may the Lord empower our obedience and receive glory in it—both in this new year and always.