Scripture Text: James 5:1-6 (ESV)
1Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3Your 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. 4Behold, the wages of 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. 5You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
James begins chapter five with the same attention focusing phrase we found in our text last week. COME NOW. If you missed last week, this COME NOW phrase is the same as “Listen Up!” or “Pay Attention!” or “Did you hear me?” or “You have to get this!”. As we have discovered throughout James’ letter to the Jerusalem church, he has a strong message to deliver and doesn’t want any person to miss it.
If we opened the gospels next to James and compared the text, we would find a number of occasions when James picked up right where Jesus left off. This text is no different.
Scripture Text: Matthew 6:19-24 (ESV)
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No man can serve two master, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
This text is not a call or command to be poor. In fact, the Bible does not teach that having wealth is a sin. I believe the Bible teaches wealth having you is a sin. Last week’s war question was “Who has the sovereign rule in our lives?”. This week’s war question is “Where are you storing your treasure?” Today, we’re going to walk through the beginning of James 5 and learn together why it is so necessary to use language only found one other place in the New Testament – COME NOW!
Scripture Text: James 5:1 (ESV)
1Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.
Church of Jerusalem (and other readers), give me your attention. You have to get this. You will weep and howl for what the future brings you. Weeping means “to sob out loud” or “to lament”. It is the word the Jerusalem church understood as the wailing that took place with a person died. When a person died in Jerusalem, the family stopped everything for seven days. The family and their friends gathered to wail over the deceased. There were no words of comfort. Nobody tried to say “just the right thing”, they just wailed for seven days. The Jewish community knew this word weep very well.
James adds the word howl because weeping just isn’t enough. Howling describes a new level of lamenting. This word doesn’t appear any other place in the New Testament. James used it to refer to high-pitched piercing screams. Weep and howl together paints a picture of individuals who engaged in an intense outburst of violent, uncontrollable grief. The reason for this uncontrollable grief is found in the word miseries. Uncontrollable grief is coming because overwhelming hardship is coming to the person is storing treasure in the wrong places.
Scripture Text: James 5:2-3 (ESV)
2Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3Your 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.
If our treasure is stored in the wrong places, it will waste away…
In the New Testament, wealth was measured three ways; food, garments, and precious metals. James warns us against hoarding our wealth when we should generously support the kingdom of God.
Verse 2 – Your Riches have rotted
This Greek word for rotted is never used in the New Testament but used outside of the Bible to describe rotten wood, decayed flesh and rotten fruit. In this first phrase, James is addressing those who are hoarding food that would eventually spoil and rot. Jesus has something to say about hoarding food in Luke.
Scripture Text: Luke 12:16-21 (ESV)
16 Jesus told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And 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. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Not only will food eventually spoil and rot, but the individual who has “ample goods laid up for many years” becomes dependent on himself as provider. This person no longer needs God for provision.
Take some time to go through your pantry. The Holy Spirit will guide you in determining whether you are hoarding or practicing stewardship. Is there anything God can use to provide for another person or family? What can be given to local food pantries?
Verse 2 – Your Garments are moth-eaten
As we read throughout the Bible, garments always referred to outer coats or robes. These garments displayed favor (like Joseph’s coat) or wealth. The more garments one had and the more jewels that were attached, the more prestige a person accumulated. People in the New Testament were also defined by what they wore and how nice they looked. James reminds us those garments will eventually be destroyed. Luke 12 reminds that us hoarding is foolish.
Take some time to go through your closets. The Holy Spirit will guide you in determining if you are addicted to buying clothing. Is there clothing laying around your house that will never be worn by anybody in your family that God can use to provide for another person? You could be the blessing that somebody has been praying for.
Verse 3 – Your gold and silver have corroded
There are two possibilities for this phrase. Theologians are divided. First, there is some evidence that suggests coins in Jerusalem were not pure and could rust completely under certain circumstances. Second, this could be figurative as money will be useless when we stand before God’s judgement. No amount of money will deliver individuals from standing before God to account for his or her life. Either way, Solomon wrote these words in Proverbs 23:4-5, “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.” In the Message, Eugene Peterson wrote it this way, “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich; restrain yourself! Riches disappear in the blink of an eye; wealth sprouts wings and flies out into the wild blue yonder.”
Scripture Text: James 5:4 (ESV)
4Behold, the wages of 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.
Treasure stored in the wrong places brought dishonest gain…
Deuteronomy 24:14-15 gives the commandment that was to be honored with employees. “You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the Lord, and you be guilty of sin.”
Jeremiah 22:13, 18-19 describe the fall of Jehoiakim, king of Judah. “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper room by injustice, who make his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages, who says, “I will build myself a great house with spacious upper room.” “With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried, dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem.
There were extreme consequences for individuals who gained treasures through dishonest gain.
Scripture Text: James 5:5-6 (ESV)
5You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
If our treasure is stored in the wrong places, we will be discontent.
There is no better example on display than King Solomon. Ecclesiastes 2:4-10 reads, “I made great works. I built houses and vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.”
King Solomon chased and achieved the dream. He had everything he possible could want. He had the means to invent new things to want. He had the life on easy street. And then we read the rest of the story.
Verse 11, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
King Solomon admitted everything he accomplished with his life was consumed with self. Vanity controlled his life. He chased the wind, only to catch it never. There was nothing left to chase. His contentment would never be found.
That’s what self-indulgence does. It convinces us that what we have isn’t enough. A phone that is one model newer. Another outfit. The latest video game system. A newer vehicle. A new power tool. That next promotion. One more something.
For what? Where are you storing your treasure? How it is building your holiness?