James – What’s It Worth?

Peninsula Community Church

June 23, 2013

James – What’s It Worth?

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

My first read of this passage this week was one that elicited a response of wanting to skip this passage, as I did not see the relevance and application to us as a church. But, upon a second and third read, however, I realized something very profound. While James was dealing with the rich, he in reality was dealing with heart issues that are present in each of us. These heart issues do not matter if we are rich or poor but our heart attitude toward what we possess. 

To begin with we must understand that being rich is a state of mind. Rich is all relevant. Being rich is not always based in what one possesses but one’s attitude toward what they possess. I cannot help but think that I am not rich by some people’s standard but I can tell you I am rich beyond measure in so many ways. I am the pastor of a wonderful church. I am awesome friends. I have the love of a beautiful wife who is beside in ministry and in life. I have two kids that love me. I have a Savior who loves me and has given Himself for my sins. I am truly blessed and I am rich beyond measure. 

When Michelle and I were first married we rented an apartment from a wonderful professional couple. They owned the home where we were living. They owned a summer house at Lake George in upstate New York. They owned two brand new BMW’s. They owned a 32 foot boat they kept at an exclusive yacht club. He was an investment broker and she was an executive buyer for JC Penny. In the early 80’s each of them were pulling in salaries of six figures. And yet they always complained about not having money and how they might have to sell their boat to make ends meet. They never seemed content in what they possessed as their possessions had consumed them rather than them being able to enjoy what they possessed. It was in that moment that I realized that wealth is relevant to the condition of one’s heart and the mindset that one has toward money. That is the message that James is communicating here. 

Money can be used as a means to advance the Kingdom or it can be used to control and destroy others. It is so very interesting to see what happens to a family whose parents die and leaves them some money. Too often the result is jealousy and fighting. I have know families that have been split apart because of a sense of favoritism and a sense of inequity of the division of money when in reality that was not the case. Money has a way of defiling the best of us if we do not have the right mindset and spiritual maturity toward money.

While we may impose these Scriptures deal with the heart of the rich we are all guilty of the same kinds of actions whether we are rich or poor. The issues James lays out here are the same issues that we all must deal with. 

To begin with we must ask ourselves, “Where is your treasure?” The Bible clearly defines this for us when Jesus states “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This treasure may or may not be money. However, the real issue is what do you focus on for what you focus on you will worship. And what you worship will control you. And the thing or things that control you will define who you are and how you live. When our focus is on money and the gaining of wealth at all cost we will worship money and money will begin to control us.

James in writing this passage is borrowing from the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19-21. Jesus stated “Do not lay 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.

James is alluding to the fact that those who profess to be rich are investing in the wrong place. Why do I say that? Notice what James says about their wealth. Their riches are being eaten and consumed by rot and have been eaten by the moths. Their gold and silver have been corroded. They are not investing in eternal things. They rob wages from those who have worked hard for them. They control others by their wealth.

To deal with these issues let’s look at several principles that will keep our perspective in focus.

We need to have an eternal perspective. I know talk a lot about but it is a truth that requires us to focus on Christ and put our value on to those things that will advance the kingdom of God and the work of God. When we have an eternal perspective about our finances we will honor God with our finances. We will treat those with whom we do business with respect and honor. While this passage deals with the rich I can say that those who lack the finances they need can learn from this passage as well. We can have a misguided focus. We can become jealous of those who have money. We can develop an “us and them” attitude. When we have an eternal perspective our attitude and check book will be aligned together.

When we have an eternal perspective we will own your money rather than our money owning us. When we own our money we will be good stewards of what God has given us. We will be wise in our expenditures and we will be wise in putting some away for a rainy day. When we own our money we recognize that the things we possess do not belong to us but they are on loan from God to be used to advance His kingdom and His purposes here on earth. 

The opposite is true as well. When we are owned by our money we will attempt to control others, we will misuse our money for evil gain and we will abuse others in the process. I knew of a business leader who was well known in the church community for how much he gave to ministries. When I spoke with several of his employees, the story was much different. He would force them to work excessive hours. He had not given them a raise in several years although his business profits were off the chart. He would lash out at them when they would discuss finances. In the end he lost a number of skilled employees as a result of his actions.

One the other hand there are a couple of pastors that I admire. I am impressed with their eternal perspective. Rick Warren has chosen to not take a salary from the church at Saddleback where he is the senior pastor. Because of the success of “Purpose Driven Life” and “Purpose Driven Church” he decided that his only source of income would be from the sell of his books. Additionally, he chose to repay the church for his entire salary received up to the point of his successful writing career. I read that he repaid over 18 years of salary. 

I also know that Jack Hayford, former pastor of Church on the Way in Van Nuys had the church set his salary at a very modest level of $60,000 where it has remained for a number of years. He felt that the income he makes from the sell of his books, media ministry and his speaking engagements are more than enough to cover his expenses. 

Why do they do this? It is because they recognize that it is their way of helping the church fulfill its destiny and to advance the kingdom of God. I could mentioned others as well who have taken such steps because of their success in other areas of ministry. These men made a decision that money will not own them and that they will be good stewards of what God has given them. Now I know what some of you are thinking. Why don’t I do that? Well, I am not a successful writer nor am I successful conference speaker.

When we have an eternal perspective we will invest in people and not use them for our benefit. When have an eternal perspective we will be about the business of blessing others. We do not use others. Look at what James says here. The rich he is referring to are misusing their employees by not paying them a fair wage and then the wages that are being promised are not being paid. They are defrauding those who are working for them. Let me say this as well, if you are a laborer for someone else. How do you treat your boss? Do you give them an honest day’s work for the pay you receive? Do you cut corners? Do you add extra hours that you did not work? Do you take items home that are not yours? 

If you are a Christian business man or you do work for anyone be honest and fair. I had a mechanic at one point that began to attend our church in New York. He continually asked me to come to his shop and have work done. I was so hesitant because I had been burned by mechanics who professed to be a Christian before. When I finally decided to stop by his shop I shared my anxiety with him. His reply was one I did not expect. He stated that he had anxiety as well because every Christian he had worked with always wanted him to do work for nothing and they often refused to pay him or they would write checks that would bounce and he would never get his money.  

I can remember a construction company on Long Island that had the cross and a Scripture emblazoned on their vans but everyone I spoke with said that they were a horrible company to deal with. They would start the job on time but would take forever to finish the job and after they did complete the job they could not get them back to deal with problems that existed. 

As we close the question we need to ask is, “Does your money own you or do you own your money?” Are you a good steward of what you have been given? How do you treat others who are wealthy? How do you treat others who lack the finances you might have? It’s your choice. It’s your decision.

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