The Book of James, Part 32:
You Can't Take it With You (James 4:17 - 5:6)

(These notes are substantially based on teaching notes on the Book of James prepared by Rob Mahon and made available to Connection Class teachers at Hoffmantown Church).


Last week, we almost finished Chapter 4 of James. In retrospect, James told us to let God be God in our lives -- to let God do the judging and let God handle the future. Last week we focused on why we are not in control of the future, because we are incapable of it.

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. --James 4:14
When we appreciate that we are just a vapor, a wisp, and then this life is over, we realize that we need to be doing what is really important. As C. S. Lewis said, "Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither."

Today's Lesson:

This morning we will start with the last verse in Chapter 4 with James' definition of sin:

Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. --James 4:17
This is a great definition of sin. Verse 15 spoke of situations, such as the future, where we don't know God's will. This verse warns of times when we know the will of God and ignore it. The immediate application here is to pride and boasting. But it also applies to all the instructions in James' letter. These words from God through James are not just suggestions; they are commands. And when we do not obey, it is sin.

An article titled "The Art Of Being A Big Shot" was written by a Christian businessman. In the article was the following section about pride:

"It is my pride that makes me independent of God. It's appealing to me to feel that I am the master of my fate, that I run my own life, call my own shots, go it alone. But that feeling is my basic dishonesty. I can't go it alone. I have to get help from other people and I can't ultimately rely on myself. I'm dependent on God for my next breath. It's dishonest of me to pretend that I'm anything but a man - small, weak and limited. So, living independent of God is self-delusion." ... When I am conceited, I am lying to myself about what I am. I am pretending to be God, and not man. My pride is the ... worship of myself. And that is the national religion of Hell."

Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." --James 4:15
"If the Lord wills..." - Maybe this is a good phrase for us to focus on as we conclude our study of Chapter 4. The message here is one of surrender and submission to the will of God. We submit our will to His will. We surrender our plans and focus on His plans - every day and in every situation.

If you start looking for it, you'll find that the New Testament is peppered with references like this that show a submission to God's will. And this pattern is rooted in the example of Jesus. Over and over again, Jesus both taught and modeled this attitude for us:

I have read that 100 years ago, it was popular to add the letters "D.V." to any correspondence written between Christians. These letters stood for the Latin words, Deo Volente, meaning "If the Lord wills" and referred to this verse, James 4:15. It was intended to express "an acknowledgment that the [writer] wanted God's direction and approval and would do nothing without it."

But the key is not the letters but the attitude of our hearts. We need to pray for a renewed commitment to seek His will and to do His will.

You Can't Take it With You:

Now let's start Chapter 5. James tells us that "You Can't Take It With You" in James 5:1-6.

How many people in this room consider themselves rich? In the first verse of Chapter 5, James tells us that this passage is addressed to "rich people". If we're not careful, we read that and automatically check out. We don't consider ourselves rich. Bill Gates is rich; movie stars are rich; but we're not rich, right?

Consider the following statistics:

The United Nations Development Program estimates that the basic health and nutrition needs of the world's poorest people could be met for an additional $13 billion a year. Animal lovers in the United States and Europe spend more than that on pet food each year.

So let me ask you again: Are you rich?

This passage is not a condemnation of wealth. Wealth is morally neutral. One of the most misquoted verses in the Bible is 1 Tim 6:10, that "... money is the root of all evil".

For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. --1 Timothy 6:10
What the verse actually says is "the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil". What are some indicators that the love of money and possessions is a dominant characteristic of our society? The tremendous appeal of gambling and lotteries shows "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" What are some negative consequences ("sorts of evil") that can result from our lives being driven by a love of money?

This passage reminds us that all of us - both Christians and non-Christians - will be held accountable by God for what we've done with the wealth He's given to us. Let's take to heart these strong words of warning from God through James to us.

As we read these verses notice how tough, almost harsh, James' words sound to us. Sometimes we need strong rebukes like this - but they are rarely received well by us.

Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
   Reprove a wise man and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser,
   Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning. --Proverbs 9:8-9
The first six verses of Chapter 5 can be organized as:
  1. Listen To God - (5:1)
  2. Loosen Your Grip - (5:2-3)
  3. Look Out For Others - (5:4-6)
  4. Learn To Give - (implied)
Listen To God - (5:1-2)
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. --James 5:1-2
The first rebuke that James directs toward the rich is their failure to consider what God has to say about wealth. He seems to yell at us "Pay attention". --  Come now!

We've already established that this passage applies to all of us. The 2.6 billion people in the world that live on less that $1 per day certainly think so. Now the Bible never teaches that there is anything wrong with possessing wealth. In fact, we all have some measure of wealth and material possessions to one degree or another. What matters is what we do to attain wealth and what we do with the wealth we obtain.

John MacArthur states, "Nothing more clearly reveals the state of a person's heart than his view of money and material possessions. Many who profess faith in Christ invalidate their claim to genuine saving faith through their opulent, indulgent, materialistic lifestyles - a clear indication that they serve wealth, not God."

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. --Matthew 6:24
"Now Listen" - This Greek phrase, age nun, [ag·eh noon] is only used two times in the New Testament, here and James 4:13.
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." --James 4:13
The New Living Translation says, "Look here". But most versions use the word "listen". The sense of the phrase seems to be, "pay attention to this".

Back in our study of James 1:22-27, we talked about listening to God, but let's review some of the questions we discussed:

As we observed many times before, the primary way that the Lord speaks to us is through His Word. We need to make a habit of "listening" each day to what He has to say to us:

When Jesus took Peter, James and John up on the mountain with him and Moses and Elijah appeared to them, Peter had a great idea: Let's built three temples, one for each of Jesus, Moses and Elijah. God in effect said, "Shut up Peter, and listen to Jesus!"

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!" --Matthew 17:5
James continues in verse one by saying: "You rich people..." As we've said before, these words apply to all of us. Here's another illustration of our wealth as a nation: There's no question that, as a nation, we are a consumptive group.
In 1994, for example, [Americans] spent $500 million on wrinkle cream and twice that much, $1 billion, on sunglasses. We spend $12 billion on weight-loss programs - which isn't all that surprising, when you consider that we ate a whopping $79 billion worth of fast food! [In contrast, in this same year, all churches in America combined, gave just $2 billion to foreign missionary work around the world.]


Next Sunday is July 4th. Pat and I will be out of town. Darwin has agreed to present a lesson from the archeological work that he has done. You don't want to miss that.

In two weeks I will be back to continue with the first few verses of James 5. Re-read Chapter 5 in preparation.