The Book of James, Part 33:
We need to loosen our grip.  (James 5:1-3)

(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).

Review:

Two weeks ago we finished James Chapter 4, and introduced Chapter 5, where James tells us that "You Can't Take It With You" in James 5:1-6.

If you remember, we started with the assumption that none of us here consider ourselves materially rich; spiritually, yes, but materially, no. Donald Trump and Bill Gates and movie stars are rich, but not any of us.

But then we spent a lot of time looking at the condition of most of the humans on this planet and found that we are indeed materially rich. When we see that people in the U.S. and Europe spend more money for pet food than it would take to solve the hunger and health issues in the rest of the world, we see that we are indeed rich.

Remember also that this section of James is not a condemnation of wealth. Wealth is morally neutral. We saw that the Bible does not condemn wealth, but it does say that "the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil". So the greed to get more money is a sin.

The reason for spending so much time on that matter is that we tend to skip over this part of James because we think it does not apply to us. Wrong, it does apply to us. So let's see what James says.

We organized the first six verses of Chapter 5 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)
1.   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
We dealt with the "come now", which we found meant pay attention, listen to me, this is important, so now let's go on.

Weep and wail -

Weep is the Greek word klaio - [klah·yo] = to mourn, weep, lament as the sign of pain and grief of those who mourn for the dead.

Wail is the Greek word ololuzo - [ol·ol·odd·zo] = to howl, wail, lament, a loud cry.

These words are used in expressing great grief, as at the death of someone. James said to cry our grief like a loved one died - for your:

Miseries - talaiporia - [tal·ahee·po·ree·ah] = overwhelming hardship, trouble, suffering or distress.

So we should cry out in grief for the overwhelming troubles:

Which are coming -

James says they are coming, not if they come. There seems to be a short-term and long-term application of the "misery" that James is referring to here:

Short-term Misery - Principle: money apart from God leads to misery. Even for believers, if we ignore God's principles in the way we use our wealth, the result will be misery in this life.

What are some ways that money can lead to misery in this life, apart from God?

There are some great warnings in the Bible about the dangers of money apart from God:
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity. --Ecclesiastes 5:10

But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 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 6:9-10

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. --1 Timothy 6:17-19
Look over these verses in 1 Timothy 6. What are some things God tells us about wealth? Long-term Misery - But in addition to the short term misery, there also seems to a Long-term Misery. The long-term implication is that people will experience misery at the judgment of Christ for the misuse of their money.

In Luke 12:16-21, Jesus tells the story of a man who becomes richer and richer but completely ignores God.

And He told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?'  So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." --Luke 12:16-21
The story ends with the sudden death of the man and these words by Jesus:
But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?" So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. --Luke 12:20-21
Proverbs also gives us advice:
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, But righteousness delivers from death. --Proverbs 11:4

Riches won't help on the day of judgment, but right living is a safeguard against death. --Proverbs 11:4 (NLT)

The great evangelist Billy Sunday, who died in 1935, said:

"The fellow that has no money is poor. The fellow that has nothing but money is poorer still."
We have really got to fight against this tendency to think that more money will make us happier:

In "USA Today", July 8, 1996, there was an article entitled, "Money or Happiness?". According to a survey in this article, 38 percent of Americans 18-29 would be willing to sacrifice happiness for a higher-paying job. Among people ages 50-64, 25 percent said that they would trade money for happiness.

There is a human tendency is to see money as the answer to our problems... "if we just had enough for a new car or a nice vacation or a bigger house..."

But what does this say about our values? What does this say about our confidence in God to know what is best for us, to provide for us?

Wealth won't really last.

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
Another truth James drives home about wealth is that it is temporary, fleeting. There's no guarantee that wealth will last in this life - we've all read stories (or experienced it ourselves) how wealth gained in the stock market was quickly lost through the crash of "high tech" stocks.

But James is speaking about the fact that all material wealth is fleeting in terms of eternity.

There is a funny story about a very rich man who had died. Someone was talking to the executor of the rich man's estate and asked, "How much did he leave behind?" The executor answered, "All of it!"

That's exactly right. You can't take it with you.

Jesus told us the same thing:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. --Matthew 6:19-21
This truth is also found in the Old Testament:
Do not weary yourself to gain wealth,
  Cease from your consideration of it.
When you set your eyes on it, it is gone.
For wealth certainly makes itself wings
   Like an eagle that flies toward the heavens. --Proverbs 23:4-5
The TEV translation says
Be wise enough not to wear yourself out trying to get rich.
  Your money can be gone in a flash,
As if it had grown wings and flown away like an eagle. --Proverbs 23:4-5 (TEV)
A title of this section could be, "Listen to God". It's absolutely vital that we listen to what God says, not the world, about money and possessions.

Bible scholar and author, Haddon Robinson, observes that:

"For every verse in the Bible that tells us the benefits of wealth, there are ten that tell us the danger of wealth."

Jesus contrasted the wealth of this world, which won't last, with the eternal wealth. The question that each of us needs to be asking is:

Which do you spend more time thinking about? Which do you long for more? Which do you spend more time pursuing?

2.    We Need to Loosen Our Grip - (5:2-3)

Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! --James 5:3
A second rebuke James aims at the rich is that they have hoarded their wealth:

There's another truth that comes out of these verses which emphasize that the wealth of this world won't last - we need to loosen our grip on our wealth. When we become preoccupied with acquiring wealth and holding on to wealth, there are all kinds of negative consequences.

In "The Message" paraphrase, verse 3 reads:

Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you've piled up is judgment. --James 5:3 (The Message)
That's a great warning. We think we're piling up wealth but we're actually piling up judgment from God.

Stored up your treasure - theasaurizo - [thay·sow·rid·zo] is the same Greek word used in Matthew 6:19-20 and Luke 12:21. It can also be translated "to store, to treasure". Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal... --Matthew 6:19-20

So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." --Luke 12:21
We all struggle with the tendency to "hoard" the wealth that God gives us. Our natural inclination is to keep wealth for ourselves rather than give it to God or share it with others.

What do you think is the difference between "hoarding" and "saving"?

Maybe the simplest answer is that there is nothing wrong with saving money against an uncertain future. But hoarding is holding on to that portion that the Lord wants me to give away.

A. W. Tozer once pointed out that money often comes between people and God. He said you can take two small coins and block the view of huge natural wonders like the Rocky Mountains or the Grand Canyon. Take two coins and hold them closely in front of your eyes and that's all you'll be able to see. You see, it doesn't take a lot of money to come between us and God. But when we hold it too closely, when we focus our attention on money, we can lose sight of God. Lots of people do that in life, don't they?

A Christian of another century wrote, "Theirs is an endless road, a hopeless maze, who seek for goods before they seek for God." --Bernard of Clairvaux

A. W. Tozer writes,

"There is within the human heart a tough, fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess. It covets things with a deep and fierce passion.... Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God's gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature is upset by the monstrous substitution."

 

Next week:

...we will continue with this section of James and pick up with the next thing we can learn which is to

  1. Look out for others - (5:4-6) and to
  2. Endure until the end - (5:7-11).
Assignment: - Re-read James 5.