(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 continued with the section of James 5 where he tells us that we can't take wealth with us. He warned us that hoarding wealth will bring misery, in this life and in the next. We talked about the reality of that. We also talked about the fleeting nature of material possessions, even in this life, but especially that you ultimately can't take it with you when you go. It's absolutely vital that we listen to what God says, not what the world says, about money and possessions.
Then we discussed how we need to loosen our grip on our possessions. The Bible tells us that hoarding possessions does not build us or the possessions, it builds up judgment against us in eternity. That is a bad trade off. Share it and gain, hoard it and lose.
Remember, we organized the first six verses of Chapter 5 as:
3. Looking Out for Others - (5:4-6)
Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you. --James 5:4-6A third rebuke that James addresses to us is the lack of compassion toward people all around us who have less. No matter how limited our resources are, there are lots of people around us who are in worse shape and in greater need.
James particularly rebukes people who take advantage of their employees. But we can apply this rebuke to our response to the poor.
There are many, many verses in the Bible that emphasize our responsibility to be compassionate and generous toward those in need:
He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poorWhen Paul went up to Jerusalem to meet with the council there, he recounted the instruction he had been given by James and John and Peter when he was sent out to the Gentiles. He said:
Will also cry himself and not be answered. --Proverbs 12:13
He who is generous will be blessed,
For he gives some of his food to the poor. --Proverbs 22:9
He who gives to the poor will never want,
But he who shuts his eyes will have many curses. --Proverbs 28:27
She extends her hand to the poor,
And she stretches out her hands to the needy. --Proverbs 31:20
Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." --Matthew 19:21
They only asked us to remember the poor-the very thing I also was eager to do. --Galatians 2:10James says in 5:4-5
Behold, the pay of the laborers ... has been withheld by you, ... and the outcry of those who did the harvesting ... (while) You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure ...The terms luxuriously and wanton pleasure have the tone of self indulgence, here at the expense of the unpaid workers. Clearly a faulty moral position. The point for us from this is simply that we need to look out for others, to be willing to share God's blessings. Certainly not hoard them, especially at the expense of others.
So how do we avoid the sinful attitudes that James describes in this passage? Well, one essential key is that we need to learn to give like God teaches, to give to God and to give to others.
Here is what the Bible teaches about giving:
4. Learn To Give:
God blesses generosity: There are many promises in the Bible where God promises to bless us as we give. Here are three.
There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, And he who waters will himself be watered. --Proverbs 11:24-25If you are generous, God will be generous with you. If you are stingy, God will be stingy with you. You get to decide which you want. That is not my opinion, Jesus said it and Paul said it after that.
Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure -- pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return. --Luke 6:38
Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. --2 Corinthians 9:6-7Here are three truths related to learning how to give:
Most of us have, at one time or another, said something like this: "If I just had more money, then I would definitely give more. If I earned $________ dollars, [you fill in the number], then for sure I'd give ten percent."
The truth is that people don't start giving more when they have more money in their lives. People start giving more when they have more of God in their lives; when they are trusting Him rather than their checkbook or wallet to be their source of security, their source of joy.
I read a report about Jack and Lisa who had been married for nearly 16 years. When they bought their first home in 1985, the real estate agent figured it wouldn't be long before the $71,000 house was on the market again. Jack was just out of medical school and the real estate agent didn't know any successful young professionals living in such a modest home. But then she didn't know Jack & Lisa.
Throughout medical school, Jack and Lisa had seen lots of doctors pursue wealth and prestige and sacrifice their families in the process. They were determined to reach for something more out of life. They were especially challenged by Luke 6:38 - "Give and it will be given to you...". As Jack's medical practice grew, they considered this possibility: "Maybe the extra money we're making is not meant for us. Maybe God is increasing our income so we'll have more money to give away."
So they stayed in their smaller home and controlled their lifestyle and steadily increased their giving over the years. Today - even with five children to feed, clothe and educate - they manage to give nearly 50% of everything they earn.
Last week I mentioned Bruce, the retired CEO of Alaska Airlines. Although I assume that he could
afford a big fancy house, I understand that he lives in a relatively modest house in a
modest neighborhood. As I told you, he and his wife decided years ago that their mission
was "adopting" refugee families, directly. My memory is that they have families here from
Viet Nam, Cambodia, Kosovo, the Sudan and Afghanistan. The doctor story reminded me that
Bruce and his wife are another example of the same value system.
B. Give Regularly:
Develop the discipline of giving. Like exercise or dieting, its benefit is tied to your consistency. Make this a habit in your life. A historical guideline you can find throughout the Bible is 10%. You might want to use this as a benchmark.
I read about a pastor and author who regularly budgets for unplanned giving. He and his wife set aside a certain amount of money from their budget each month for unexpected opportunities to give that may come up.
One helpful suggestion is to give first and pay bills second. If you are like I am, that
is a lot easier to do if you set up an automatic giving that just comes out of the
checkbook automatically. That way it does not take a new decision every week or
C. Give Sacrificially:
Here is the story from Mark about the widow's mite, as read in The Message translation.
Sitting across from the offering box, He was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins -- a measly two cents. Jesus called His disciples over and said, "The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford -- she gave her all." --Mark 12:41-44One author, Ron Blue, said, "The concept of sacrificial giving is foreign to most Americans
The first six verses in James 5 contain one of the strongest (harshest?) rebukes given in any letter to any group of Christians. What we do with wealth and possessions is very important. It profoundly affects our own spiritual health and growth. It profoundly shapes the credibility of our witness to a lost world.
Someone said, "You know, we're all going to stand before Jesus someday, and when we see His hands and His feet and the look in His eyes, and when we gain a full awareness of the price He paid ... we're going to shake our heads and say, 'Why did You pay such a price for the likes of me?' Don't be surprised if you hear Him say, 'Love made me do it.'"
"Love made me do it." - What we do with our money says a lot about who we love the most. The people James rebuked in this passage clearly loved themselves far more than they loved God or other people. What do our choices of how we use our money say about us?
"Love made me do it." - That should be the motivation behind our wise stewardship of the money God entrusts to us and the giving that we do. I urge each of you to give at least 10% to God's work; that you'll give and trust Him to provide for you. And that if someone were to ask you why you give, you'd simply say, "Love made me do it - Love for Jesus and love for people."
Patience isn't a particularly popular virtue in our society. Here's one example of the fact that we Americans don't like to wait:
Robert Levine, in a book called "A Geography of Time" (the short title) or "The Temporal Misadventures of a Social Psychologist", or "How Every Culture Keeps Time Just a Little Bit Differently" (Long title), suggests the creation of a new unit of time called the honko-second -- "the time between when the light changes and the person behind you honks his horn." He claims it is the smallest measure of time known to science.
That quote is from another book that sounds like great reading; "If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat".
Here's another example that shows how much we need to learn the importance of patience:
John Ortberg, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Church in Chicago in 1994, said one morning: "Now my guess is in a room this size, there's probably at least a few people that suffer from a disease that might be called 'hurry sickness' - people who always seem to be in a hurry - rushaholics.
"If you suffer from hurry sickness, for you there are not enough hours in the day. When you come to a stoplight and there are two lanes, and there's one car at each one of those lanes, if you have this sickness you find yourself calculating. You try to assess which car is faster, and maybe which driver is younger, who's going to pull away the fastest, and that's who you get behind.
"When you go grocery shopping and you're all finished shopping and you look at the checkout lines, you count how many people are in the lines. Who's got the shortest line? And you calibrate how much stuff's in all the carts. Which one are you going to get through the fastest? And if you're really sick, then when you get in one line, you keep track of where you would have been in the line next to you and you watch as you go through the line together which one's going through fastest, and mentally you pressure the people in front of you. And if the person who would have been you is this other line gets through first and is out the door and you're still standing there, you go away kind of depressed. You lost. ... I want to ask you today to consider the possibility that your greatest need in life may not be to do more things faster. The secret to fulfillment in life is not doing more things faster; it is doing the right things".
These stories are funny, but they reinforce the great need we have for patience today. In this next section, James makes it clear that patience is essential, not optional, for every follower of Christ.
That is another of many reasons that I am hoping for at least a skateboard in Heaven. My lack of patience disqualifies me for a car.
Pat and I will be on an extended vacation for about two weeks starting Friday. Perhaps I will pick up a little patience. We will be gone for the next three Sundays.
Next week and again on August 1, Terry will be teaching.
On August 15, when I get back, we will hear James tell us to "Endure until the End." I think this vacation came up so I could avoid the lesson on patience as long as possible.
We will pick up with James 5:7-11. Re-read James 5.