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Opportunity Lost [5-7-23]


May 7, 2023

James 5:1-6

“Opportunity Lost”


We’re going to start with a series of questions.

  • WOULD YOU RATHER MAKE MORE MONEY THAN YOU NEED, OR MAKE JUST ENOUGH TO GET BY ON?

  • DO YOU HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF TO KEEP TRACK OF?

  • WOULD IT BE HARD FOR YOU TO GIVE HALF OF YOUR POSSESSIONS AWAY?

  • DO YOU THINK YOU COULD SPEND MORE OF YOUR RESOURCES TO SERVE GOD?

  • HAVE YOU ALWAYS GIVEN PEOPLE THEIR FAIR SHARE?

  • IF THE BANK MADE AN ERROR IN YOUR FAVOR, WOULD YOU IMMEDIATELY LET THEM KNOW?

  • ARE YOU CONTENT IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?

Let’s now look at what some have called one of the most confrontational condemnations in Scripture. If nothing else, it is one of the clearest and strongest comments about riches in the New Testament:


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.


James 5:1-6


The most pressing question here is, who is James talking about?


He is addressing non-believers and believers. This is direct hostility to the unbelieving rich. James is primarily speaking to those who aren’t present for the benefit of those who are. Here is one purpose John Calvin points to:


“James has a regard to the faithful, that they, hearing of the miserable end of the rich, might not envy their fortune, and also that knowing that God would be the avenger of the wrongs they suffered, they might with a calm and resigned mind bear them.”


There’s also a third variable at work in James 5. Some have suggested that these first six verses represent an attempt to reach non-Christians who were frequenting Christian assemblies. I always keep that in mind when conducting funeral services and performing wedding ceremonies. I’m not solely preaching to the choir.


God’s Word is timeless truth to everybody, wherever they are at in their lives.


So, what of money? What of wealth? What of hard work and success, however it’s measured? Nowhere is James saying money is bad. Material things aren’t bad. Success isn’t bad.

Likewise, the Bible makes it clear that money and possessions and success and materialism can all become idols in people’s lives. They can get in the way of a healthy relationship with God.


Money is a big deal. James brings it up, for starters, as another one of those tests by which we can gauge the genuineness of our faith. Remember, throughout his letter, James offers tests of living faith. As he says in 3:17-18, signposts of real faith are things like purity and peacefulness and gentleness and reasonableness and mercy and sincerity and fairness and good deeds. Those are some of the benchmarks for a true and living faith.


Also, as we’ve seen, James is always mindful of things he heard Jesus teach. Listen to Luke 6:19-21:


“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.”


This is a test. You’ll know the sincerity of your heart by where your treasure is.


Likewise in Luke 16:10-13, Jesus says:


“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, 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.”


In other words, our expressions of generosity and responsibility give evidence to the spiritual condition of our hearts. When we demonstrate our trustworthiness in all things, God gives us more with which to be trustworthy.


The key piece to Luke 16 is in the response of Jesus to the response of the Pharisees in 14-15:


The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”


How you feel about wealth is a spiritual test.


What is most important in our lives?


A few decades ago, a popular bumper sticker boasted:


THE ONE WHO DIES WITH THE MOST TOYS WINS


Stupid Baby Boomers and their stupid Boomer worldview.


While wealth is not sinful, people do struggle with the power wealth holds over their lives. Sometimes money possesses us. The love of money perverts the heart. In fact, money turns hearts away from God. Someone once said to me {and I’m paraphrasing here, but the general sense is accurate}, “Pastor, things are going so well in our lives, we really don’t need God right now.” Oh, the things people say to me.


There are people we know, people like those addressed by James in chapter five, people who want to be identified with God, who want, to some degree or another, to have Christ in their lives. But they don’t want to do it on God’s terms. They want to do it on their own terms. Whether inside the church or not, those are the people addressed here by James.


Here's something you might want to write down:

HOW AM I USING MY RESOURCES TO SERVE GOD?

That’s the test. That’s one of the tests of our devotion to Jesus Christ.


There’s one, final dramatic point James makes, in verse one. “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.” I love the phrasing.


Weep means to “sob out loud.” It is used many times in the New Testament. There was weeping at the tomb of Lazarus. Mary wept when she anointed Jesus’ feet with oil. It reflects the lament when one confesses sin. Back in chapter four, verse nine, James says, “Be afflicted, mourn, and weep.” It is loud lamenting.


The other word James uses in verse one is ololyzontes. This is an onomatopoeic word. It sounds like what is describes. James makes clear that the misery coming on the rich is not earthly. It’s not unusual for the wealthy wicked to go through life quite comfortably. Howling for the miseries that are coming upon you refers to the punishment meted out by God after they die. That is when things get miserable. As Jesus said in his teaching on the narrow door:


“But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”


Luke 13:27-30


It’s quite telling that this chapter of Luke sits under the heading, “Repent or Perish.” Ololyzontes expresses the violent, uncontrollable grief of those who sacrificed eternal joy for temporary riches.


James presents us with a complete reversal of fortune. The first shall be last. Joy shall be turned into sorrow. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. For where your treasure is, so there will be your heart. God gives us material blessings so we can be a blessing to our church and our community. Hoarding of anything is never a good thing. Amen?


James calls us to hold loosely to the wealth God gives us. In the name of Christ, we want to use it for his glory. There will be no weeping and howling in this life or in the life to come for those who use their lives in service of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


As Always:


SOLI DEO GLORIA…

To the Glory of God Alone



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