Faith that Works 09. The deadly lie of materialism
I will be continuing my series that I started when William was on Sabbatical last year in the book of James. The Book of James is a book written to Christians struggling with the problem of Antinominalism, which is the idea that if I am saved I don’t really need to do anything to be saved. Therefore, I can do whatever I like. It is the crisis of if salvation is by faith alone, then it doesn’t really matter what I do, because it is by faith that I am saved.
James writes to this context to share that if your faith has no impact on your character and actions it is not faith, it is dead.
Now, it is with this in mind that we read James 5:1-6:
James 5:1-6 English Standard Version (ESV) Warning to the Rich 5 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 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. 4 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. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
This passage is such a powerful passage for us today because, since about 2008 there has been a “war” between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. The narrative is that if you have lots of money you got that because you oppressed people and are therefore evil; essentially if you have money you are part of the oppressive “class” and if you don’t have money you are a victim of the oppressive class.
The interesting message of Scripture is not the amount of money that you have that makes you evil, rather it is what money means to you that matters more. Greed and evil are a state of heart and therefore transcend class and the amount of money you have. In other words, there are a lot of poor people who struggle with the issue of worshiping money and there are some rich people who don’t struggle with the worship of money. Again, it is a matter of the heart.
Why I say this is that James says come now you rich, and the modern temptation is to spot that word and immediately imagine a class of people who you identify as “rich” and cast them all into the pot of the condemned. The crisis of that kind of idea, is that is it not virtuous it is simply envious. Most of the war against rich is not out of concern for the poor it is out of envy and hatred for the successful and rich. This is evil and needs to be said.
Now with that out of the way, there is a warning for everyone who has wealth. To be careful. This leads us to the first point this morning.
1. A Warning to all
Who was the book of James written to? It was to Christians, but the language that James uses here is one of condemnation. I mean, “Fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.” “Eat your flesh with fire” sounds like people going to hell. Simply put, it is. It is a warning of those who are in the church, who think they are saved, who attend church but whose life (especially in regards to how they treat their wealth) shows that they do not belong to Christ.
James is continuing the theme he has stated throughout this book, if you say you have faith, but your life doesn’t show it; you are lying to yourself. Real faith, has an internal impact that changes your actions. James, here in this passage applies this to money as a matter of the heart! Where you spend your money can reveal your heart; and this is why tithing is such an important discipline. In fact throughout the New Testament there is warning after warning about the love of money and the pursuit of wealth. This is inherently apt in a society that is 75% in debt.
The reality is that our money follows what we have our heart on. For example, as I am not a dedicated follower of fashion, I have a major problem spending lots of money on clothes, however, spending lots of money on books and gadgets seems like nothing to me. I enjoy those things. So, where our money flows reveals our hearts, and so again, this is a warning to all no matter how much money we have. The love of money is not a rich poor divide and it is not a Church going, non-church going divide. It is a matter of the heart. And therefore must be dealt with from the heart. This means that we must be very careful not to judge someone, just because someone has wealth does not mean that they are condemned. It is our heart that needs to be taken into account.
So the question is; how do we firstly identify if we are struggling with the love for money and how do we overcome it? Well firstly,
a. A Sign of our hearts
How do we identify if we are overcome with a love for money? Well, James gives us two obvious things to look out for, to identify where our heart is.
Firstly, how we treat our wealth – are we hoarding it? Secondly, how we treat people, do we use them. In terms of how we treat our wealth, James says in verse 3 . “You have laid up treasure in the last days. “ The Greek literally says, your wealth is a fire treasured up for the last days. In other words James is not talking about saving here he is not talking about being wise with your money. He is talking about how your hoarding of wealth is a judgment against you. Having more saved, is your end, that’s the goal. This is both the person who constantly complains on how expensive things are and how they are struggling and how they never have money, and yet you will see them suddenly spend huge amount of money on something. Or the person whose money is spend only on pleasures and things to make them happy. Both of these people worship money.
You have to ask; is money an end in itself to me? Is having enough linked to how I feel about myself? Both the miser and the spender worship what wealth gives them. They love the significance or security or power that money promises them. The crisis is that it can never deliver it. In a day this can be all taken away, in a moment everything that you have built up can be ripped away. And this is why James uses the language that he uses, you are storing up in these last days. It is a display of utter foolishness. If you know that everything is going to end what is the point of endless saving? If you knew that the world was going to end tomorrow, would you be worried about paying off your bond? No! Well, church the world is going to end, so why make this world where you invest the most?
So, a sign that money has your heart is are you hoarding it up. Not are you saving and living wisely? But are you saving like this world is eternal? Or are you spending on yourself like what you have will actually have an eternal impact on you. This is the first sign.
The second sign, is completely linked to this; how do you treat others, are you using them to get wealth or are you using your wealth to benefit others?
James says in verse 4 “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you,” If money is your “god” if it is in your end you will think very little of using people and loving stuff, rather than loving people and using stuff. This is why James says your self-indulgence will be judgment against you in verse 5.
The reality is that money is like water, it is meant to flow, as soon as it is stop it rots and rots the soul of those who hoard it.
The olden day stories of scrooge and the like pictured clearly how the inordinate hoarding of wealth destroys the soul of the one who hoards it. the authors would paint a picture of a bent and twisted man. And let us take a step back and look at the people our culture worship celebrities and the wealthy, if you look at these people’s lives they are far from balanced and health, these people are twisted and bent, they are bitter and jaded. Why? Well church, because everyone here is made in the image of God we are essentially other orientated beings, we are most at peace, most in line with how we are made to function when we spend our lives and by implication our money on the good of others.
The question is how do selfish beings, who are naturally greedy and selfish do that? Well that leads me to;
b. Healing our hearts
In verse 6 James finishes this critique on hoarders with a peculiar statement and it is why I chose the ESV to preach out this morning as I believe they have translated it best where it says; "6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you." The NIV translates it as “Innocent men who do not resist you” the problem with translating this verse is that James is that the word he uses for “the righteous one” as the ESV translates it is in the accusative singular masculine. Which makes it difficult to translate, because it doesn’t translate well into English. In English putting a singular where you have been talking about a plurality is bad English. So, if you are talking about oppressing people by withholding their wages, it is weird to suddenly change your sentence to a singular. But the Greek does this. And I believe James does this to drive his central theme of the entire book home, the righteous one we are murdering, and condemning is not the labourer, but the only truly Righteous One who has ever lived. And He does not resist you. The Righteous One who was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, this is the real one you are betraying and rejecting by your over concern and obsession with money.
You know why money is such a concern to you, you know why you are willing to cheat and abuse people to get more of it, because you have not settled your soul, your heart, in the love of Him who died for you to ransom your soul to God.
The reality is that we have a tendency to hoard and worry about money, only because we are not satisfying ourselves in the one who our soul was made to be satisfied in. Think about it; the promises that wealth and money bring are but bad imitations of what God truly gives us. Wealth promises you security, because you can buy better security, that is the lie, because again, in this life even in the safest countries in the safest neighbourhoods there is the threat of evil. Security is a promise wealth cannot ever deliver. It promises you worthiness, because when people see what you have they will think better of you, that is the lie though, because what you own never changes who you are deep down. Wealth promises you happiness, but the happiness is fleeting at best and hollow at worst. But Christ gives us all those things, because only in Christ we are we secure, worthy and blessed (or happy). Because Christ by dying for us, by being murdered in our place, has secured eternal security, as Paul says in Rom 8:38 “I am convinced that… nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” and nothing can, Jesus has paid the price and it is finished. We are worthy because God no longer counts our sins against us, but rather sees Christ’s righteousness as our own; we are eternally worthy! And we are happy, because we are back in the arms of the one, we were created for. And, church, it is this generous undue love of God that will internally drive our hearts to be generous. Don’t go and try and be more generous, look to Him who did not hold onto His divinity, but made himself nothing for our sakes (Phil 2:6-7) and let that generous love transform your heart and the way you see your money.