This Week: James 5:1-6
Date: April 24, 2016
Series: Shoe Leather Theology: Study of James
This Week’s Resources:
- The Compass Bible Study (pdf)
- Study Notes (pdf)
- Lighthouse Discussion Guide (pdf)
- Lighthouse Leader Study Guide (pdf)
- Word Search Answer Key (pdf)
- FFC Faithlife Community
Overview of this Lesson
As we conclude our miniseries on Winning the War Within, we look at the challenges money and wealth bring for the Christian. It’s easy (as we will see in our lesson) to make broad, sweeping judgments about those with money, that they are evil and that money itself is evil. This is not true. The Bible is neutral when it comes to money itself. What the Bible is concerned about, and this is our area of focus, is the heart of men and women towards money. There is nothing in a dollar bill that makes it good or bad, but in the hands of a godly or evil person, that dollar can be used for good things or evil things.
Again, as we have underscored for the last four weeks, James identifies genuine humility as a sign of true, saving faith. At the core of our belief system, who do we trust? Do we trust in ourselves and our own resources, or do we trust in God? Nothing puts this to the test more than money.
It’s easy to gain a sense of self-importance and self-sufficiency when we have money. Money gives us power and influence over other people and can provide a false sense of safety and comfort.
From a cultural perspective, it is much more likely that James was addressing the victims of rich, powerful people more than he was the wealthy. The First Century church found its home among the poor and enslaved people of the Roman Empire. This does not mean there we not any rich, powerful people within the church, but they were the rare exception rather than the norm.
This is not the case for we Americans. Few words would better describe us than v. 5, where James accuses his audience of living in luxury and self-indulgence. We don’t see children dying in the street from starvation, or dying from illnesses that are easily cured. Economic difficulty for most of us means we may not be able to take the vacation we had planned this summer, or we may have to drive one of our cars another year rather than replace it this year. The temptation is to blunt the force of James’ words because in our minds they don’t apply to us. Our task as group leaders is to let the words of James speak for themselves and permit the Holy Spirit to apply them to the hearts of our group members as He sees fit.
Memory Verse for This Week
James 5:1 (ESV) “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.”
Stewardship (1 Timothy 6:17-19): We believe that everything we have, including our very life, belongs to God.
1. Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?
2. How much money qualifies someone as “rich”? In comparison to what?
3. If you received $1 million, do you think it would change your life? How? What if you received $10 million or $100 million?
This Week’s Take Home Truth
“Much like how you use words (4:11-12) and how you plan (4:13-17), how you use money (5:1-6) reveals who you trust—proudly in riches or humbly in God?—and anything other than humble trust in God will ultimately leave you bankrupt.”
Read the Text (James 5:1-6)
The rich person faces a fierce temptation, a temptation so powerful that it will consume him unless he lives ever so close to the Lord. What is the temptation that so forcefully attacks the rich? The temptation to bank and hoard money instead of using it to meet the needs of the destitute and dying of the world. The Bible never condemns all rich persons. It only condemns the rich who store up their wealth instead of using it to reach the lost, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, shelter the cold and homeless, nurse the sick, and sound the glorious news of salvation around the world. Within this world that reels under the weight of desperate needs, how can anyone keep more than he needs? How can anyone keep from committing all he is and has to help and minister to people? How can anyone not live and give sacrificially in order to meet the needs of those who are disadvantaged and deprived? God knows that we are without excuse. This is the reason for this passage: to warn all the rich of this world, all who keep more than what they need. Read James 5:1-6.
James 5:1–6 (ESV)
1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3Your 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. 4Behold, 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. 5You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions.
4. Should Christians condemn money and wealth?
As we approach this passage of Scripture, we should understand that James is not condemning riches. Riches in themselves are not immoral; they are not moral, either. They are just unmoral or amoral. The Bible actually does not condemn money. A great many people have the viewpoint that there is something dirty about money; they call it “filthy lucre.” Scripture doesn’t say that. What Scripture does say is that “…the love of money is the root of all evil…” (1Tim. 6:10). The problem is not in the coin; the problem is in the hearts of men and women. It is the love of money that is the root of all evil. James was not condemning people just because they were rich but because of their wrong relationship to their riches. He was concerned with how they got their money and what they were doing with it after they got it.
5. What is the problem James is attacking in 5:1-6?
James gives a strong warning about the peril of accumulating much in possessions of this world’s goods and having your heart set on your possessions. This passage along with Matthew 6:19-24 are two passages in Scripture that warn strongly against setting your heart on worldly possessions.
6. These seem like harsh words. Is James addressing Christians or Non-Christians?
This is an area open to debate, and commentators disagree. (See this week’s Study Notes, p. 259 for more discussion on this issue.)
Who is James addressing? Perhaps the best answer is “people in the church.” This is consistent with the text. The epistle was to be read in the church, not the town square, and James never changes from using a second person address. In 5:1-6 he continually uses “you” to address his readers, not “they” which indicates he expects what he is saying to apply to his audience, not to a third party. This could include unbelievers within the church, but also believers. Clearly, as with all things in James, how we handle money is a test of true saving faith. In addressing his readers, he continually provides symptoms of a false faith. In this text, he is pointing to the place money and materialism play in this on-going test.
So, it seems the caution for us in teaching this text is to guard against blunting James’ seething attack against money and materialism as a sign of a false faith. We can’t leave our people with a sense of this is how “they” act, but “we” act this way. James is addressing us, not them.
7. How would you define hoarding?
The first thing to observe is that James uses the word “hoarding” and not savings. The Bible speaks positively about the necessity of saving. For example, consider Prov. 6:6-8:
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.
Hoarding, on the other hand, has a very negative connotation. (Just watch an episode of the reality TV show Hoarders to get an idea of how culture views hoarding. Unfortunately, it can become an obsession that points to mental illness.)
John MacArthur gives a good biblical definition of hoarding:
Hoarding, tragically, is one of the most widespread sins of our time. God entrusts believers with material goods so they may use them for His glory. Obviously, Christians are to provide for their families (1 Tim. 5:8). But beyond that, Christians’ resources are to be used to advance God’s kingdom (cf. 1 Chron. 29:3; Mark 12:42–44; Luke 6:38; 1 Cor. 16:2–3; 2 Cor. 8:2; 9:6–7). Specifically, believers are to use their wealth to win the lost (Luke 16:9), care for those in need (Gal. 2:10; 1 John 3:16–18), and support those in ministry (1 Cor. 9:4–14; Gal. 6:6). Those who name the name of Christ are not to amass a fortune that is uselessly stashed away without regard for God’s will (cf. Job 27:13–17; Ps. 39:6; Eccl. 5:10–11, 13).
Hoarding is amassing wealth that far exceeds our needs and allowing that wealth to govern the decisions of our life rather than God’s will.
8. In American culture, we wouldn’t identify hoarding necessarily, but materialism. What is the difference?
While many Americans would not describe themselves as hoarders, we would be guilty of materialism. A good definition of materialism is this: when our desires become needs in our lives. For the most part, we have relatively simple needs to maintain a quality life: food, shelter, clothing, and a few other basic essentials. If a person has these basic needs, they can live a quality life.
Unfortunately, in our culture today, our economy is driven by consumerism or materialism. Because we live in a time a such great abundance, our sense of what is truly essential is no longer relevant. The things that are now considered needs in our life (cell phones, computers, televisions, fast Internet access, cable or satellite TV, etc.) are in truth desires. People survived thousands of years without such luxuries. In fact, there are billions of people living in second and third world countries today who live their entire life without such luxuries. But, in America, even the poorest of poor feel entitled to these kinds of necessities.
9. Is materialism a sin?
Going back to our first question, it is important to understand that money and wealth is not wrong or sinful. It is amoral. It is neither good or bad.
But, how we use money and wealth can become sinful. Materialism is a sign of a sinful attitude towards money and wealth. James is saying it is extremely important for Christians to see there’s a line to be drawn between saving and prudence, and self-indulgence and hoarding and storing up money instead of putting it to good use.
James points to the obvious outcome of a sinful embrace of money and wealth in v. 5. He says it causes us to live in luxury and self- indulgence. There’s a difference between living a basic life of necessities and conveniences and moving over into the area of unnecessary luxuries and self-indulgence.
Where is this line? The Bible doesn’t give a clear definition. There are people who are very wealthy, but honor God with their wealth and use it to advance His kingdom, care for the poor, and support those in ministry. There are those who have little money, but what they do have, they waste on needless things.
Materialism is not a symptom of wealth, but it is clearly easier to become materialistic if you have an abundance of money than if you do not.
10. How can we guard against materialism?
Each of us have to answer this in our own way. For example, I really could care less about the kind of car I drive. As long as it is reliable, I’m good. On the other hand, I really like cameras. If I had $1000 I had to spend, a trip to the camera store would be my first thought. When it comes to a new lens or camera, more is better.
We each have areas where our appetite can get away from us if not guarded. The problem with materialism is that it can be one of those things that is easy to spot in someone else, but difficult to spot in ourselves.
I look at someone who buys a new sports car and I think, “what a waste! That’s self-indulgence!” Yet, when it’s time to look at a new lens, I need that lens. It is essential.
The following story about John Wesley gives us some idea how he combatted against the urge to hoard more to spend more to have more:
John Wesley founded the Methodist church. He started out as a simple preacher. He didn’t make much money at first, but after a while, because of he founded one of the great church movements in history, he was making a lot of money from his publications and other church-related enterprises.
It would have been easy for Wesley to look at his financial success and think to himself, “God is blessing me. I have given much to God and He in turn has given much to me.”
Rather than take comfort in his growing wealth, Wesley determined early on to live on the same amount he earned when he was a simple preacher. When he made 30 pounds a year, he gave away three. The next year he made 40 pounds, and he gave away 10. The next year he made 70 pounds, and he gave away 40. By the end of his life, he was making as much 1,400 pounds a year, and it is estimated that he made as much as $20,000 pounds during his life time just from his publications (an extraordinary amount in the 1700s). Yet, he continued to live until his death in 1791 as a simple preacher making only 30 pounds a year.
These questions are given to prompt both reflection and learning on a personal level, and should likely be completed individually and apart from your regular group time.
11. How is God challenging the way you handle your resources? Has the Spirit revealed any specific ways you must change your perspective regarding money and possessions to align with God and His priorities?
12. What steps can you take to guard against the sin of materialism?
13. Take some time to give thanks to the Lord for His blessings in your life and then pray for someone in need that the Lord may lay on your heart. If you have the ability to help this person, follow the Lord’s leading.
“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 (Matt. 6:24)”.–John MacArthur