This week, we study what one commentator called one of the most searing passages of Scripture in the New Testament. In the first six verses of James 5, the Apostle directs his prophetic anger against the rich and self-indulgent people among us. These words are such an indictment against the rich, that they look like they could come straight out of a political campaign ad.
Upton Sinclair, an American novelist and social reformer, once read a paraphrase of James 5:1-6 to a group of ministers, and attributed the words to Emma Goldman, an early 20th Century feminist and anarchist. The pastors were so outraged at the quote that they declared Goldman should be deported (she was a Russian immigrant). [Hughes, Preaching the Word – James: Faith That Works.]
The temptation for us is to read James 5 and take comfort that he is describing “the other guy.” This doesn’t (can’t) apply to us! Note, however, that James continues to address his readers in the second person–you–and not the third person–they. Whether James is targeting his indictment towards rich Christians or not, it is clear he knew his audience (Christian and Non-Christian) would be sitting in church when this letter was read. Second, we must accept that as Americans, most of the world would find James 5 an accurate description of our people, our culture, our churches.
Eugene Peterson describes how new refugees and immigrants to America see this country from their perspective: “They see a lot of greed and arrogance. They see a Christian community that has almost none of the virtues of the biblical Christian community, which have to do with a sacrificial life and conspicuous love. Rather, they see indulgence in feelings and emotions, and an avaricious quest for gratification.” He concludes with this stinging indictment: “The attractive thing about America to outsiders is the materialism, not the spirituality…. They’re not coming after our gospel, unless they’re translating the gospel into a promise of riches and comfort.”
James’ words are a cry for repentance. As Americans, we draw comfort from our possessions and the stability of our bank account. This is not God’s will. His desire for His children is to draw comfort from the gospel and to serve as wise stewards of the resources He has blessed us with. As we will learn this week, money is amoral–it is neither good nor evil. Yet, money has the unique ability to reveal the intentions of our heart, whether it is good or evil.
John MacArthur notes, “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.”
As you enter into this week’s study of James 5, be sure to lower your defenses and be open to the application of this Scripture to your own life by the Holy Spirit. Remember, the road to victory in the War Within is paved with humility, and few things make true humility more difficult to find than money and wealth.
This Week’s Core Belief
Stewardship (1 Timothy 6:17-19): We believe that everything we have, including our very life, belongs to God.
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