Rich and Ruined

Well good morning, Saylorville!

If you brought a copy of Scripture with you — and even if you didn’t — we’re in James chapter 5. The words will be up soon enough. James chapter 5. We’re studying the book of James, and we’ve entered into the last chapter in this series called Keeping It Real. And so James is coming out swinging in this last chapter!

By the way, when I study and read verses like I’m about to read to you, I think, “Man, am I glad the Bible dictates what I’m supposed to preach to you and not me!’ Right? Well, you’ll know here in a minute. So I mean, when I look at this — and I’ve studied this — I really don’t know what was happening in James’s life when he wrote these words governed by the Spirit of God. I think he was so ticked off about what he saw and he was so mad about it, I think the Holy Spirit just came in there and said, ‘Yeah, right about that!’ And he penned it! And that’s what we have. Let’s see if you agree, because he comes off sounding like an Old Testament prophet, just thundering forth! And here’s what he says.

James 5:1-3, 1Come now, you rich, weep and howl…” (That’s an onomatopoetic expression. It’s like, “Aghh!” That’s the idea.) “for the miseries that are coming upon you.” (In other words, they are coming!) 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.” (Isn’t that encouraging? It’s what the Bible says!) “You have laid up treasure in the last days.

Now we’re getting at what is aggravating James and angering God. They’re not laying up treasures in heaven. They’re hoarding up treasure on earth.

James 5:4, “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud,” (There’s another clue why he’s angry.) “are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears…” (remember that) “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.”

The idea is, he’s so poor, all he can do is take it. That’s the idea. And that’s the end of our reading for the day. Wasn’t that a blessing? I mean, obviously, James is talking about the Elon Musks, and Jeff Bezos, and the Warren Buffets, and the Bill Gates and the Mark Zuckerbergs of this world —Amen?! Not so fast! Consider this. In 2024, the average income in an American household is just under $75,000. If you fall into that camp, you’re worth more than 99% of the rest of the people on the face of this earth. Just drink that in for a moment. So yeah… you’re rich! So he’s talking to all of us, isn’t he?

Whenever I think of this, I think… this struck me like a lightning bolt in 2006 when my 12 year old asked me if he could have his friend over. I said, “Sure!” So we went and got his friend who was living in one of the trailer courts. We pulled in the trailer court, and we drove up in the trailer court which had a four by eight piece of particle wood, which was the front door just leaning up against the door. And his little buddy came out from the particle wood and just… (not from the particle wood, but you understand.) He came and jumped into the car, and we drove over to our house, and we’re walking into the house. We’re in the garage and he says, “John, you guys are rich!” We were still in the garage!

So yeah… we’re rich! But I get it. We don’t think we’re rich because there’s always somebody next to us who’s richer, making us not as rich — Right? So much for what Paul said in 1 Timothy chapter 6:8. He said, “…if we have food and clothing, with these we will be” — no wonder he didn’t know the word! — “content.

Content. That’s why I think every Christian should visit a third world country and visit a third world missionary. And the reason I think you should do that is not to discover how rich you are, but to discover how content they are! And so if you were with us in Togo, as many of you have been there — a number of you have helped out in that area over the years in our mission there — a very, very poor country, but you would discover that a little boy with a stick and a used bicycle tire was having just as much fun as a boy in the States with his $300 hoverboard.

And to be clear — listen carefully — God is not against wealth. He’s not against great wealth, even, but He does warn us repeatedly through the Scripture about the deceitfulness of wealth, and how it has the potential for blinding us! And this is why Paul again says in the pastoral epistle, 1 Timothy 6. He says, 1 Timothy 6:17, ‘I want to give a word to the rich that you not set your hope in your riches — right? — but in God.’

Just the other day, I was having my devotions in God’s word. I was reading in 1 Kings 3. And a lot of you will remember what goes on there, because the young Solomon has just ascended to the throne. He’s very young. He’s very immature. He’s not very wise. And God comes to him at night and gives him a vision — Remember that? — And God in the vision says, ‘Solomon, carte  blanche. Ask whatever you want, and I’ll give it to you.’ And remember, Solomon said, ‘Lord, I’m young. I’m not real smart. I need insight. I need wisdom. I need a heart to govern these people.’ — Remember that? — And God is so touched by the unselfishness of his request, He gives him all of that, makes him the wisest man in the world and, on top of it the richest man in the world!

What a contrast to the story I came across recently of a businessman who was also visited by an angel one night. The angel said to the businessman, ‘You can ask anything. You get one request, whatever it is I’ll grant it to you.’ And so the shrewd businessman said, ‘I have one request. I want the stock market page in the newspaper, one year from now.’ And so his request is granted. He’s got the newspaper. “He’s looking at the futures. He’s just imagining the riches that are going to come his way! And his eyes glance across the page at the Obit section, and he sees his picture over there! Remember what James said? We saw it last week. [James 4:14] ’You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring’ — Amen? That’s why Jesus said in Mark 8:36,For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?”

Now these were Bible times when James was writing… first century. There were four main sources of wealth in Bible times, and they’re all listed here, or at least alluded to. One is clothing. That’s mentioned in verse two. Another is metals. That’s mentioned in verse three. Grain is mentioned in verse four, and the other is cattle, which is mentioned in the fifth verse. And by the way, the word “slaughter” — that’s the word that’s mentioned — it literally means “to butcher a sheep.” So what would happen to all of these resources? What would happen to all of these wealth sources? James tells us… the riches are rotted. Clothing, moth eaten. Gold and silver, corroded. And — did you notice — it’s not the cattle that are fattened for slaughter. They are! And this will be the results… — Hear me on this. — This will be the results of those of us whose goals, whose hopes, whose pleasures are wrapped up, not in your Savior and God, but in your silver and gold. That’s what James is saying.

How do I know if something owns me? Don’t you think that’s a good question? How do I know if something owns me? That’s a simple question. Here’s a simple answer — by the way I respond when that something is taken away from me… or damaged.

I’ve only owned one brand new car in my whole life. And here it is, a 1980 Mazda RX-7, solar gold, very cool! Borrowed up the ying yang for this thing… but who cares! I was working at John Deere making the big bucks in the factory. I didn’t care! I wasn’t a Christian either, but… whatever. One week after I bought this car — one week! — I was at a movie theater with my wife. I parked away from all of the other cars under a light so it would be perfectly seen… and somebody purposely went up and rammed the front quarter panel of that thing… and I couldn’t afford to fix it! But you should have seen me on the spot. No, no, I’m glad you didn’t see me on the spot! I think my wife was about ready to send me to an insane asylum. I went ballistic! I had a complete meltdown right there in the parking lot, because it was obviously intentional! But I learned, at that moment, I learned, I didn’t own that car. That car owned me!

And that’s where James is going here. And speaking of wrecked, after last week’s message, a member of our church texted me and said, “That message wrecked me!” And I said, “What do you mean? What wrecked you?” And he said, “The very thought of my loved ones being taken away.” And if you remember, we said, “Your loved ones could be taken away, or you could be taken away from your loved ones. Either way, it’s going to happen!” And how will you respond when that happens?

James was addressing Christians who developed a sort of infatuation with wealthy people and wealth itself. And that’s why he warns them repeatedly. In James 1:9-1, it’s a warning to the rich. In James 2:1-4, another warning to the rich. In James 4:13, yet another warning to the rich… and here.The late R.C.Sproul speculated… and I quote,

“Many in James’s audience either placed great hope in their own wealth, or had an inordinate longing to run in the same circles that the wealthy did.” R. C. Sproul

That’s really fascinating to me, ’cause I think what was happening then happens now. I have witnessed that kind of inordinate desire literally destroy marriages, literally destroy nearly-so marriages and families. In fact, this is the thought that God, I think, gave me — it’s not right out of scripture — but here it is. I give it to you.

“Inordinate wealth left unchecked, (ie; without an equally increasing generosity) will lead to a desensitized life.” Pat Nemmers

I want you to look at that again. I believe this with every fiber of my being. Inordinate wealth, that is a lot of wealth, and that’s not wrong to have a lot of wealth, but inordinate wealth left unchecked — that doesn’t have an equal increasing generosity to go along with it — will leave you spiritually numb.

Just the other day, our reconstituted counseling team — we have more men and more women — we have a tremendous counseling team — and they were together and they were having special meetings here at church, and they invited the elders into one particular meeting to answer questions and speak into their hearts and lives. It was a lot of fun! Really enjoyed it. And when we were being asked questions, the counseling team put this question to the elders, and here’s the question. “What is your greatest fear for the church?” That’s a good question, isn’t it? What is your greatest fear for the church? The elders began to answer their own personal greatest fears and they were legit, they were powerful and good. And I was the last to respond, and they said, “Pastor, what is your greatest fear for the church?” And I gave them my answer with one word. I said, my greatest fear is lethargy. Lethargy. I fear a church that becomes so lethargic, so dull, so desensitized, so lacking in energy and enthusiasm for the lost and impassioned for the lost in this world, that’s my greatest fear, deadness through lethargy!

Back to the 80s… (I’m actually a 70s guy, but whatever) In the late 80s, as a pastor, I was asked to speak at a conference, and I preached a message titled, “Ain’t That Good Preaching?” That was the title of a message. I thought it was good for a title. If you see the text, I think you’ll agree. I preached from Ezekiel 30. I want you to see it for yourself. This is where I preached.

Ezekiel 33:30-33, “…son of man… your people talk about you in their houses and whisper about you in their… at their doors. They say to one another, come on. Let’s go here. The prophet tells us what the Lord is saying, so my people come, pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words and their hearts seek only after money. You’re very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on instruments. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it.’ (He had just prophesied disaster to them. So he says,) ‘But when all these terrible things happen to them, and they certainly will, then you’ll know a prophet has been among them.’

Have you ever read that? Where does lethargy come from? I think it comes from having every physical and every financial desire and need met, along with a growing sense that I have no needs. This is why Jesus said,

[Luke 5:32] “I haven’t come to call the righteous. I’ve come to call sinners to (what?) repentance.

Right? These are Jesus’ words, not mine. James saw these individuals filling their bank accounts on earth while emptying their eternal accounts in heaven and while cheating and destroying the less fortunate along the way. In fact, you see, look at verse 6 again. He says,

James 5:6, ”You have condemned and murdered the righteous person… and they can’t do anything about it!’

Do you really think that James is thinking that the wealthy amongst them were literally killing people? I don’t think so. I think this is figurative language, because back in those days there was a famous Jewish theologian who actually wrote the book of Ecclesiastica in the Apocrypha who said and taught that when the rich hurt the poor and deprive the poor, he equated it to murder. So they would have known that. Did you notice in that dramatic reading earlier on in verse 4, he says — I’m just going to read again. —

James 5:4,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.

God is listening! He’s not just watching you. He’s taking into account everything; all of your lies, all of your self-deception. But he’s listening to the things that you say that aren’t true. And God is listening and — what I wanna do for the balance of this time is I want to appeal to your ears, because whatever we’re doing is getting to His — Right? So I wanna appeal to your ears. Again in the very first verse — as James comes out swinging! — it says,

[James 5:1], “… weep and howl…” — and all that stuff. He says, — “for the miseries that are coming upon you.”

That’s future tense. Did you know there’s misery coming upon this world that is here-to-for unprecedented? It’s coming! And God, every once in a while, gives us little hints as to what’s coming. He did it back in 2020. On March 16, 2020, the Dow Jones took the biggest hit, the biggest loss in the history of the Dow Jones in one day, March 16. I mean, people were, you know, they were, they were going nuts over that! 8 days later, the biggest gain it ever had! Talk about volatility! Why do I say this to you? Because —Hear this! Hear this! — the Bible prophesies a crash that is coming when the entire economy of the world is going to collapse with no hope of rebounding. Did you know that? That’s what the Bible says, not me. I’m not going to put it up on the slide for you, but I’m going to read it to you out of the book of Revelation. That’s the book that talks about the end times. The name “Babylon,” — which was an actual city at one time — is now symbolic of the entire economic system that runs the world. And here is what John writes in a vision. He says,

[Revelation 18:10b-17a,]  “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon!

For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

And the merchants (that tells you we’re talking about economy here) of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.

“The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!”

The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,

“Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.”

So that’s the prophecy from the Bible itself that there’s coming a future crash to the entire economy of the world. No one will escape it, and there will be no rebounding from it. Well, isn’t that a nice thought to go home on?

So what do you do about that? What do we do about that? Do we just, you know, cry out, ‘The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’?  Is that… No. That’s not what we’re supposed to do. What should we do in the light of the fact that everything we see, experience, possess is gonna one day collapse. Since the world’s economy will one day collapse entirely, let’s just take Jesus’ words for what we should do in the here and now. How about this?

[Matthew 6:33,] “… seek first the kingdom of God…”

When Jesus said that, he was talking about the things we all worry about. In Matthew chapter six — You can read it for yourself — he said, he concluded his thoughts of all of our anxieties, all of our worries that we have, about all of our futures. He said,

[Matthew 6:33,] “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (that we worry about) will be added to you.

J. Vernon McGee used to say, “Have you ever seen a room full of rich people? They’re the grumpiest faces you ever laid eyes on!”

I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I know this. This is what God says. I’m just going to quote it to you. I want you to listen. This proverb struck me years ago. Here’s what it says.

[Proverbs 10:22,] “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.

Now I want you to look at it. “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, but He…( the “He” is God) adds no, (What? Say the word…) sorrow to it.” Do you catch the implication to this? Just because you’re wealthy or you have stuff, doesn’t mean you… people say, “I’m so blessed.” That doesn’t mean it’s a blessing from God. Wealth can be a curse, but it could also be a blessing. Look at it again. “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich.” And if it’s from God — listen to this — God doesn’t then sew into it sorrow! Listen, when the things we attribute, we amass, we hoard, we get… when it’s not from God, it is wealth, no doubt about it. But what God [Satan?] does is he bakes into it sorrow. And if you want to pursue God, and you seek first the kingdom of God, what God does and what He gives you, he doesn’t bake the sorrow in! That’s the kind of blessing I want. Isn’t that the kind you want?

I have people in my mind right now that are in this church who have said things like, “Well, you know… It’s all of the Lord’s,” and they actually mean it! And they prove it with their incredible generosity and the joy of giving! I’m absolutely moved by them. I’m almost tempted to let you know who they are… but I can’t. But in the light of everything coming apart at the seams… someday, God says, “Seek first, the kingdom of God.”

Secondly, Jesus says, “…lay up treasure in heaven

[Matthew 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.”]

Remember verse three, James condemned them because they, (quote)

[James 5:3b,] ”You have laid up treasure in the last days.”

..that is, for themselves. Instead of treasuring up, they were hoarding up. Remember that? And what did Jesus say? (And, by the way, James was Jesus’ half brother. He knew what his brother said!) In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, — and so many of you know these words — He said, ‘Don’t lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupts and thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures (where?) in heaven, where neither moth nor rust can corrupt. Thieves can’t get in and steal it. For where your treasure is, that’s where… (what?) that’s where your heart’s at.’

We have a saying around here and we believe it.

‘God owns everything, so I will invest for eternity what He has given to me temporarily.’

Saylorville saying

Now that’s something to embrace right there. So in the light of everything coming apart at the seams someday — it’ll happen in your life, but it’s gonna happen in the world! — We all get old, we all get sick, some of us get cancer, some of us have unforeseen things that are gonna happen to us and everything’s gonna come unraveled! But you don’t have to! — Amen? — because your life is hidden with Christ and God, if indeed it is. And so we seek first the kingdom of God. We lay up treasure where it counts, where it’s safe, where it can’t be taken away… in heaven.

And finally, we walk in humility and the fear of the Lord. I love this! Proverbs 22:4 says this. It says,

Proverbs 22:4, “The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.”

By humility and the fear of the Lord, look what you get; riches, honor, life… the three things we want! We need wealth to just get by. Honor… we all want respect… And life. Jesus said that

I’ve come to give you life to give it to you abundantly.” [John 10:10b] When we walk in humility in the fear of the Lord, we get Real riches, Real honor, and Real life! Humility. Humility will remind you of who you are, because you’re just as temporary as the stuff you have in the bank! You say, ‘Well, don’t we get to live forever?’ Yeah, but not the way you are on earth! I don’t want to look like this when I get to heaven! I hope there’s a better version of me waiting for me there! Humility will remind you of who you are, and the fear of the Lord will remind you of Who’s you are… Who’s you are. Are you His?

I’ve preached this message for the third time, and in between this hour and the one before, our very own Director of Women’s Ministry, Lindsey Holan, sent me a video. Here it is. [A barn and all its contents are shown engulfed in flames.] That scene is from three days ago, out at her dad’s place. And what you can just barely make out is a 110-year-old model T-Ford that was her inheritance. And she wrote me a text saying, “It means nothing,” although that had to hurt. But what you saw there is a reminder of what happens to everything someday!

When the whole thing comes down, where will you be? How will you stand before the living God? How will I stand? I mean, when you have to preach a message like this, you think, ‘Well, how do you make a beeline to the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus on this?’ Easy! 2 Corinthians 8:9. Listen to these words.

2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.”

Jesus became poor so that you might become rich — which was a very nice thing for Him to do! — dying for your sins on the cross, rising from the dead so that you could repent of your own sin, of trusting in so many other things other than Him that have owned you and embraced the Gospel of the One who loved you and died for your sin! Some of you still need to do that here. You’ve never really repented. You’ve got the words, but there’s no redeemed life to back it up. That means you’re still lost. You’re still unsaved. You still need to be saved. You still need to repent. And then the God who left it all to give us all will come into your life and change you forever so that the treasures you lay up in heaven never burn up. They never go away. There’re yours to give the glory to God… forever! And all God’s people said, [Amen!] Let’s pray.

Our Father in heaven, thank You. These are strong words, Lord! I did not like studying these words, but thank You for them, and thank You for challenging me and reminding me that we’re all very wealthy in this room, more than likely, extraordinarily wealthy. Help us to be like Jesus and see ourselves for who we are and who’s we are. Deliver us from lethargy, from dullness, from a de-sensitized life, and make us, fill us, with Your spirit, Your word, Your power, and save those in this room or watching online who have never really repented of their sins! And they know who they are dear God. May your Holy Spirit reveal that to them even now. And Lord, as we make our way to the Lord’s table all around here, and we hold these precious symbols, we will remember how humble You were for… all for us. In Jesus’ name — Amen. [Music]


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