Passage: James 5:1-5
Calvary Baptist Church of Holland
The Church @ Hamilton
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Key Goals: (Know) Understand there are enemies to our rebuild. (Feel) Feel compelled to fight against self-indulgence. (Do) Place God and his mission first in our life.
Introduction: Last week in our series on James, we looked at a formidable enemy of rebuilding our lives: arrogance. We found that arrogance shows up when we judge others and when we presume upon the future. As we move into chapter 5 this morning, James has one more enemy to introduce to us: the enemy of self-indulgence. James was such an interesting guy. Even though Jesus was his older half-brother, there is zero indication that James believed in or even followed Jesus while he was alive. Yet after the resurrection he became one of the leading apostles of the church. I sort of get that, though; I know I would need some serious convincing if my brother declared that he was the creator of the world.
Unlike the twelve apostles, James never left Jerusalem. He was appointed as overseer of Jerusalem and was also the most “Jewish” of the apostles. History tells us that he was known for how righteously he kept the Law, so much so that the other apostles feared him. Peter refused to eat with Gentiles because he was afraid James might hear about it (Gal. 2:11-12), and James asked Paul to buy the sacrifices for some men about to take a Nazirite vow and Paul obeyed (Acts 21:18-26.) What an incredible guy he had to be that apostle Peter was afraid of him and the apostle Paul obeyed him. While historians disagree on exactly how it happened, we know that the pharisees martyred James in Jerusalem. They were upset at how many people were coming to Christ. What is interesting for us this morning is that it was happening amongst the religious elite and the wealthy. Jewish temple priests and rich landowners—powerful and influential people—were repenting of their sins and turning to Christ.
Listen to Acts 6:7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. In our passage this morning you are going to see why James was killed, but I also think you will see why so many repented and turned to Christ. Listen to how strong this language is. James 5:1–6
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.
If I were a wealthy first century Jewish landowner reading this passage, I imagine I would either be genuinely convicted and love James for his boldness to confront, or I would think he was a jerk, shooting his mouth off about matters he does not understand. It would be hard to read this and stay neutral. How I would like to handle the passage this morning is for us to take a few minutes and break down exactly what James was saying to his immediate audience, and what they would have heard and thought. Then let’s fast forward 2000 years and see if God has a message for you and me this morning.
Confronting Corrosion: James begins by calling out rich people. Look at verse 1. Come now, you rich. James is addressing a very specific class of people. He does not distinguish whether or not they are believers, just their socio-economic status. They are rich.
First Century Context: First century Israel was a peasant society in the sense that “its sole of source income was subsistence farming.” In his book ‘Peasants’, Eric R. Wolf describes peasants as rural cultivators whose surpluses were extracted by the ruling elite in order to underwrite its own standard of living. Perhaps you remember the phrase “Pax Romana” or Roman peace—the idea that Romans conquered the known world and made it peaceful for centuries? The Pax Romana was real, but hidden behind that “peace” were oppressive tributes, taxes, and tolls that completely impoverished the average person. So the wealthy grew wealthier and the poor grew poorer. This problem was compounded by the fact that the wealthy elite were also the “purity elite;” the wealthy also controlled the temple, the tithes, and sacrificial offerings. The rich exploited the poor through religious purity—this is the very reason why Jesus in Matthew 21 turned over the moneychangers’ tables in the temple: they had turned God’s house into an oppressive exploitation machine.
So both individual Roman rulers and the Jewish religious elite subjugated the average person. Why is this important to know? Because of what James says next. Go back to the end of verse 1 …weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. The two Greek words for weep and howl have the idea of crying out in misery or torment. The word “howl” actually sounds like someone crying in pain (ololull). James is warning the rich to repent and prepare for a coming judgment. 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. This is language not seen anywhere else in the New Testament; James almost sounds like an Old Testament prophet. The view James is trying to give us is from eternity. So much wealth has been accumulated that it can’t begin to be used, so it rots and rusts. It is the rot and rust that indicts the rich man. But as we will see in a moment, gold and silver are not the rich man’s problem; it is their heart.
The hidden enemy of greed.
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.
The way labor worked during this time period was if you worked for a day, you were paid that evening. You then took that money and bought food for your family. You have probably heard 2 Thessalonians 3:10 If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. That thought comes from this economic model. What the rich would do was withhold wages. So instead of paying every night, they would pay them at the end of the harvest. The laborer would have to borrow money to buy food and then pay off his loan once he got paid; of course they never made enough money to cover the interest, so the laborers effectively became indentured slaves, while the landowners made vast fortunes from abusing them. It was pure greed. James warns that the cries of the abused have reached the ears of the Lord.
So the enemy James is addressing is greed, the craving for wealth that leads a person to do sinful actions in order to grow rich. Paul warned against the same thing in 1 Timothy 6:9–10. Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. Both Paul and James warn us that the love of money (greed) will draw us away from God and cause us to treat people in ways that God will judge.
The hidden enemy of self-indulgence.
5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
The rich that James was rebuking lived luxurious lives. But again, it wasn’t the luxury that was the problem, it was the self-indulgence. The self-indulgent person throws off restraint and discipline and yields to the desire to gratify their own selfish appetites and cravings. Just because we can have something does not mean we should indulge in it. Throughout scripture we are warned against feeding our passions and lusts, and urged instead to develop self-control, generosity and an others-centeredness. Interestingly, the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, tried to find happiness through self-indulgence. Listen to what he found. Ecclesiastes 2:1–11.
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine...
4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man. 9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure…
11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
Solomon found that self-indulgence does not bring happiness; it is vanity. James warns that those who spend their lives seeking to indulge their desires fatten their hearts for the slaughter. This is again a reference to judgment. James wants the self-indulgent to understand that a day will soon come when they will answer for how they lived. Let’s fast forward to today. What should we walk away thinking?
You don’t have to be rich to be greedy or self-indulgent. Lying on your taxes, stealing from your employer, padding your timecard, sneaking money from your mother’s purse, over eating, bingeing on Netflix, refusing to give—these are all symptoms of greed and self-indulgence. James really focuses in on one aspect of greed and warns us that God “hears the cries” of those who are being hurt by our greed. Before we think we don’t have any greed to repent of, let’s think a moment about how greedy people hurt those around them:
1. Greedy people must be first in line, so beware if you are in front of them.
2. Greedy people are always looking for loopholes or ways to game the system—watch out.
3. Greedy people abuse service workers who depend on tips.
4. Greedy people live for now and expect others to pay later.
5. Greedy people do as little work as possible and expect others to fill the gaps.
6. Greedy people blame innocent people as they bluff and lie their way out of trouble.
7. Greedy people covet; they covet your stuff, your spouse, your prestige, and they will take it given half a chance.
God will judge greed because of how it abuses other people. Believers are to be recognized by our love, not our greed. In fact, humility mixed with love is the antidote to greed and self-indulgence. Listen to Philippians 2:3–4 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. He goes on to say in Philippians 2:5–8 (NIV) In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland
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Community Group Questions
1. Read James 5:1-6 out loud with your group. Discuss key words or phrases that jump out of the text.
2. When you hear the word “self-indulgent,” what comes to your mind?
3. Look at the “seven ways greed hurts others” found at the end of the sermon. Discuss a time you have seen one of these in action.
4. James tells us that God “hears the cries” of the abused laborers. Can you think of another passage where God says he heard the cries of abused laborers and acted on their behalf? How is this similar or different?
5. Discuss how humility and love might “cure” greed and self-indulgence.
 Adapted from “The Death of James the Just, Brother of Jesus Christ” http://www.christian-history.org/death-of-james.html
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.
 Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009).