To Whom…

To Whom Much is Given, Much Will Be Required

James 5:1-6

Ed Jansen and Trish Gaffney

 

 

Something happened to me 45 years ago that changed my life forever. I had gotten up in the middle of the night and taken my wife to the hospital. She was having our first child. I can remember how flustered I was and how calm she seemed to be. She was admitted at 2:00 a.m. on a hot summer morning in August and delivered a strong baby boy who weighed 7 pounds 12 ounces thirty-two hours later. It was a grueling ordeal for me, so you can imagine what my wife went through. I remember the moment I first laid eyes on the first of my two sons. I was in total awe and would never be the same.

 

You see, before I became a father, I did some pretty crazy things. Some might even call them downright  “stupid.”  One time I jumped out of a plane. I thought it was fun.  We called it sky diving, today I look back and think, “foolish.” I used to drive down the highways at excessive speeds. Today I think, “reckless.” I would sometimes put my very life in danger and think it was thrilling. Today I look back and think, “immature and irresponsible.” But that all changed when I became a Daddy. First of all, I realized I could no longer live just for myself.  Oh, marriage had changed me, but I wasn’t emotionally altered until that morning in August of 1968.  You see, for the first time in my life I realized I had responsibilities. When I looked at that helpless little pint of a human being held in the arms of an exhausted woman who loved me, well, my knees buckled. I realized that MY FAMILY was truly dependent upon me. God had blessed me with so much. And because I was given so much I quickly learned To Whom Much is Given, Much Will Be Required.

 

What was it like for the disciples who had been given so much, to be chosen to be the ones who would sit at the very feet of God himself?  Jesus told them this:  For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.  (Luke 12:48 NKJ)

 

Our scripture for today comes from James 5:1-6,

1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.  2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

 

Introduction

 

Some within the faith have reasoned that being poor is good and being rich is bad, but it is not so simple.  Every good thing comes from the Lord and, as it is with all our gifts in this life, including the material, what matters is how we use them for the good of God’s people. I believe we’ll get a deeper understanding of this passage of scripture by first identifying at least four different kinds of people to see how each group relates to their material blessings. First we will look into the lives of the people to whom James is not speaking, and then we will focus in to understand the ones that he accuses of such great harm in this passage, those who are in great spiritual danger.

 

People who are materially and spiritually rich

These are the people to whom God has given the most. They have been blessed materially and spiritually. Many of these people have applied God’s promises in their lives and have enjoyed material prosperity by living a life of hard work, dedication, obedience and respect for the needs of others.  In spite of their material prosperity they understand that they are “spiritually poor” without Christ; they have received forgiveness of their sin and become spiritually rich through faith in Christ.

 

People who are materially and spiritually poor

These are the people who live in real poverty. They do not have enough to meet their basic needs, materially or spiritually, and are often in despair or anger. They do not understand why Jesus Christ came to earth or why we are in need of a savior. They only relate to their material poverty and don’t understand that they too have a savior in Jesus Christ, if only they recognized their need for Him.

 

People who are spiritually rich, but materially poor

These are the people who lack material blessings, but are rich in their spiritual experiences. They may not own much and they often give away what they have to those in greater need. They have faith in the goodness of God, and are grateful that their basic needs are generally met.  Spiritually they rely on God, experiencing the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23a)  They possess the true wealth which is everlasting. There seems to be a wonderful balance in these people because they seem to understand deep down inside, what’s important in life.

 

People who are materially rich, but spiritually poor

These people have great material blessings from God, yet they refuse to acknowledge Him. In their denial they do not seek or know Jesus. In their self-centeredness, their lives bear the fruit of miserly hoarding, self-indulgence, injustice, condemnation and even murder. Great judgment is awaiting this kind of person because they have been given so much, yet express no gratitude to the One who has blessed them. Let’s take a closer look. These are the people James is referring to in this lesson.

 

Clarification

 

A Prophetic Rebuke

 

1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. I describe this fourth group as miserly. James rebukes the miser, prophetically; they will be miserable. But how? Why? James observes in very human terms the fruit of their lives.

 

Characteristics of a Miser

 

He becomes a hoarder of emptiness. 2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. The miser puts his hope in material things and lives in fear of losing them. He hoards his money and feels more  empty no matter how much he accumulates.  King Solomon describes this passion for material wealth this way: Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

  1. He cheats people out of money. 4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. This kind of obsession for wealth is never satisfied, so the miser is driven to cheat others to fulfill this insatiable need.
  2. He lives a totally selfish life.  5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.   Luxury and self-indulgence only drives the miser to want more. Like his greed for money, the things he owns and indulges himself in never bring him satisfaction; his selfishness only brings an insatiable longing for more.
  3. They used their wealth for evil purposes. 6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you. The miser with extreme wealth, if given full reign through absolute power, can be brought to total depravity. Tyrants, dictators, even drug lords are examples of what can happen when extreme wealth is converted into absolute power. With no godly restraints, this type of person is capable of doing just about anything because they believe no one can stop them. I believe that people like Nero, Herod the Great, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Diaz, Capone, and Bonnie and Clyde are examples of where this kind of lust for material wealth can lead.

 

Conclusion

 

May I be really transparent with you? Well, you see, I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, materially and spiritually. So allow me to let you in on an insider’s secret, okay?  It’s better to be rich……both spiritually and materially. You see, God never intended for us to take pride in poverty and he never intended us to take pride in wealth.  In fact, God doesn’t have much use for pride at all!  God’s plan is to build His Kingdom on Earth through his blessings to us, not through material poverty.

 

Some of us in Christianity think that if we become spiritually rich, we must naturally be materially poor. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me put it this way:  Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If anyone remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

 

Jesus was talking about abiding in Him spiritually…being rich in Christ. And apart from that, we can accomplish nothing. It’s one of God’s principles. We can’t accomplish any spiritual good when we’re spiritually bankrupt. Well, I believe this principle is also true in the material realm. Let me put it this way: How many people can you feed if you yourself are hungry? How many churches will you help build if you’re homeless? How much money can you give someone in need when your own electricity is being shut off?  Wealth is NOT the enemy, it’s the blessing, both spiritually and materially.  In closing I want to speak to two kinds of people in the Kingdom of God.

 

You that are both spiritually and materially rich

Many, many Christians in the U.S. fall into this category. They have come to understand their spiritual poverty, turned to God through Jesus Christ and become spiritually rich. Through hard work, dedication, obedience, and expectation, they achieved much material wealth. To you beloved, I want to say, “God bless you!” You have a responsibility to the rest of the world.  God has given you much not because He wants you to hoard your wealth. He has blessed you because He wants to use you to build His kingdom.  And those of you who are meeting your responsibility know what I’m about to say is true. The more you give to the kingdom of God, the more God blesses you to give more. And those of you whom God has blessed materially and you hoard it, well, you’ll never experience how much more God would have blessed you until you begin to meet your responsibilities.  (See the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25)

 

You that are spiritually rich, but materially poor

May I say something rather blunt to you too? You’re not “off the hook” just because you’re materially poor. You have been blessed spiritually and God requires much of you also! Guess why. Well, God won’t let you hoard His blessing to yourself either. You are called to be a light in a dark world. And God’s got a real sense of humor about this too.  You see, in order for you to keep your spiritual riches, you have to give them away! And like material wealth, the more you give away, the more will come back to you.

 

As I stood in that hospital 45 years ago, my eyes were opened. It was at that point in my life I truly realized how blessed I was. I understood that with that blessing came an awesome responsibility. Well beloved, James is calling us all to that realization. Open your eyes and be in awe of God! He has given us much and to whom much is given, much IS required.

 

Love in Christ,      

Ed and Trish

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