James: Day 11

Warnings to the Rich

by

Today's Text: James 5:1-6, Matthew 5:38-42, Hebrews 10:35-39, Revelation 20:11-15

Scripture Reading: James 5:1-6, Matthew 5:38-42, Hebrews 10:35-39, Revelation 20:11-15

My husband and I were on our way to a dinner party, when we cut through a neighborhood on the nice side of town. As we drove the luxurious streets, we stared out our windows at the soaring homes with custom architecture and perfectly manicured lawns. Each house looked like the perfect place to live, its own little heaven on earth. We drove in silence, until my husband turned to me and laughingly apologized, “I’m sorry I’m a pastor.”

This is a running joke between us, though I can’t help but detect a hint of truth in his voice. We have every single thing we need, and more, but that doesn’t stop comparison from knocking on our door. On more days than I care to admit, I peek over the fence into my neighbor’s greener pasture, and I yearn for it.

Deep down, my husband and I both know that “more” will never scratch the itch of envy. More money, more house, more things will not relieve the pain—and the lie—of comparison. It’s a bottomless pit of need, with endless demands which are never satisfied. We know this, but we also need reminding.

This is the gift of James 5, which reminds us what is true about all our pretty possessions. Preached with the same fire-bellied conviction as the Old Testament prophets, James has harsh words for wealthy people who misuse their riches. According to New Testament scholar Douglas Moo, James is not targeting all wealthy people, but those who put their wealth to unrighteous ends. Or, those who are simply stingy with it. For those believers, James reserves his harshest judgments.

However, James has a more universal message too. Whether we have wealth or we don’t, whether we misuse our money or we don’t, our possessions amount to very little. Drawing on earlier biblical imagery of moth and rust (Matthew 6:19), James reminds us that even our finest earthly possessions will one day be gone. Their Kingdom weight is slight. Their investment yields even less. Money and possessions cannot, and will not, give us what we want.

So, how do we escape the wretched emptiness this passage describes?

First, feed on God, not things. Our pursuit of possessions is a lot like trying to satisfy deep hunger by eating a single lettuce leaf. It will not fill us. Our appetites can only be satisfied by the “bread of life,” Jesus Christ, who promises, “No one who comes to me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in me will ever be thirsty again” (John 6:35).

Second, be generous. Too often, we resolve not to love our possessions too much, a mindset that is well-intentioned but without accountability or discernibility. The world will only know we hold our possessions loosely if we actually hold them loosely. This is why Jesus exhorts us to radical acts of generosity (Matthew 5:40-42). Jesus commands this, not simply because it’s a “nice thing to do,” but because it sets our hearts—and, therefore, our feet—on a different path, away from the destruction James describes.

These are truths we must speak over ourselves again and again. The sparkle and shine of worldly goods are a powerful illusion, but the more we return to these biblical truths, the more they will start to sink in.

Now, whenever my husband apologizes for what we cannot afford, I turn to him and smile to say, “You know what, they don’t have anything we don’t already have in Christ.”

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Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, mom, and she holds a PhD on women and calling. She is a regular contributor to Propel, blogs at SheWorships.com, and her first book releases in October 2017.

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  • We just moved from Africa to live in France and my longing is not so much for things and money, as it’s overwhelming what people possess here. But it’s the longing for friendship. Deep down I wonder who’s my friend, how many friends I have, how loved (= to me how successful) I am…
    But friends cannot fill me up or give me value. It’s Jesus, always Jesus. The ultimate Friend, the source of life, my hope for today. I have been shaking in the whole transition of moving continents. I struggled with fear and anxiety, I didn’t understand myself anymore. And when I turned to God for my daily readings, I so often read spot on bible verses. I have been so touched by His care although the anxiety didn’t go away immediately. I am starting to calm down, but it’s been a time in which He only really knew. I couldn’t talk too much to my husband as he was also very busy and stressed. We simply tried to support each other and not burden one another. My African friends couldn’t relate to what I was going through. Few missionary friends around. Jesus is truly my best Friend. And He knows my need for friendships here on earth. But it doesn’t make me more or less successful in life.

    • Jacqueline Mace

      So true! God created us to desire connection with Him and others. I am praying that you find an understanding friend and that no matter what God comforts you with the knowledge that you are precious no matter what you have or don’t have in this life.

    • Jessica

      Thank you for sharing! We just moved to a new town, and I have experienced some of the same emotions you described. I also left a job and became a stay at home mom. I long for new friendships in this town and I’m hungry to make new connections, but it’s very slow. I’m learning to lean in to talk to the Father when I feel lonely

  • I know myself well. If the Lord blessed me with a lot of money and a lot of things, I think I would become snotty and not as gracious and kind. Thank You, God, for knowing my heart and for giving me exactly what I need. Please continue to work on me so that I may live a humble and pleasing life.

  • This idea of comparison spoke to me in a different way. I do struggle with the comparison and desire for tangible things,but for me this leads to something depper. I compare my life and Christian walk with other “godly” women I see on the internet. I question , “why is this not happening to me?”, “Should I break up with my boyfriends because they did too?” I am so intrigued, yet jealous of these “godly” women I see on platforms of social media. It’s led me to a place of self-condemnation, guilt, pain, and fear. I don’t know if there are any other women who have felt this way before,but I would love some feedback. I thank you for this study. I’m so thankful for the way you have helped my to transform my life and hear God’s voice over my own doubts and insecurities.

  • We are getting ready to have our first baby. Praying my eyes stay focus on Jesus and not on the THINGS. It’s so easy to get distracted.

  • My husband and I are currently shopping for a new house that will accommodate my mother-in-law living with us. We LOVE our current home, but this is a great reminder to hold our possessions loosely. We know that buying at the lower end of our budget will allow us to be generous to others, but we see large gleaming homes and quickly lose sight of higher purposes. More than anything we are practicing trusting in God completely. He has always been faithful and will always be faithful. We don’t have to worry about where we live, what we will eat, etc because he has promised never to leave us. We find our true home, our safest refuge, in remembering that he loves us and will be with us wherever we are. Possessions can NEVER bring that kind of security.

  • I struggle with feeling like I constantly need new things, it’s more about me needing to feel like I look a certain way and that people see me a certain way. Basically me building my own kingdom instead of the lords. I can’t seem to be able to surrender it to the Lord, it’s a daily battle to spend my time and money wisely. Thank you for this message today.

    • Claudia

      You could not have said what I’m struggling with more perfectly!! I too constantly struggle with feeling like I need new things and needing to feel like I need to look a certain way. It’s a daily battle for me as well to spend my time and money in a way that will honor and glorify Him.

  • Sarah Joy

    I need this reminder every so often and this was definitely one of those times. Lately, my heart has longed for the “freedom” of more money. It’s such a trap. There’s is never enough to satisfy that desire for more. I will always find something else that I think will make me happy. I heard once “comparison is the thief of happiness,” and this study has reminded me how true that is.

    Also, generosity and gratitude need to become my constant companions because that is when I see what I have for what it is – on loan from God to bless me and my family for a time and then to bless others after that.

  • Very inspiring. I love how you and your husband draw each other back to what is truly important with support and words of encouragement. I’m not married and one day would like to be if it’s God’s calling. This type of relationship between two people speaks to my heart and gives me hope. Thank you for sharing.

    • Katherine

      aw me too!! love that type of encouragement in a marriage <3 something I too hope to have one day

  • Amy Morgan

    The Lord knew that I needed this this morning. I am a pastor’s wife as well and the temptation to look over my nighbor’s fence is so great sometimes and I can get consumed with material possessions. Thank you for allowing the Lord to speak to me through your words and wisdom. Praying we would all feed on God and be generous.

  • This has really convicted me. I feel like I have been so focused on worldly possessions and things that it has driven me away from God and my relationship with Christ. It’s so hard to not be envious in what others have. But what a wonderful reminder it is that we have everything we could ever need in Christ.

  • This is always difficult especially during the summer months when I am eager to go out and do things that almost always cost money. I find it draining to constantly be living paycheck to paycheck. It causes stress and anxiety and I feel like I am missing out on experiences at times because I can’t afford to go out to dinner or to that show, etc. It has been a daily struggle for me to remember that spending TIME not money is what is truly valuable. This was a great Godly reminder of how unimportant monetary items are.

  • I troubled by the cry for justice for the worker in James 5. We live on the labor of others often at the expense of others. There is call here for us to live justly, to buy rightly. To look for and ask for transparency of where/how and whose back we get things. I am being more and more convicted about this. To live an ethical faithful life honoring God without hurting others with my choices. “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. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.” Lord have mercy on us.

    • Emily

      Agreed. By nature of where we live and what goods are available to us we are all guilty of this. We are all the rich man.

  • churchmouse

    Think of this : comparison is not just about possessions, who has the bigger or the nicer things. I see this comparison between parents with their children, living vicariously through them. How sad that some parents gain their self esteem from how many academic or athletic awards their children accumulate. The green eye of envy can manifest itself in many different ways.

  • This is such a helpful reminder. My husband is a PhD student studying theology and wanting to be a professor….we’ve had many similar conversations!

  • Penny Goeppner

    Thank you Sharon. This message is so important for us all to meditate on. Our culture teaches that the opposite is true and we are inundated with constant messages of how we “deserve” and should have more. More does not equal happier. My husband is a pastor as well and often says similar words to me when I look longingly at something we could never afford. It is those words that snap me out of my covetous attitude and remind me of the precious calling we were given by our Lord, to reach the lost for Him. There is no greater treasure than that. May God bless you and continue to use you for His glory.

  • Much needed reminder! I find myself “window shopping” often; thinking “oh, I really need that for my house…..or wouldn’t that be great in the kitchen….” Even as adults, we need to be reminded that wants do not equal needs and we need Christ’s love more than anything else. Thank you for this message today!

  • I love this reminder! It seems that comparison is always creeping in and making us forget that our treasurers are in Heaven. Thank you Sharon and SheReadsTruth!

  • I’d like to understand a little more on tithing as well as giving to others. If you are living paycheck to paycheck and just being able to pay all bills and expenses, how do you tithe or give to others? Do you tithe anyway and not pay a bill so you can cover your 10%? If someone is in need of money, but again you have none to give what do you do? Take from what you would have spent on your electric bill? What comes first? Take care of your family’s needs first then give? I’d love some input on this!

    • DebbieinAZ

      Good Morning Blessed. I know it seems hard to understand. But that is where faith comes in. I listened to a sermon by Charles Stanley on tithing about 20 years ago. I dont remember the name of it, but it made an impact on me and I bought the tape and played it for my husband. We didn’t have any extra money, we lived the way you describe for our entire marriage up to that point. But we decided to put our faith into it, (it’s not really our money to begin with, it’s Gods) and we started tithing. We have never looked back. God alway provided enough to pay our bills and give to the guy on the corner, or help in other ways. (Giving doesnt have to be money). The point is, God blessed our stepping out in faith. As a result, we began to get raises, promotions, even better paying careers, therefore our giving has become bigger and bigger over the years.

      If you will step out in faith and give, even if its above what you can afford, especially if you’ve prayed about it, God will bless it. You’ll see that somehow there is always enough. In Malachi 3:10 He says to put him to the test and see if He wont throw open the windows of heaven and pour down blessings for you until there is no more need.

      Have a blessed day my sister.

    • Bronwyn

      I’ve heard some pastors speak about tithing what you do have, whether it’s time, or a skill that can be used to bless your church family or others in need. I don’t think it’s necessarily about covering your 10%. Think of the poor widow who gave her only two coins to the temple. I think Jesus made the point that giving out of her poverty meant she was generous. Being generous might look like 10%, 100% (in the widow’s case) or a different amount.

    • Emily Cele

      A friend shared with our study group years ago how she and her husband struggled to live on 100% but found they could manage just fine on 90%. That spoke volumes to me and my husband. We committed to increasing our giving little by little, and decreasing our spending in other areas proportionately, until we had achieved tithing. We, too, became believers in Malachi 3:10: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” I recommend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University for working toward the goal of financial peace and tithing. Praying for you, Blessed, and for all of us. Managing our finances is one of the great struggles of this broken world!

      • Blessed

        This is so helpful ladies. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I will pray on this ! Love to all and be blessed.

  • This song came to mind: “My Worth Is Not in What I Own”. May it be a blessing to someone else…
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=05jKxv8ApuI

    • Shelia

      Loved the song.

    • Kristi

      Love that song, Anne! We sing it at my church and the words always tug at my heart. Such a great reminder – our worth is in knowing Christ, not in anything we own or that money can buy.

  • It can be so easy to focus on building up our savings to prepare for the unknown ahead when those around us are in need of our generosity now. Praying that God will show me whom and how I can give to the people around me.

  • THANK YOU for this teaching!

    The Lord has put on my heart that I need to work on this comparison thing.. as far back as I can remember I tend to be intimidated by those that “have more”. It leads to all kinds of emotions from I’m not good enough to jealousy to striving to overspending etc.
    I’m getting better at staying in the Word and focusing on the eternal but it is a daily battle. Thankfulness is one of my greatest weapons along with knowing that God loves me I am His. I am a daughter of the King.
    I would appreciate a bible study recommendation on this comparison thing. The word (comparison ) has shown up in many of my devotionals lately. I’m listening Lord!

  • Amen! I would love to see tithing added to the list. Either way, I love what you tell your husband! TrUe riches are only found in Christ

    http://Www.in-due-time.com

  • Deborah Thompson

    I am reminded of the beautiful song by Christy Nockels- the chorus is: “Everything is mine in Him…” and the final bridge gets me every time, it has become the prayer of my heart per se: “Pry our fingers from the earthly, oh let us see your glory”- may that be our prayer everyday.

    • She Reads Truth

      Thank you for sharing this, Deborah. So grateful that you left these words of encouragement here for us today.

      – Stormye

  • candacejo

    For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. 2 Corinthians 10:12

    I think it was Theodore Roosevelt that said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” So true! Why would we want to lose our joy? Why would we always want to be wishing for what isn’t?

    I just read yesterday the story of the hummingbird and the vulture. They both fly over the desert but all the vulture sees is rotting meat because that is what he looks for and that is what he thrives on. But the hummingbird looks for the colorful blossoms of the desert plant! One lives on what was, on the past, the other lives on what IS, looking for life in their surroundings. Each bird finds what it is looking for. And so do we. Help me to hold loosely, Lord, so You don’t have to pry ‘things’ out of my hands. And may I be satisfied with what I have been blessed with, looking for new life and not hinging on the leftovers of others. ♥

  • Christina

    So timely, this teaching! Only, the “possessions” I tend to compare are not, in fact, possessions, but proximity to family and vibrant family life. My husband, too, is on staff at a church in his hometown, 12ish hours from mine. A large majority of the congregants are related to one another, or at least have their family within short driving distance. Even my husband’s family is close by. But we never see his family. They are largely uninvolved in our kids’ lives. My family, on the other hand, goes to great lengths to be involved in our kids’ lives from their 12 hour perch. I usually accept my place here with the happy knowledge that this sacrifice is worthwhile. But there are moments and periods of time that I look at the family gatherings around me, and the sacrifice hurts. We are not possessionally rich by any means, and I am just fine with that. The Lord provides exactly what we need in that respect. So I know He is providing what we need relationally, as well. Sometimes it just hurts more than others to be called to go that extra mile. Thanks for your encouragement this morning, Sharon.

    • Kristine L

      Your words are a good reminder that it’s not just wealth and possessions that we compete and compare against others. I’m often jealous of friends who have more flexibility in life than I do, or are closer to achieving their goals. I need to remember that God has me exactly where I am meant to be for this season.

    • Kendra

      I have a very similar story, Christina. I was encouraged as well this morning!

    • She Reads Truth

      Thank you for sharing this, Christina. I’m sure there are others out there who share this similar feeling with you – I was certainly encouraged by your words. So glad you stopped by today!

      – Stormye

  • Liminal Luminous

    Yes, this makes sense to me, I recently had to get off the motorway due to really bad traffic and ended up driving through a very rich neighbourhood. It made me so glad to live where I do, because then I don’t have to worry about one up man ship, or envying my neighbours. We have chosen to stay in a small house and not stretch ourselves to get a bigger mortgage as there is freedom in having time. Time to spend with God, each other and on the work we are called to do

    • SaraBear

      My husband and I say the same thing. We live in a modest home in the country. Our nearest neighbor is 1/2 mile away. We repeatedly say how grateful we are to be away from the day to day comparisons and expectations that sometimes come from living in a “nicer” area or neighborhood. We also have chosen a less flashy lifestyle for the freedom of time and individuality. We…ok, I….still sometimes wish for what others appear to have, but ultimately, I know that God has placed us where we need to be with exactly what we need to have, and we are grateful for it.

  • Wildflower

    I’m confused. “And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done”
    To me that sounds like it all comes down to our deeds in life. Which gives me a pang of anxiety, because if that’s the case I’m in big trouble.

    • Katie

      If you know Jesus, your life is now hid in his (Col 3:3) and you’re credited with his perfect record. Your name is in the book of life!

      • Kristen

        Please go and read the First 5 devotional at Proverbs 31 ministry for today. I downloaded the First 5 app. It is all about how Jesus’ finished work and His blood are enough! It is by grace we have been saved. There are comments below the devotional about how freeing that is!!! Jesus is our all. I’m thankful for Him!!!

    • Nancy

      The Lord focuses on the posture of your heart. Scripture says again and again to protect your heart, mind and soul. Focus on who you are in Christ. What you “do” will flow from that space naturally. The Holy Spirit will guide your “works” naturally for we can only do by His strength. Another good biblical resource is the Be Still Be Free podcast. Their website and episodes are so helpful. Above all know that the Lord that created you loves you and wants to dwell within you.

      • Wildflower

        Thank you for that reminder. That concept is something God has been trying to show me lately but I have to ground myself in that again and again

    • Beth M

      Wildflower, don’t forget that this is speaking of the dead spiritually, the ones who refused to accept Christ as their savior. The Great White Throne judgment is only for the unsaved, they will be judged and condemned for rejecting Christ. The more opportunities they had to accept him and they did not, but instead they rejected Him over and over, the greater their punishment will be. No one who is born again in Christ will stand before the Great White Throne in judgment.

      • Beth M

        Remember, this is talking about those that were NOT written in the book of life as Katie says.

    • Allie Smith

      That language can be confusing when it is not read in the context of the rest of scripture. In Hebrews, God talks about how the greatest sin (& the one that separates us from Him and all good things that come from him eternally) the greatest sin (deed) is the sin of unbelief. What the dead had “done” was not believe God and repent and ask for salvation.

    • Wildflower

      Thank you all for your encouragement and for teaching me what this verse means. As someone who has with severe depression and doesn’t have a Church family to lean into, I’m so thankful for this group. Everyone is so encouraging. I used to be scared of reading the Bible because it gave me such bad anxiety, but this app and all you ladies have helped me start to overcome that ❤️

      • Stacey

        Wildflower, I have been saved since I was 6 and all my family are encouraging believers… And I too struggle with bad anxiety reading the Bible when I’m going through a depression or anxious episode!
        I know it is the attack of the enemy! But once Im in those depths of disparity I search for short verses about specifically peace or joy or whatever I need. And I just keep one or two verses with me that day to repeat. When I’m not under the attack of depression and anxiety I am able to read full chapters and study scripture to know it’s meaning.

    • Pascale

      May I recommend N.T Wright’s book After You Believe, as an explanation of why we get confused with the idea of “works”? The book’s purpose is to revisit the language Paul and other apostles use when they speak of working out our salvation that we in our 21st century have misunderstood because we have a wrong view of what the end goal of life is. Somehow the church got into its psyche that we are saved by grace through Jesus Christ to leave this earth and go to heaven when we die. This will immediately affect what we think of what we are supposed to be doing here on earth. But N.T Wright suggests that if we look at the whole bible as a historic and cosmic story of God being faithful to a covenant he made with Abraham, that is to have a family and a people that he can dwell with on earth, we discover that the story and the end goal is far richer than our escapist and reductionist theology. God’s purpose is to reconcile all things on earth to himself through the Messiah. Revelation ends with a picture of earth and heaven being one, physically and gloriously. So then, we are called as Christ followers to be image bearers of God on earth: we reflect his love to our brothers and sisters and to creation and we reflect the praises of creation back to God. We anticipate the day earth and heaven will be one by living as kingdom people here and now. The kingdom has already been established through the victory at the cross, and our sins and idolatry that kept us from being image bearers stripped of their authority. How do we anticipate the future reality that is already set in motion? By growing character and developing virtue. That takes work and focus. It’s not that we try to attain salvation by works, but that we live out our salvation by making choices and taking actions that are kingdom like. That’s really good news because we can’t add to what Jesus did, only die daily (take up our cross) and let Jesus reign in and through us.

    • Rebekah

      that’s why Jesus’ life matters completely. He lived the life we could not and died to seal it and to cancel all that anxious debt. then rose to establish our life and freedom! we have freedom in Him- His life is ours and you can rest in that Wildflower.

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