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Why Better Things Don't Always Make Things Better, Part 1

From the series Five Lies that Ruin Relationships

Join Chip as he discusses why better things in life don’t always make life better.

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Message Transcript

I’d like to start a little bit unusual; I’m going to ask you a question. I want you to answer this question with the very first, most immediate response that comes to your mind. I don’t want you to answer it with what you ought to, what you should say, what a Christian is supposed to say, what some really holy person would want you to say.

I’m just going to read one question, and just the most immediate reaction that comes to your mind, honestly, true or false, I want you to say it, in your mind; you don’t have to blurt it out. Here’s the question; are you ready? “If I had more money, I would be more happy” – true or false? Okay, I hear “false.” Then, why is it that everyone wants more money?

See, I think most of us know, intellectually, the answer to the question, “I would be more happy if I had more money,” intellectually, spiritually, is “no.” But I think, pragmatically, the answer to how we respond to it, and how we live our lives is, “If I had more money, yes, I would be more happy.” And, yet, that is yesterday’s exhibit.

Exhibit B is today’s relationships. Forty-six percent of all divorces in America are rooted in issues over money. The lie is this: My significance – write that word in – and value – write that word in – is measured by the quality, and the quantity, of the things that I possess. Possessions provide security, and power, so I can be safe, personally satisfied, and rule my world.

I’ll give that to you again, my significance – first word – and my value – second word – is measured by the quality, and the quantity, of the things I possess – third word. Fourth word – Possessions provide security, and power, so I can be safe, personally satisfied, and rule my world. That’s the lie that we’re going to uncover.

To put it another way, more things, and better things, will make me a something. It is inbred in America, and our culture. My value as a person is reflected – my value, my worth, my significance – is reflected in what I wear, what I drive, and how much I make. My happiness in life is dependent upon having the latest toys, the nicest stuff, and financial security.

And today we will learn that those very subtle, philosophical values and mindsets are at the core of destroying some of the most important relationships in your life. It’s a very, very interesting passage. Commentators struggle with this passage because it starts so strong. To understand it, you need to know the intended audience. And what I want you to know, verse 1 is intended for unbelieving rich who were abusing believers at the time. This is the first book [written] of the New Testament, as I’ve shared before, and so the early Church – these people had been scattered. James opens up, “To those, to the twelve tribes scattered abroad.”

And many have lost their families, lost their business, and they find themselves in dire financial straits. Many of them, because they have accepted Jesus as the Messiah, have been cut out of wills, cut out of inheritances, and they’re in a very difficult time, disowned by their families. And this scathing rebuke, in verse 1, is rich, powerful people that are abusing God’s children.

Then, in verses 2 to 4 in this historical background, we’re going to get some reasons why God is so adamant about this abuse. Open your Bible and let me just read an overview of the first six verses, and then let’s dig in together. It opens up and says, “Now listen, you rich people” – and this is strong – “weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.” Verse 1, written to unbelievers abusing God’s children: “Judgment is coming for what you have done.”

He goes on to say, “Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.” Verse 3, “Your 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. Look! The wages you fail 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. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, those who are not even opposing you.”

And so, the intended audience is some rich unbelievers, but out of it, I think, are some principles for all of us. Scathing rebuke, followed by the four reasons for the rebuke.

Now, here’s what I want you to get, before we jump into this very strong passage: The truth is, God is not opposed to wealth. Many of the greatest believers in the Bible time were wealthy. Solomon, David, Job, Abraham. New Testament: Joseph of Arimathea, Barnabas – very, very wealthy believers. He’s not against wealth, but God is opposed to the misuse and the abuse of wealth.

For your own study, if there’s one section of Scripture, I think, that really helps you understand the balance of wealth, and enjoying it as a good gift from God, and being on guard against what wealth can do, I would encourage you, 1 Timothy chapter 6, verse 6 through the end of the chapter – I would make that a personal study. I would get my arms around 1 Timothy 6, about verse 6 through the end, and really have a grasp of: What does God say about wealth?

However, God is not against wealth, but the warning is, the misuse of wealth brings God’s judgment.

And so let’s open up the text together. Notice what it says in verse 1 of James chapter 5. “Now listen” – it’s strong. Literally, it’s, “Stop! Wait a minute. You rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.”

So, that’s the warning. He says, “The misuse of wealth that hurts and abuses other people will bring the judgment of God.”

And then, he’s going to give the reason. There are four warnings that he gives, out of verses 2 through 6.

And these warnings are for wealthy people who are unbelievers, who are abusing God’s people, but here’s the thing. “All Scripture is profitable” – right? – “for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.” And the fact of the matter is, these are four warnings, and he’s going to give specific reasons to these unbelieving people about the abuses there, but those really turn into very clear warnings to you, and me, because I don’t think we’re immune to the misuse, or the mishandling, of money. And so, he’s going to give us four clear warnings about what not to do, or how not to handle your money.

The first one has to do with how much you’ve accumulated. He’s going to talk, in verse 2, and he’s going to say, “Here’s the warning: Don’t hoard it. Don’t hoard it.”

And you say, “Where do I get that?” Read verse 2. Look at it. It says, “Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver have corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you” – and, boy, this is graphic – “and will eat your flesh like fire.” Whoo. That is graphic. “You have hoarded wealth in the last days.”

Could it be that even Christians are guilty of hoarding in our day?

All of us have a line. All of us have a secret line that we think – and some with good reason, we’ll talk about – I need “x” amount of money for this situation. And then, I feel secure if I have “x” amount of money. And then, after I have that, and then I also have my retirement working, and I have…then I’m willing and ready to be generous with others.

The more and more and more you get does not produce more and more generosity. The more and more and more you get, what it produces is, your safety net gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. And it’s interesting, you would think that the percentage of your giving would increase and increase and increase and increase the more you get. But, actually, what begins to happen is, people realize they have more and more and more to lose. Warning number one, don’t hoard it.

Warning number two has to do with how we get the money that we have. And he says, “Don’t steal it. Don’t steal it.”

Notice what he says in verse 3, “Look, the wages you have 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.” It’s the Lord Sabaoth, the One who is the host of armies, the All-Powerful, the Leader, the One who repays, the God who will bring about justice.

And you need to know the historical context is they were getting income dishonestly. The way it worked in that day is, remember the parables that Jesus would tell, where you would come out into the field, and, at the end of the day, you got paid? That’s how people got paid.

And what these people would do is, they would go, and they would do their day’s work, and then the guy who’s rich and powerful would say, “Eh, I’m not going to pay you today.” It’s exactly what it says, “You withhold the wages from your workmen.”

But unlike us, they didn’t get their paycheck every two weeks, or once a month, and write out their bills. They didn’t go home and have a closet full of food. They made the money that day for that day’s food.

In fact, later on you’ll learn, the definition of a “rich person” in New Testament times, is, you had a second change of clothes, and you already knew for the day, or the next day, after today, you already had the food stored. That’s considered rich. See, you have excess.

Most people lived hand to mouth. Most of the world lives in such a way where, “What am I going to eat today? I’m going to work today; I get this money. When I get this money, I’m going to buy the food. I’m going to buy the food, and I’m going to take care of my family. Now they have enough for tonight, and morning breakfast, and lunch, and then I’m going to go to work, and I get my…”

And what they did is they wouldn’t pay them. So, their families couldn’t eat. And that’s why, notice, “The cries of the harvesters ...”

What would you do if you were a man, and you worked all day, and you needed “x” amount, and there’s no food at home, and you know the day is gone, and then you come home, and the big, heavy guy – and what are you going to do? You’re a little, poor guy, and he’s a rich, powerful guy. “I’m not paying you today.” You go home, and you cry.

“The cries of the harvesters are being heard by the Almighty, the Lord Sabaoth.” And He’s telling these people, I’ll tell you what, I am going to come, and I am going to bring about justice. Because what are they doing? They’re stealing it.

I don’t know about you, but some of the worst testimonies I’ve ever seen, in all my life, have to do with people not paying their debts, Christians not paying their debts. This is very, very disturbing, but do you know, in America, at least, one of the worst credit risks are pastors? Now, I’m hoping it’s of all those non-Bible-believing churches, but I don’t think that’s where it’s at.

Ask financial people. Pastors are one of the worst credit risks. And if they don’t have their act together, with regard to money, what in the world is happening in the churches?

How many of you have done business with a Christian – fish on the card, fish on the car – and have had a terrible experience? It happens, even in the Church.

He says, “The wrong uses of wealth – ” warning number one – don’t hoard it. Warning number two – don’t steal it. He goes on. Warning number three – this is about how we spend the money that we have. And here, he says, “Don’t waste it.” Don’t waste it.

Listen to the Scripture. “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” Put a circle around that word luxury. You guys are getting good at this Bible study, aren’t you? And put another circle around the word self-indulgence.

The root word of the word luxury, here – it means “to break down; to make soft.” It has the idea of an excess in living. It’s a picture of people who have so much that there is never any need. There’s such opulence that they’re – it’s not just the physical things, but they have very weak moral fiber. You find that some of the downfalls of great civilizations, there is such luxury, the people never have to make hard decisions; they never have to say “no” to themselves. There’s no discipline. And so, what you find is, the softness not only occurs in all the finances, and the food, and the luxury, and this and that, but there’s no moral fiber; there’s no strength.

And so, he says to them, “You have lived in this luxury.” And if you missed the point, it’s self-indulgence. It’s the idea of excess, waste. It connotes lewd, immoral self-gratification.

This is a picture of the Neros of the world. This is the idea of people who have so much, and eat so much, that they just fling it here, and fling it there. They stick their finger down their throat to throw up so they can eat some more.

This is a picture of the rich and the famous. This is the little stories that we get, where so-and-so met so-and-so, and they were a little bored one night, so they flew to Paris for lunch the next day. It was great. They had a hundred of their friends come with them. It’s this sense of, you’ve got it; flaunt it. You’ve got it; use it.

And God speaks to these people, and He says, “You’ve lived in luxury and self-indulgence.” And then, this phrase, “You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” Literally, “You have fattened your heart” – that’s the literal text. “You have fattened your heart.”

And it’s a word picture of what they would do when they would have a pig that would be grain-fed. They would put a pig in a stall, and they would fatten it, and grain-feed it to make it fat.

And it’s a picture of God saying, You think you’ve been living in the lap of luxury? I’ll tell you what you have done. You are like a pig that’s been preparing yourself that I am going to slaughter, because all you’ve done is focused on you. You’ve lived in such wanton opulence and waste. It’s pretty strong stuff, isn’t it?

What’s the application for us, as believers? For me, the application is, just because you can afford it, doesn’t mean you should buy it. Just because you can afford it, does not mean you should buy it.

I think what’s developed in our country, and developed, even, in the Church, is what I call “the buffet mentality.” You know what “the buffet mentality” is? You paid your eight bucks, or your nine-fifty, or your twelve-fifty, or if it’s one of those Sunday brunches, twenty-two bucks, right?

And there’s a table here, and they have shrimp, and roast beef, and chicken, and they’ve got seven kinds of meat, and over here they’ve got forty-nine kinds of dessert. And then, you can have eggs over here; you can have waffles over here. There’s fresh fruit over here, and there’s more food than forty-nine people could eat in forty-nine days, ever.

But you’ve paid your twenty-two bucks, or your nine-fifty, and what do you have to do? You have to make sure you get your nine-fifty’s worth!

So, you put stuff that doesn’t even go together – a piece of ham, and a shrimp, and an egg. You know? But you like all three, and it’s a buffet. And you go and you eat that, and you watch kids there, and they eat about half the plate, and the servers come by, and they take half the plates off with food.

And people line up for round two, and round three, and round four, and they ought to give you Pepto-Bismol and Alka-Seltzer to go, but they don’t. And you get your twenty-two dollars’ worth, and you stuff your face, and you feel uncomfortable.

But it’s not just how we eat. Why? Why do we do that at a buffet? Because there is so much, and you can have – what’s the whole point of a buffet? Eat all you want, right?

And if it’s there to eat, whether you’re still hungry, whether you need it. Sometimes, I know the shrimp costs a lot. If I’m going to really get my money’s worth – nine o’clock in the morning – okay, I’ll go for the shrimp.

And because it’s there, there’s a compulsion in human nature to do something with it. And I think what’s happened is, the buffet mentality has gotten to where, if we’ve got money, we just – we’re deluded into thinking it’s our money. It’s God’s money.

What do you have that you don’t possess? What do you have that you haven’t received? One hundred percent of all that you have, all that I have, it’s God’s.

You say, “Well, I worked for it.” Okay, who gave you the talent? Who gave you the job? Who gave you the oxygen? He’s the Lord of all the earth. “Silver and gold is Mine” – Deuteronomy 8. Everything belongs to Him.

And so, what He’s saying to these people is, “Don’t waste it! Don’t waste it. Don’t hoard it. Don’t steal it. Don’t waste it.”