This week’s passage falls under the banner of worldliness that James is rebuking the early church against. We saw last week that he exhorted the churches to stop their quarrels and fights. To stop aligning themselves with the world. To quit slandering one another in misappropriated judgment.
This week we are looking at James’ warning against finding security in plans for the future – thinking they’ve got it all together because they know exactly what’s going to happen. Thinking that they can control the future to any degree. Thinking that they can rely on themselves.
And we are looking at James’ warning to the wealthy. Their wealth is temporary and may be gone at any moment. Then what will they have left? To what benefit will they have mistreated their laborers? To what end have they yielded their influence to attain personal gain? For it will all be washed away, if not in the present, certainly in the future.
As I was studying these warnings this week, I was asking my husband for his thoughts. To sum up his thoughts in my own words, he asked, particularly in regard to money “So where is the line? How much is too much? How much are we supposed to give away? It’s probably not an answer we want to hear.”
So this morning, will you allow me to challenge us a bit? Ha ha. You are all captive now, so you’re going to have to.
Why do I feel the need to push this point this morning? Because I believe that living in the culture that we do, with all of the resources available to us, with all of the material goods calling out at every moment, we are in grave danger of giving our hearts away to the wrong master.
Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
I am going to primarily emphasize money this morning, but you can substitute plans for the future just as easily. Or you could substitute how you spend your time. Though James doesn’t specifically address it in these verses, I think it goes along the same vein.
No one can serve two masters. Its black or white. Its hard teaching. If you love your plans for the future, you despise God. If you love your time, you despise God. If you love your money, you despise God. Yeah, how does that sit? I really want some gray area.
Now ok, it is possible to love God and still like your money and security, right? We’re all works in progress. Jesus died to save us from sins just like these, didn’t he? I feel like the answer is yes, but a qualified yes. Jesus did die to save us from these kinds of self-centered, self-dependent sins. And yes, we can still profess a love for God and hold onto our plans and our money too tightly. But Jesus died to set us free from this kind of worldliness. He offers the freedom to live something better than trying to “take care of #1”. Jesus’ death and resurrection bridge the gap caused by our sins so that we can live in complete trust and complete contentment IN HIM.
Remember the story of the rich young man?
Was Jesus teaching that everyone who would come into the kingdom of heaven must sell everything he or she owns? No. In the early church, there were wealthy landowner members. Acts 4:33-35 tells us that from time to time they would sell a piece of land or a house and would give that money to the church to distribute to those in need. And there were no needy among them! Imagine that kind of giving and receiving in the body of Christ! What a beautiful picture of the gospel at work among them.
But what about the rich guy? Why did Jesus tell him he had to sell everything then. Because where his treasure was, there his heart was also. He didn’t have room in his heart to serve Christ. His heart already belonged to his wealth. And our God is a jealous God. He wants whole hearts.
This is not the only stern warning in the NT about money.
Mark 4:1-20, the parable of the sower and the soils
Jesus teaches about the different types of soil and the fate of the seed that was planted in each. The third seed “fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.” In verses 18-19, these thorns are explained. “And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” This seed is sharply contrasted with the last seed in verse 20. “But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
The love of money, the cares of the world, the desire for things, keeps us from the word, which in turn keeps us from the Word, which is Jesus. Once again we see, we cannot serve two masters.
One last passage I want to look at to illustrate the dangers of letting ourselves get a little too invested in our investments: Revelation 3:14-19. Here Christ has instructed John to write to the seven angels of the seven churches, the words that Christ gives him. The last church he writes to is Laodicea.
As I read these words, a chill went through me. For this, to me, sounds an awful lot like our North American churches. Neither hot nor cold. Swept up by the cares of the world. Not feeling the extent of our need for Christ because there’s so much stuff to cover up that need. When I feel lonely, I can buy distraction. When I feel bored, I can buy entertainment. When I feel overwhelmed or stressed or anxious, I can buy relaxation. When I feel unwell, I can buy health. And pretty soon, I can forget that I am nothing. That I am wretched and pitiable and poor and blind and naked. And that I need the Savior of the World, and that I will never be my own savior despite how much effort I put into it. Despite how it might appear that I’ve got it all under control.
Ladies, let’s not let ourselves be deceived! We can’t flirt around with money or pride in our plans. These things are out to get us. They are stealers of hearts.
So back to the original question, “Where is the line? How much is too much? How much is enough?”
Did you think I was going to answer that for you? Nope. I don’t have an answer, because I don’t think there is a concrete answer. It would be so nice if there was. I think that these are questions we must each grapple with ourselves before the throne of God. And we must wrestle with these questions as families and as churches.
But there are some things that we do know. Planning for the future is not wrong. In fact, it is wise. Having money is not wrong. In fact, it is wise to have a savings for the anticipated, the unexpected, and for retirement.
Placing your hope and trust in such things is always wrong. God says we are to put our whole trust in him.
So as we plan for the future, we must always remain wholly conscious and accepting of the fact that our plans might not be God’s plans. That God’s plans supersede ours. And that we not just need to, but want to submit ourselves to his will every moment of every day.
And as we keep an eye on our back account, we do so with an open hand, recognizing that every cent of it belongs to God. Not once cent belongs to me. How much should I have in that account? How much should I be giving away? How do I have it but not trust in it? I must keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. If my eyes are on him, they won’t be on the bank statement or the paycheck. And as we talk it out with him, and ask him to give us wisdom and discernment, we can trust him to show us when and what to give, and to whom. And then we can live in the peace of knowing that we’re in obedience to Him, and that the money that is being kept in our name is in good stewardship.
Let me close with asking, where is your heart? Who or what do you serve? What do you need to repent of, so that you might experience the freedom that God so badly wants to give you?