In these first few verses of chapter 5, James has some very harsh words for the rich. Listen to the words used: weep, wail, misery, rotted, corroded, eat your flesh like fire, slaughter. Strong language! Wealth can corrupt a person. It has been a problem on this earth since the beginning, and it is still alive and well today. Christians must be aware of the lure of wealth. We must be aware of the consequences of making wealth our idol. Not only does it impact you and those around you, it can ultimately lead you away from God.
1. What are the dangers of wealth? Why are we blinded by it? Why is it so tempting?
• Before we answer any of the lesson questions, we need to define the term wealthy. Most of us would not describe our financial state as wealthy. However, since the average daily pay for the population of the world is around $1 US, we can and rightly should describe ourselves as wealthy. If you are not worried about the source of your next meal, if you are not worried about have clothing, if your are not worried about having a place to sleep, then you are wealthy compared to most of the world's population. Certainly, if we begin to compare bank statements, size of homes, portfolios, etc, we can find people who have more than you have in this life. In any case, we as a nation and as a congregation are wealthy by most standards and comparisons. • Note that this is the second time James has mentioned the wealth and warned them about their wealth. James 1:9-11 • Another issue to address is that James is not against wealth. Good can be done by wealth. James' target is the evil that material possessions can cause and the manner in which wealth is obtained. If wealth is obtained at the expense of the poor or unfairly, without regard to others, then danger is ahead for those individuals. Remember the story of Israel in Amos and Hosea. • The dangers of wealth, is that it will distract us from our faith and placing our dependence on God. Wealth affords us comforts in this life. Wealth can give temporary security. However, if these things become so important to us that we are drawn away from dependence on God, then we can or may develop a weak faith. • We are blind to the dangers of wealth because these comforts afforded by money come slowly and are most often very pleasing to all of our senses. We become what Walker Pearcy calls, “sunk into every dayness.” We get very use to these comforts and then we work hard to keep then. Wealth then becomes the focus of our life's goal. • Wealth is very tempting because we enjoy the “finer things in life.” • Note that James makes sure that we understand that worldly possessions are temporal and not eternal. He uses “rotted', “moth-eaten”' and “corroded” to express that fate of worldly things. • We are a society of consumers!
One major point: Jesus says the poor will always be with us. The way we deal and treat the poor is a blessing for us and a way to Glorify God.
2. In what ways does wealth change a person? A church? A family? • Have your class discuss the changes that wealth could cause in people and their attitudes and faith. Make sure the focus is a comparison of a life dependent on worldly possesses and a life dependent on God. • Supporting scripture: • 2 Cor.9:6-15 & Phil. 4:10-20-Shows our dependence on God the total provider. • 1 Peter 2:11-12-shows that our worldly desires cause a war within us. • Matt. 6: 19-34-Jesus warns against storing treasures in this world. • James 4:1-3-Source of quarrels; our desires, which could be wealth. • 1 Tim. 6:9-10-- the source of evil For a more in-depth look at wealth and its problems, review Lamar Bowman's study on stewardship from Spring Quarter, 2003. • Note just how much our congregation spends on mission effort, which reflect just how we use of money and gifts for the Lord's work. This is a positive aspect of our congregation and its use of money.
3. What does James mean by “the last days”? The phrase “last days” has many interpretations for both the Old and New Testaments. The indication here in James is that these wealthy individuals may have “stored up” their wealth in view of impending judgment. Again, note, Jesus' word in Matt. 6:19-34. If people store their wealth for another day, they may be view their worldly life as self-sufficient and less dependent on God. This may be very similar to the last lesson when James warned the merchants about leaving God out of their daily activities. Our God should be a 24-7 God and not a God to praise and worship only on Sundays and Wednesdays. If you are alive today, then you are in the last days of your life!
4. James mentions those who have lived in “luxury and self-indulgence.” What is the difference between wealth and self-indulgent wealth? Again, we need to define and examine what we mean by “wealth.” We are all wealthy when compared to most of the world population! Self-indulgent can be difficult to define. The self-indulgence to one person may not be so with another person. We can compare these verses of scripture to what Jesus said in Luke 16:19-25, concerning the rich man. In this text, James may be implying that these wealthy people are focused on satisfying their earthly, fleshly desires without regard to God and His people. What are our priorities?
5. What implications do James 5:1-6 have for Christian employers? The charges James makes toward the wealthy indicates that gaining wealth at the expense of the poor is totally against God's wishes. Amos and Hosea demonstrated that clearly! Christian employers should be the best employers. Workers should be given fair wages and treated with kindness. Mercy shown to others will in turn be shown to us.
6. How do we teach children about money? One of the greatest treasures given to all families is the gift of children. Thus, we have a great gift and responsibility to teach our children the use of money and its position in God's church. Self-sufficiency with money is a great problem and we should help our children avoid this problem. Money is a gift too and Christian should treat money as temporal and not a pathway to salvation.
7. When is enough enough in regard to wealth?
8. Why do we buy things that we never use? You may answer these questions together. Have your class discuss both issue in relation to questions 1, 2, & 4. Both are the practical application of this lesson.
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