The Money Curse
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.  Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten.  Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!  Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.  You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.  You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.
As I study this passage of scripture, I have two initial reactions, first that it doesn't apply to me, I mean, I'm not rich right? I don't know. I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, in a nice home and eat regularly. This morning I had a choice of cars I could drive to church and a choice of clothes I could wear and after service will have a choice of restaurants where we can eat. I get paid a nice salary for doing exactly what I want to do with my life, maybe I am rich. Maybe this text does apply to me.
Second, I take exception with the harsh tone of James' writing, I mean, he is a bit in our face isn't he? I almost want to edit his words to make them less offensive. Then I remember this is inspired scripture and God hasn't hired me as an editor to change what James wrote, he just wants me to be the paperboy and throw it to his readers.
But maybe that's the biggest problem with my preaching-maybe I'm too concerned about encouraging my listeners when I should be willing to speak harshly, like James did here, when the situation warrants it.
No doubt James is passionate about his subject. Look at his use of vivid imagery and strong words. He says to "weep & howl" because of the miseries of wealth. Weep & howl-that's a magnificent image. I can't help but see myself on a mountain top somewhere with nothing but a full moon as my backdrop as I begin to "weep & howl."
In the first section of the text, James asks the question, what good is wealth when it will never be more than just a memory? Reminiscent of Jesus' words in Matthew 6:19 NASB "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." James says that the riches have rotted, the garments are moth-eaten and the gold & silver has corroded. In other words, wealth is temporary.
Which begs the question, why would anyone spend all their irreplaceable time, perusing things that will not last? Jesus offered an alternative in Matthew 6:20 NASB "But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;"
Certainly, Jesus' words could be taken to emphasize the importance of our giving to the Lord's work-that's one way our treasure ends up in heaven, but I think the verse has a deeper meaning than that. I believe it also addresses what we do with our time and our energy. Verse 20 is in contrast to verse 19 of Matthew 6. On one hand there is the person who spends their time and energy collecting things and only concentrating on "the here and now." (Verse 19) But on the other hand, (verse 20) there are the people who spend their time and energy pursuing the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. They are the ones with "treasure in heaven."
You've all heard the cliche, "money talks" haven't you? Usually, when we say it we mean that the rich are able to get their way in business if they will turn loose of some of their money. In many ways, verses 3 & 4 can be summarized with that saying. James wrote, Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!  Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
James says that the rust on our gold and silver will be a witness against us and so will the people we've cheated in our business dealings. Before what judge will this witness take place?
It could mean a court of law. Sometimes, injustice is corrected by our court system. I say sometimes, because I am a bit cynical these days about man's ability to execute justice. Ultimately, God will be our judge.
Which makes me ask another question, what good is wealth when it cost us our souls? After his encounter with the rich young ruler, Jesus spoke about the relationship of wealth to a person's soul with his disciples.
"Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!'  The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, 'Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'  The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, 'Who then can be saved?'  Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.'" Mark 10:23-27
The rich young ruler's wealth was a stumbling block to his faith. He was willing to keep all the rules and be a good person, but he wasn't willing to give his soul to God, because he'd already given it to the things he owned.
This is black and white-no shades of gray. Either money has your soul or God does. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters. 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." (Matthew 6:24 NIV)
The rich young ruler was unwilling to give up what he owned to follow Jesus. His money had a death grip on him that lead to his ultimate spiritual destruction. But that was him, what about me? In verse 25, Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." In the ancient near east, exaggeration was a familiar form of humor. When Jesus spoke of a camel, the largest beast, going through the eye of a needle, the smallest opening, his listeners would have laughed. But when they were done laughing, they would have heard his point loud and clear-you cannot get into heaven by human effort-it is impossible.
The rich are used to having their way, but they cannot influence their way into heaven or buy a ticket. Jesus continued in verse 27, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
According to James, the rich will have the rust off their money, and those they've cheated witnessing against them. The evidence will be overwhelming, and according to Jesus, their efforts-our efforts-will not save us.
So today, in the spirit of James' writings, I ask you, who owns your soul? Let me give you some diagnostic questions to help you answer that question:
What is more precious to you, your reputation or your wealth? Do you owe people money that you've not repaid? Are you fair with others in your financial dealings, or do you try to 'best' them? This morning when the offering plate passed by you, were you generous and cheerful as you gave, or did you withhold your tithe and your joy?
In 1788, George Washington said, "I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles) the character of an honest man." (What would they Say? p. 43)
Do you have that character? Are you an honest person?
Have you come to the point in your life where you understand everything you have belongs to God? Your car. Your house. Your video camera. Your furniture. Your computer. Do you understand that all of it belongs to Him? Are you finding ways to use these things to His glory?
James' words should cause all of us to do a gut-check today and evaluate our attitude toward things. And our attitude toward God.