19. Stewarding Finances God’s Way (James 5:1-6)Related Media
Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you. Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.
James 5:1-6 (NET)
How can we steward our finances God’s way?
In this text, James continues to challenge these Jewish Christians about their faith. The thesis of the book is that true faith produces good works—it affects how we live. It affects how we read the Bible—we must not only be hearers of God’s Word but doers as well (Jam 1:22). It affects how we use our tongues. If we don’t restrain our tongues, then our faith is in vain (Jam 1:26). It affects how we treat the poor. Religion that God our father accepts cares for orphans and widows—the neediest in the ancient world—and also doesn’t dishonor the poor in favor of the rich (Jam 1:27, 2:1-13). True faith should affect our relationship to the world. In James 4:4, James rebuked these professing Christians because of their worldliness. He called them spiritual adulterers and said friendship with the world is enmity with God. In James 4:13-17, their worldliness was showing up in their planning. Like the world, they planned without God. Tomorrow, they would go to this or that city for a year and make a profit, and yet their plans gave no thought to God’s will at all. In James 5:1-6, he again rebukes their worldliness by specifically challenging their use of money.
In the Gospels, Jesus spoke about money more than heaven or hell. He did that because how we use our money says something about our heart—what we truly love and therefore our faith. In Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus challenged believers to not store up riches on this earth because we have a tendency to love our treasures and allow them to master us. In Matthew 6:24, specifically, Christ said, “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 God and money.” When considering the world, many in the world live for money. It dictates what school they will go to, the job they will pursue, who they will marry, the type of car they will buy. Money is essentially their god, and it’s very possible for that to happen to professing believers as well. There are, no doubt, many in the church who profess Christ as Lord but are truly living for money and, therefore, are not saved.
We get a good picture of how one can be kept from salvation because of wealth in the story of the rich man. In Matthew 19:16-24, the rich man asked Christ how he could receive eternal life. In order to receive it, Christ told the man to sell all his riches and to follow Christ (v. 21). When Christ called him to give away his riches to be saved, he was not giving a new gospel message—a new way to salvation. In order to be saved, we must not only believe in and follow Christ, we must also repent of our sins. In Mark 1:15, Christ said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!” In Acts 2:38, Peter taught the same, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Repenting means to commit to turning away from our sins in order to turn to God. For this rich man, his god was money, and he needed to turn away from his wealth to truly follow Christ and be saved. As Christ said, we can only have one master (Matt 6:24).
However, it must be said that though we teach repentance of sin and committing to follow Christ for salvation, we don’t know people’s hearts. Therefore, unlike Christ, we often can’t tell what a person’s “god” is, which might keep him or her from true salvation. For the rich man, if he were to ask how to be saved in one of our churches today, we would quickly share the Four Spiritual Laws with him; he would have received Christ and been accepted into the church, though he wasn’t truly saved. Because he was spiritual (desiring to know how to have eternal life), righteous (he had kept the laws from his youth), and probably a good manager/businessman (as he was very wealthy), he probably would have quickly been put into leadership in the church (probably a treasurer) and possibly been an elder soon. However, he wasn’t saved. Money was really his god. He potentially would have been in the church for decades—trying to live for money and God, which Christ said is impossible.
This was the problem with the ancient Jewish Christians James wrote to in James 5:1-6. Apparently, they were wealthy farmers with booming businesses. They had even employed some of the poor Christians in the congregations, but they were abusing the money and the people. Because of this, James wrote a very scathing rebuke—declaring that they were going to be judged by God. In James 5:3, he says the money they had stored up would consume their flesh like fire, which seems to be a very vivid picture of their judgment in hell. Hell is a place of conscious, bodily, and eternal punishment (cf. Mk 9:48, Matt 25:41). And though they had a profession of faith, they were not truly saved. Their idolatry of money, lack of fear of God, and abuse of his people proved it (cf. Lk 3:7-14).
Interpretation Question: Are these corrupt farmers inside the church (professing believers) or outside the church (nonbelievers)?
James’ rebuke is so harsh some commentators believe that he was not speaking to Christians at all. They say, he must be speaking to the wicked rich outside the church. But there are several things that indicate that he was speaking to those in the church. (1) The context of the letter. Throughout the book, James has been challenging the lack of true faith being demonstrated by professing believers amongst these congregations. In James 2:17 and 19, he said faith without works is demonic, dead faith. If our profession of faith doesn’t manifest in good works, we are not saved. James’ rebuke of these corrupt farmers fits the context of the letter. (2) There is parallelism in the rebukes to the successful Christian businessmen and the successful farmers. In James 4:13, he said to the businessmen, “Come now!” and likewise to the successful farmers, he says, “Come now!” (5:1). Since the businessmen were professing Christians, as he called them to say, “If the Lord is willing,” (4:15) then it makes sense that the farmers were in the church as well. (3) The use of the pronoun “you” throughout the rebuke implies that he was speaking to people within the congregation who would have heard the letter read. James rebuked them like an Old Testament prophet. God would commonly challenge the nation of Israel about their abuse and neglect of the poor (cf. Is 3:14-15, 58:1-10). Because of these evidences, it appears that James was writing professing believers who misused God’s money and hurt their poor workers in the process. Their ungodly works proved that money was truly their master and not God. Therefore, they weren’t saved (cf. Matt 6:24, Jam 5:3).
James 5:1-6 was written to comfort the poor Christians who were being abused by the rich (cf. Jam 2:6). They needed to know that God had heard their cries and that he would bring justice. In addition, the rich professing believers needed to hear of God’s coming judgment so they would repent.
Therefore, as we consider this warning to the rich, we learn principles about proper stewardship of finances—how to steward our finances God’s way. Our hope in studying this text is to learn from the rich farmers’ mistakes, not make them, and ultimately be found as faithful stewards by God (cf. Matt 25:23).
Big Question: What principles can we learn about stewarding our finances God’s way from James’ rebuke of the rich in James 5:1-6?
To Steward Finances God’s Way, We Must Live in View of God’s Judgment
Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you ... Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
James 5:1, 3-4
Observation Question: In James 5:1-4, what witnesses would God call on to justify the rich famers’ judgment?
When James says, “Come now,” he was speaking like an Old Testament prophet calling the rich to “listen up” because he was going to tell them something important (cf. Is 1:18). He proceeded to tell them to mourn because of the miseries that were coming. God was going to judge them. Their misuse of their riches would consume their flesh like fire (v. 3). They had hoarded treasure in the last days—which encompasses the time between Christ’s first and second coming1 (cf. Acts 2:16-17, 1 John 2:18, Heb 1:1-2). James pictures a court case before the Lord of Hosts—the Lord of heaven’s angelic armies. The decayed hoarded treasure would witness against these farmers (v. 1), the money withheld from their workers (v. 3), and the workers’ cries (v. 4). They were clearly guilty and would be judged by God. Because of this coming judgment, the rich were called to uncontrollably mourn. No doubt, this warning was meant to encourage them to repent, even as Jonah’s prophecy of God’s judgment on Nineveh made them mourn, fast, and cry as a sign of their repentance (Jonah 3:4-10).
In the Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30), we get a comparable picture of God judging his servant for unfaithfulness with money. In the parable, a master gave three servants talents, which was a form of money in those days. Two of the stewards were faithful with their money and made a profit, so God rewarded them (Matt 25:20-23). However, one of them, instead of investing his money, stuck it in the ground. Because of the servant’s misuse of the money, the master, who symbolized God, said this in Matthew 25:28-30:
Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
God judged this servant by taking away his talent and throwing him in outer darkness. Though there are different views on this punishment, it appears that this servant’s unfaithfulness with money proved that he was not a true believer; therefore, he was cast into hell (cf. Matt 7:21-23). His ungodly works proved that his faith was not genuine. This seems to parallel with the warning that James gave these professing Christians. Their unfaithful stewardship of God’s money proved that God wasn’t their Lord at all, and that they were going to be cast into hell.
Likewise, John the Baptist called for the Jews to repent of their use of wealth, lest they be cast into the fires of hell. Luke 3:7-14 says:
So John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance, and don’t begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” So the crowds were asking him, “What then should we do?” John answered them, “The person who has two tunics must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He told them, “Collect no more than you are required to.” Then some soldiers also asked him, “And as for us—what should we do?” He told them, “Take money from no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your pay.”
Sharing one’s tunics (v. 11), not collecting more taxes than required (v. 13), not taking someone’s money by force or false accusation, and being content with one’s pay (v. (14), all have to do with one’s wealth. How we use our money will be surveyed in the judgment to demonstrate whether we have true faith or not (cf. Rom 2:6-8).
Therefore, one principle we must discern from James’, Christ’s, and John’s warnings of judgment is that if we are going to be good stewards of God’s money, we must live in view of God’s judgment. Our money is not our own; it is God’s, along with every other gift we have. Psalm 50:10-11 says, “For every wild animal in the forest belongs to me, as well as the cattle that graze on a thousand hills. I keep track of every bird in the hills, and the insects of the field are mine.” Everything is God’s—our finances, relationships, homes, spiritual gifts, and natural talents. We are just stewards, and one day Christ is going to return to judge our faithfulness or lack of faithfulness. Some will be rewarded for how they used their gifts, including their money, and some will be judged. For true believers, judgment will mean loss of reward but not loss of salvation, since Christ paid for our sins on the cross (1 Cor 3:15). But for others, who simply profess Christ but don’t live for him, their abuse of their finances will simply be another proof that Christ was never their Lord. Though they call him, “Lord,” he will say to them, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity, I never knew you” (Matt 7:23 paraphrase).
Proverbs 9:10 says, “The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord, and acknowledging the Holy One is understanding.” If we are going to steward our finances God’s way, we must live with a recognition of his coming judgment. He will judge whether we have been faithful with his money or not. If we recognize that we have been unfaithful with his finances, even as the rich farmers had, then we should demonstrate our repentance by mourning and turning away from our sins. Christ is coming soon, or we will soon go to him.
Application Question: How is God challenging you to be more aware of God’s judgement in how you use his finances? What are some practices that might help believers better live in view of God’s judgment when dealing with their finances specifically, and other gifts in general?
To Steward Finances God’s Way, We Must Avoid Selfishly Hoarding Our Wealth
Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure!
James then begins to list the various ways they had sinned because of their wealth. As we consider them, it must be known that it is not sinful to have wealth or money. It is a sin to love them. In 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul said, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Wealth, in itself, is a gift that we can use for God and others. Deuteronomy 8:18 says, “You must remember the Lord your God, for he is the one who gives ability to get wealth.” Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing from the Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow to it.” There are many wealthy believers in Scripture who are listed as models—such as Abraham, Joseph, David, Joseph of Arimathea, and Lydia from Philippi. However, for those believers, wealth did not have their hearts. Because God had their hearts, they could faithfully use their wealth. Joseph, who oversaw the wealth of Egypt, used it to help people who were starving. Joseph of Arimathea sacrificially buried Christ in his grave (Mk 15:46). Lydia, a wealthy maker of purple garments, used her home for the Philippian church to meet in (Acts 16:40). There is nothing wrong with having wealth. Wealth is a gift that must be used properly to help others and glorify God. However, it can also be a spiritual detriment when it takes hold of our hearts. Christ said it was hard for a rich man to enter heaven (Matt 19:23). In Matthew 13:22, he also described wealth as deceiving people and keeping the Word from bearing fruit in their lives. He said the “worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth choke the word, so it produces nothing.” Again, 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” It’s clear that these wealthy farmers began to love God’s gift of money more than God and then began to abuse it.
The first way these rich farmers sinned with their wealth was by selfishly hoarding it (v. 2-3). James mentioned three types of wealth for the ancients: grain or food, clothing, and precious metals.2 The proof that they had hoarded their wealth was the fact that their grain had rotted, the garments were moth-bitten from being stored up and never used, and the precious metals began to tarnish from lack of use. They had failed to be faithful stewards of their wealth by selfishly storing it up instead of using it for God’s purposes. Their hoarded wealth would witness against them in the judgment (v. 3).
Certainly, this is a challenge to many modern-day believers, especially those in wealthy nations. It’s not uncommon for us to have closets full of clothes and shoes not being worn, food that is simply wasted and thrown away, boxes of jewelry which are rarely worn, and money that we simply store up with no comprehension that it’s God’s or a desire to use it for his purposes. The hoarded, wasted goods are surely a witness that we have not faithfully used God’s resources as well.
Application Question: Why does God give believers wealth?
If we are going to faithfully steward God’s wealth, we must understand why God gives it to us. God gives us wealth for at least three reasons: (1) He gives us wealth to meet our needs and that of our families. First Timothy 5:8 says, “But if someone does not provide for his own, especially his own family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Proverbs 13:22 says, “A benevolent person leaves an inheritance for his grandchildren.” In many cultures, providing for our families includes saving for retirement to help us support ourselves (or to help our children support us, cf. 1 Tim 5:4), when we won’t be able to work. (2) God gives us wealth to meet the needs of those who lack. Proverbs 19:17 says, “The one who is gracious to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord will repay him for his good deed.” Also, 1 John 3:17 says, “But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?” (3) God gives us finances to use for ministry, including supporting churches and evangelizing the lost. First Timothy 5:17-18 says, “Elders who provide effective leadership must be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching … ‘The worker deserves his pay.’” Church ministers must be supported financially to do the work of ministry. Also, in Luke 16:9, Christ said, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by how you use worldly wealth, so that when it runs out you will be welcomed into the eternal homes.” Christ taught that believers should prudently use their wealth to advance missions. We do this by supporting missionaries, Christian organizations that focus on outreach, paying for future pastors/missionaries to get Bible training, etc. If we generously do this, when we get to heaven, people who came to know Christ through our giving will recognize us and welcome us into eternal dwellings.
With that said, the exact balance of these three ways to use God’s finances will be different for every believer. In providing for family, some may be convicted by God to simply meet their immediate (and not so future) needs and not prepare for retirement, so they can give more to the kingdom. When the disciples left all to follow Christ, they forfeited the financial stability of being in the family business to live by faith. God may call some to do that. Oftentimes, missionaries forfeit the stability of owning a home and having a great retirement plan. Others will give graciously to ministries and the needy and still prudently prepare for their retirement. Whatever path we feel led to, being a faithful steward of finances begins with recognizing that all our money is God’s and that we should seek his will for it.
With these farmers who professed faith, it’s very clear that they were not doing all or some of the above. They were selfishly storing up their wealth and neglecting God’s plans for their money, including paying their workers and caring for the needy. Therefore, they would be judged by God. To be faithful stewards of wealth, we must avoid selfishly hoarding it.
Application Question: What are some good strategies for wisely using God’s money to provide for ourselves/ family (including retirement), supporting ministries, and those with needs? Why is it important to recognize that the balance of how one’s giving is distributed will differ among Christians (cf. Matt 6:19, 7:1)?
To Steward Finances God’s Way, We Must Avoid Acquiring Wealth by Dishonest Means
Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
Since these farmers loved money, they were even willing to cheat people to get it. When James said they “held back” the pay from those who mowed their fields, the Greek tense means that the laborers would never get their wages.3 Typically, the workers would have been day laborers—meaning they worked during the day, got paid in the evening, and used that money to feed themselves and their families the next day. To not get paid, or not fully get paid, would have caused a family crisis. It’s clear that lack of finances was not the reason the farmers were not paying their workers’ wages. The word “reapers” can also be translated “harvesters” (NIV). It was harvest season, so the barns would have been full. It was greed that made the wealthy farmers become delinquent with paying wages.
Because mistreating poor laborers was so common in the ancient world, God even gave laws to prevent it. Deuteronomy 24:14-15 says,
You must not oppress a lowly and poor servant, whether one from among your fellow Israelites or from the resident foreigners who are living in your land and villages. You must pay his wage that very day before the sun sets, for he is poor and his life depends on it. Otherwise he will cry out to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
Leviticus 19:13 says, “You must not oppress your neighbor or commit robbery against him. You must not withhold the wages of the hired laborer overnight until morning.” In fact, God promised judgment to those who increased wealth through dishonest means, including mistreating their workers. Jeremiah 22:13 says, “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.”
Though James condemned the dishonest practice of not paying laborers, his condemnation applies to various dishonest practices people use to increase or maintain wealth.
Application Question: What are some other dishonest practices people commonly use to gain wealth?
1. Not paying a fair wage to employees in order to maximize wealth. Colossians 4:1 says, “Masters, treat your slaves with justice and fairness, because you know that you also have a master in heaven.”
2. Lying on tax reports to minimize taxes paid and increase refunds.
3. Stealing from our companies, including things like pens, paper, or even furniture.
4. Abusing our employers’ time by not putting in a full day’s work—spending all day chatting online, playing on social media, watching movies, or even sleeping. In Colossians 3:22-23, Paul said this:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in every respect, not only when they are watching—like those who are strictly people-pleasers—but with a sincere heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people
5. Not paying our bills. Romans 13:8 says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Paul said this because apparently some Christians weren’t faithfully paying their debts. Unfortunately, in our context, it’s increasingly common to encounter Christians who rack up so much school debt or credit card debt that they have no plans to ever pay it back. Romans 13:8 can be translated, “Let no debt remain outstanding.” We should pay our bills—to not do so is to be dishonest and an unfaithful steward of God’s money.
6. Abusing welfare, disability, and other government funds. Many try to take advantage of systems meant to help those who are desperately in need.
If we are going to be faithful stewards of God’s money, we must not use dishonest means to gain or keep it. Paul said for Christians to pay their bills in Romans 13:8 and to not steal in Ephesians 4:28 because this was happening amongst professing believers, even as it was happening amongst the Jewish Christian farmers to whom James wrote.
Are we using any dishonest means to increase or maintain our wealth? If so, we must repent.
Application Question: How have you seen or experienced dishonesty in the workplace? How is God calling you to grow in your integrity as a worker or help others do so?
To Steward Finances God’s Way, We Must Avoid Self-Indulgent, Luxurious Spending
You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
Next, James rebukes these farmers for their selfish, indulgent, and luxurious spending. They lived as though God had given them wealth to only take care of themselves and to appease all their desires. They continually fattened themselves with the best food and pampered themselves with the best housing and transportation—all the while people around them were suffering financially, emotionally, and spiritually, including their own workers.
To live in self-indulgent luxury is to disobey God’s greatest commands—to love God with all our heart and to love others as ourselves. When living in luxury, we are loving ourselves alone and not God or anybody else. Certainly, according to 1 Timothy 6:17, God “richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.” As Christians, we are not to be ascetics who deny ourselves all forms of pleasure. In some sense, we should be hedonists, enjoying all of God’s creation and worshiping him because of it. But, there is a big difference between God richly providing us all things for our enjoyment and him providing us all things to satisfy our greed. In 1 John 2:16 (NIV), John condemns the “lust of the flesh, the lust of eyes, and the pride of life” as not coming from God but from the world. Likewise, in Luke 12:15, Christ said, “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” We are to guard ourselves against all types of greed, including living in luxury.
In fact, in the book of Haggai, God confronted the Israelites for selfishly living in luxury. They were living in luxury by the way they built their houses, all the while neglecting God’s temple. Because of their selfish, luxurious living, which neglected God’s purposes, God cursed their economy. When they were supposed to get a large harvest, they got only a little (Haggai 1:9). When they were supposed to have rain, God brought drought, which not only harmed the people but also the land and the animals (Hag 1:10-11). Haggai 1:4, 9-11 says this:
“Is it right for you to live in richly paneled houses while my temple is in ruins? … ‘You expected a large harvest, but instead there was little, and when you brought it home it disappeared right away. Why?’ asks the LORD who rules over all. ‘Because my temple remains in ruins, thanks to each of you favoring his own house! This is why the sky has held back its dew and the earth its produce. Moreover, I have called for a drought that will affect the fields, the hill country, the grain, new wine, fresh olive oil, and everything that grows from the ground; it also will harm people, animals, and everything they produce.’”
When we understand that God has given us wealth not to be reservoirs but channels of his blessing, then we’ll start to prayerfully and critically consider our spending. We will ask questions like, “How much should we spend on a phone?” “Which car or house is too extravagant?” “How much should we be eating out?”
No doubt, as God rebuked the Israelites through Haggai, he at times rebukes us, saying:
How can you pamper yourself when my church is struggling, when people have not heard the gospel in various nations, when there are people struggling financially within your own church, workplace, and neighborhood? Are you truly seeking to love me with all your heart and others as yourself?
If we are truly loving God and others as ourselves, then it should be seen in how we use our finances, including at times living simply or sacrificially to build God’s kingdom and help others (cf. Matt 6:19). Surely, some of us are experiencing physical, spiritual, emotional, and maybe even financial lack because we are under God’s discipline for spending our money selfishly and indulgently while neglecting God’s purposes for our finances.
Application Question: How do we know if we are guilty of living in selfish, indulgent luxury?
Bruce Goettsche, pastor of Union Church in La Harpe, Illinois, in his published sermon on James 5:1-6, lists several indicators of living in self-indulgent luxury for us to consider, which I have adapted:
- We are probably guilty of living in self-indulgent luxury when we assume that our money should always be used first to meet our own needs before God and others. Remember the greatest commands are loving God and others, not loving ourselves.
- We are probably guilty of living in self-indulgent luxury when we waste, destroy, or discard what others could put to good use.
- We are probably guilty of living in self-indulgent luxury when we become prideful about what we have and others don’t—maybe a watch, phone, other electronic toys, a house, or car.
- We are probably guilty of living in self-indulgent luxury when we invest in things purely for status rather than usefulness. This can be true of our clothes, car, home, where we shop, or where we get our education from. If we’re thinking about how others will approve (or not approve) when purchasing something, it’s not a good sign.4
If we are sinning by living in luxury, our heart is not right before God. God not only gives us money to provide for ourselves, but to first of all use in loving him and others.
Application Question: In what areas are you tempted to live in luxury? How is God calling you to guard your heart and your spending in those areas (cf. Matt 6:19, 1 Tim 6:6-8)?
To Steward Finances God’s Way, We Must Avoid Abusing People, Including Ourselves, to Get It
You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.
Finally, the last way that these wealthy farmers were bad stewards of finances was in how they abused people to obtain it. The word “condemn” means “to pass sentence upon,”5 which implies that the rich were using the courts to abuse the poor laborers and even murder them. No doubt, this was done by bribing officials and seeking favors from them. The righteous didn’t even resist—probably because they knew they had no chance of winning in court. Often, this happens with the wealthy today—they bombard their accusers with lawsuits, which they can’t afford and therefore pervert justice.
When it says, they “murdered” the righteous person, this was probably both passive and active. It was passive in the sense that when the rich withheld wages, the day laborers couldn’t afford food, medical, and housing for their families. When they couldn’t pay their bills, they were often thrown into prison. While in prison, they couldn’t work, and eventually, they and their families would die of starvation. To God, this systemic injustice was murder. Also, the murder was active in that perhaps some inconvenient people were killed. A situation like this happened in the story of King Ahab securing Naboth’s vineyard. In 1 Kings 21, because Naboth would not sell his vineyard to Ahab, Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, had people falsely accuse Naboth of blaspheming God and the king (1 Kings 21:13). And because of that, Naboth was put to death, and then Ahab secured his vineyard. They condemned the righteous man in court and had him murdered. No doubt, the wealthy farmers James wrote to were committing similar murderous injustices to gain or keep wealth.
People are commonly abused today for the sake of wealth, often in different ways. For instance, some work cultures are abusive in demanding their employees to work extremely long hours which destroys their family life, spiritual life, and health. Since jobs may be hard to find (or at least good jobs), the employees commonly stay at the job and simply sacrifice their family, health, and faith. This is a bad stewardship of God’s resources both for the employer and employee. The employee should probably in faith set boundaries or leave the job—trusting God will provide a new one.
This common abusive culture in many of our workplaces is important to consider when deciding on a career or taking a specific job. As employees, we should commonly ask ourselves, “Will I be able to maintain a healthy work/family/faith balance if I work (or continue to work) in this field or particular job?” Also, as employers or managers, we must ask, “Are my employees able to be healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually with the demands of the job?” Unfortunately, because of abusive work cultures, many children grow up with a strong bitterness and anger which developed from one or both of their parents putting career before family, and this bitterness negatively affects the children for the rest of their lives. Sadly, this is even true in many churches and ministries. Pastoral ministry, unfortunately, can be a thankless and abusive job, and the pastors’ families tend to bear the greatest cost. Because of these negative consequences, profit should never be placed above our faith, family, health, or our employees. If it is, we can be sure God will hold us accountable, even as he did with these wealthy farmers.
To steward finances God’s way, we must avoid abusing people, including ourselves, to get it.
Application Question: How have you seen people abused in workplaces because of overwhelming workloads or expectations? How should Christian employees in those workplaces respond when working in an unhealthy environment?
General Applications for Stewarding Wealth God’s Way
Application Question: What are some other helpful principles for stewarding our finances God’s way?
In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Paul said this to the rich to help them better steward their money:
Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous givers, sharing with others. In this way they will save up a treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the future and so lay hold of what is truly life.
1. To steward finances God’s way, we must trust in God instead of the security wealth brings (v. 17).
First Timothy 6:17 says, “Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.” The stock market goes up and then down. We have a good job and then lose it. Riches are uncertain; therefore, we must put our trust in God. He has promised to provide all our needs (Matt 6:25-34), even when our future seems uncertain. When we are trusting God instead of our finances or jobs, we will find that we have more peace about the future and less anxiety. We will be more focused on God, his kingdom, and people, and less focused on things.
2. To steward finances God’s way, we must practice being generous with our wealth (v. 18).
First Timothy 6:18 says, “Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous givers, sharing with others.” Giving is one of the ways we build and display our trust in God. When we give generously, we demonstrate that the wealth is God’s and not ours. We also demonstrate that helping others is more important than caring for ourselves (cf. Phil 2:3). Second Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver.” God has a special affection for and blessing over generous givers; no doubt because they look like him, the one who gave his only begotten Son to die for the world (John 3:16).
3. To steward finances God’s way, we must focus on eternal dividends instead of temporal ones (v. 19).
First Timothy 6:19 says, “In this way they will save up a treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the future and so lay hold of what is truly life.” Also, Matthew 6:19-20 says,
Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.
Our earthly wealth is temporary but heavenly wealth lasts forever. Because of that reality, we should focus on using our wealth to disciple believers, help the lost know Christ, and care for the needy. In Luke 16:10, Christ promised that if we are faithful with little (referring to money), God will make us faithful over much. In the context, “much” refers to the true riches of discipling souls who will welcome us into heavenly places (Lk 16:9). If God can trust us with our monthly salary, he can trust us with more important things like discipling people, understanding and teaching his Word, and eternal riches.
Are we focusing on eternal dividends instead of temporal ones? It’s one of the ways that we become good stewards of our finances.
4. To steward finances God’s way, we must learn to be content with what God has given us.
In 1 Timothy 6:6-8, Paul said,
Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either. But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that.
Learning to be content by thanking God for what we have, and not pursuing more, is a spiritual discipline we must develop. Otherwise, the world will keep us dissatisfied and therefore running after the next new thing with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). Satan tempted Eve this way. She had everything in the world, but Satan got her to focus her eyes on the one thing she didn’t have, the fruit of the forbidden tree. This discontent drove her away from God and his will and led her family into sin. Sadly, this happens all the time, even with believers—leading them to selfishness, debt, indulgent living, conflict with people and with God, depression, anxiety, and many other negative things. As a spiritual discipline, we must learn the discipline of contentment if we are going to steward our finances God’s way. In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul said the secret to contentment was being strengthened through a relationship with Christ, whether in wealth or poverty.
Application Question: How is God calling you to grow as a steward of God’s financial gifts? What steps is he calling you to take?
How can we steward our finances, God’s way?
- To Steward Finances God’s Way, We Must Live in View of God’s Judgment
- To Steward Finances God’s Way, We Must Avoid Selfishly Hoarding Our Wealth
- To Steward Finances God’s Way, We Must Avoid Acquiring Wealth by Dishonest Means
- To Steward Finances God’s Way, We Must Avoid Self-Indulgent, Luxurious Spending
- To Steward Finances God’s Way, We Must Avoid Abusing People, Including Ourselves, to Get It
- Pray for forgiveness for not faithfully using God’s wealth, including selfishly hoarding, using dishonest means to gain wealth, luxurious living, abusing others and ourselves, not being content with what we have, and trusting in our wealth.
- Pray for grace to be content with what we have and not continually pursuing more, which leads to anxiety, depression, and discord in relationships.
- Pray for God to help us become more generous—both in supporting ministries which disciple believers and reach the lost and also in giving to those in need.
- Pray for wisdom to use both our lives and finances to the best possible end, for God’s glory and the benefit of people.
Copyright © 2021 Gregory Brown
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1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (p. 245). Chicago: Moody Press.
2 Hughes, R. K. (1991). James: faith that works (pp. 214–215). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
3 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 375). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Related Topics: Christian Life