The ungodly rich have abandoned Jesus’ instructions, and now James has some strong words for them. This sermon examines how individuals become the type of people James rebukes and what happens to their understanding of stewardship and their view of God.
5:1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
As you know, we go through books of the Bible. What book of the Bible are we in? James. So, this is the thirteenth week. We’re in chapter 5, so find chapter 5 in your Bible or in your fake Bible on your phone. We’re in James 5:1–6. And while you find your spot, I’ll tell you a story, because every sermon starts with a story. And so, I was taking a flight not too long ago. Not a long flight, short flight, not a big deal. And you know, they always sit—what group of people do they seat first? First class. So, they seat all the people in first class first, and then the rest of us have to walk by and lament the fact that we’re in coach.
So, we’re walking through, and it’s not a big deal. It’s, you know, a simple, little flight. And I’m in line and walking to the back of the aircraft with everybody else, and there’s a gal in front of me in her forties. She’s a blonde gal, and all of a sudden, she starts making her opinion known. And she says things like this, looking at people, making eye contact with those who are in first class as she’s walking by to coach: “Must be very nice to sit in first class. Must be very nice to be rich and to be seated in a big chair where they’ve already given you something to drink, and they wait on you hand and foot.”
She’s escalating, and it’s awkward, OK? Very awkward, because everybody’s trying to get, you know, basically a Humvee in the overhead bin, and so it’s taking a while. Nothing fits, so all the traffic is backed up and we’re at a standstill, which means we’re stuck here for a while, and she just keeps going. She looks over to her right, “Oh, how much did you pay for that seat?” And it just keeps going, right?
Suddenly, everybody in first class starts getting e-mails and texts. They’re just very consumed with their phone, unable to make eye contact. It was a very curious coincidence and timing.
All of a sudden, nobody’s looking at her. And one guy, immediately, taps out in the first round. Here’s what he says: “I travel for business. I have a lot of miles, so they upgrade me for free.” Really? Wow. Tapped out, first round, that guy. He’s not even going to engage, so then she moves on to other people. And she’s going to the right and to the left, and she’s making eye contact with individual people, rebuking them publicly, openly, for being rich.
OK, let me just point out something: only in America can you publicly lament your poverty while boarding $100 million aircraft where they have a custom seat for you that reclines and someone to bring you drinks and chips. Nonetheless, she was publicly decrying her horrific condition in life. You know, it’s like Dante’s Inferno, the nine levels of hell. One is coach, you know? It’s just unimaginable and inexplicable.
So then I’m behind this gal. And then as she’s looking over to the right rebuking these people for being rich, the guys on the left are looking at me like, “Hey, hey, hey!” And I’m like, “I don’t know.” They’re like, “Is that your wife?” Oh, because it’s a blonde gal in her forties. I have one of those. And I thought, “Oh my gosh. I’m gonna end up on CNN.” “Yeah, Pastor Mark was on the plane and there was this blonde gal just cussing everybody out in first class for being rich.” And I’m thinking, “Ah!” OK, I shouldn’t have done this, but I faked a phone call, OK? “Yeah honey, I’m catching my flight. I love you. Thanks for being such a good wife.” I’m just trying to find a way to publicly declare that this is not my girl, OK? Just an awkward moment. We’re going to do the bourgeois and the proletariat right here at the front of the Boeing jet. And I thought to myself, “Boy, only I could get into this situation.”
But it really illustrates how we, as a culture, do things to those who are rich that we wouldn’t do to those who are poor. Imagine the reverse. Imagine if all the people in first class just, halfway through the flight, decided, “We’re just going to walk down the aisle like, ‘It stinks to be poor, doesn’t it? Don’t you hate it back here? Yeah, we have meals up in the front. It’s amazing. Somebody comes and rubs your back.’”
It would not be acceptable for rich people to publicly rebuke the poor people, but it was amazing because nobody told her to stop. Nobody said or did anything. She just kept going until eventually the line cleared up, and it’s like, “Ma’am, you need to continue to the back of the plane.”
It brings up this issue of those who are rich and those who are poor. And my question to you would be, how do you think about those categories? How do you see yourself? How do you see others? How do you feel about others? How do you speak about others regarding whether they’re rich or poor?
So, really, what we’re going to do today—and James does it a lot—is take your wallet and your Bible, and we’re going to put them together. We’re going to take your wallet—it got really serious all of a sudden. I don’t know. You’re like, “Oh no, I think he’s going to take an offering after that.” Yes, he will.
OK, so today we’re going to take your wallet and your Bible, and we’re going to put them together, and we’re going to ask, what does the Bible say about your wallet? And does God have any right to rule over your wallet? Does God have any right to speak about your wallet? Does God have any right to open your wallet?
That’s a big theme that continues throughout James. So, when it comes to the Bible, the hero is Jesus. Let me do a little bit of theological set up for you. And the three main themes of the Bible are sin, suffering, and stewardship. Those are the three big themes: (1) Sin—we sin against God. Jesus comes, dies on the cross in our place, paying our penalty for our sin; (2) Suffering—when we’re hurting, struggling, weeping, and dying, we need comfort, we need encouragement, we need love, grace, and mercy, and assistance from God and God’s people; and (3) Stewardship is really about all the things that God entrusts to us. Our time, our talent, our treasure, the totality of our life and how we invest it to God’s glory and others’ good. And those are the three big themes of the Bible: sin, suffering, stewardship.
Today, James in James 5, is going to talk a lot about stewardship and also about sin as it relates to stewardship. And he’s going to talk about the rich and he’s going to talk about the poor.
But before we jump into it, here’s what I need you to do: I need you to think biblically and not just economically. Not just socially, not just politically, but biblically.
I’ve done this before, and I’ll do it again: I want to share with you the four categories that the Bible gives us when it comes to wealth, and when it comes to the rich and the poor. We tend to think rich or poor, and the Bible has not two but four categories.
The first category is the godly poor. This would be Jesus’ family. His family was poor. This would be Jesus. He was poor. This would be a woman named Ruth. She’s godly and poor. This would include, in James, widows and orphans. In our day it would be a godly, single mom who’s working hard to make ends meet and take care of her kids, OK? That’s godly poor.
The other category is godly rich. These are people who love the Lord and have a lot of loot. All right, this would be Abraham. This would be Job. This would be certain godly kings like Josiah. This would be like Joseph of Arimathea, who gave Jesus a rich man’s tomb after his death. This would include a gal named Lydia, who funded a lot of ministry in the New Testament. They’re godly people and also rich. And I’ll tell you this: I know some very godly people who are poor, and I know some very godly people who are rich.
Number three, the third category that Bible has is the ungodly poor. Proverbs talks a lot about these kinds of people. These are people who won’t work. These are people who, just drink and gamble away every opportunity.
I grew up in a neighborhood that had a lot of number one and number three. Some of you know my story. I grew up next to the airport, poor, first-generation immigrant neighborhood. There were some families there that loved Jesus that were fleeing religious and political persecution and some horrific cultural contexts. They were coming to the US, trying to get a start for their family, trying to get traction, a better life. They tended to live in an apartment. They’d pack all the generations together. They would work hard. They would encourage their kids to study hard. They were trying to get the family moving forward in a new country. They were godly, and they were poor.
Over time, I’ll just tell you this, most of them weren’t poor by the second, third, fourth generation because they were making some traction by God’s grace. In that same neighborhood, there was also ungodly poor, people who, because of addictions, gambling, compulsions, and some just an absolute unwillingness to work, they were poor, but not like Jesus. Not like Jesus.
Then the fourth category are the ungodly rich. And the ungodly rich are throughout the Bible. This is like the Herods, the pharaohs. These are some of the godless political leaders. This would include a guy who’s called the rich, young ruler. These are people who have a lot of money, a lot of fame, a lot of power. The way they get it and what they do with it is very ungodly.
Which category are you in? Which category are you in? And let me say this: we need to be careful in America not to just put ourselves immediately into the poor category. True? True? If you look at it historically, the standard of living that we enjoy is amazing.
Imagine 2,000 years ago when the Bible is written, and it’s written to the poor, which you’re going to see here in James 5. If you teleported—you Trekkies—the poor people to your house, they would go, “What’s that?” “That’s a fridge.” “What does it do?” “It keeps food at a temperature that I prefer.” “Wow, you have food? What are all the cabinets?” “It’s to hold the extra food.” “You have extra food? Where do you get that?” “At the store filled with more food. “We can actually go to a store that has so much food that you need a pallet to take the food to your truck. You can’t put it in a car because it doesn’t fit in a car. You can get enough Cheetos that, if the end of the world comes in seventeen years, you’ll still be eating Cheetos. And they come in a pallet.” And they go, “Really, that’s amazing. What’s that big box?” “It’s endless entertainment, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in various languages.” “Really? That’s amazing.”
“What are these different rooms for? Because in our house, we had one room, and we all lived in it.” “Oh, this is the bathroom.” “What is the bathroom?” “Well, it’s a magical place where you get rid of things you don’t want. It’s amazing.” “Well, what’s the knob do?” “It brings water in.” “Water? What kind of water? Is it polluted?” “No, it’s clean water.” “You can drink it?” “Yeah, you can drink it.” “That’s amazing. “The temperature in here is very nice. Why is that?” “We have something called a heater.” “Really, because we had something called a fire. Heater’s better.” OK? “You’re going somewhere. What are you going to do?” “I’m going to get in my car. No, I’m poor, I’m going to get on the bus, which is just a big car that somebody else drives. It’s not that bad.”
Right, we live in a world where, if you have a slow Internet connection, then you’re reading all the suffering verses in the Bible. You’re like, “Oh yes, persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Suffering for the glory of the kingdom. I can barely watch the cat videos on YouTube because of the difficulty of the life—” No, it’s not that bad, OK?
So historically, we live at a level of luxury that kings and queens used to only dream of. And if you think of it globally, we’re still the rich. I mean, because everybody wants to immigrate to America. I’ll tell you right now, I’ve been to India. I’ve been to the townships in South Africa. I’ve been to Haiti. There’s not a huge border patrol to keep people from fleeing in. Everybody’s trying to get out of the rural areas, trying to get out of poverty, trying to get out of difficulty, and the hope is to get to America.
Even globally, we live at a standard and level of living that I just want to be very careful that we think biblically, we think historically, that we don’t just think economically, or socially, or selfishly.
What category are you in? What kind of home did you grow up in? What kind of lifestyle do you aspire to? And today, as we jump into James, we’re going to deal with category one and category four, OK?
So, it really doesn’t deal with category two or category three. Today, we’re dealing primarily, if not exclusively, godly poor and ungodly rich. And he’s going to—Pastor James will have some very strong, tense, terse things to say to those who are ungodly and rich, because of whom much is given, Jesus said much is what? Expected. The context there is financial, that if God is going to put a lot in your hands, he wants you to be generous, he wants you to help others.
But here, what you’re going to see is that instead of that, these ungodly rich are doing two things, the first of which is hoarding and the second will be defrauding. James 5:1–3, here’s what Jesus’ brother, who’s now a pastor, says: “Come now, you rich.”
He’s talking here, I believe, primarily, if not exclusively, to non-Christians, OK? Because their identity is what? Rich. Previously in the book he says, “Now, brothers.” He doesn’t say that here. These aren’t brothers. These aren’t Christians. These are non-Christians. And he’s going to say, “You’re going to hell.” Just so you know, those are the non-Christians. OK, “Come now, you”—what? “Rich.” That’s their identities in their riches, right? Their net worth establishes, in their eyes, their self-worth. They wouldn’t have expected this: “Weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.” You’re going to hell maybe in first class, but the destination is not a real vacation. “Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire.”
You get that? He’s talking about hell. “You have laid up treasure in the last days,” talking about the Day of Judgment. Here’s what he doesn’t say: “No one should be rich.” What he does say is that those who are rich should be sharing, not hoarding. Sharing, not hoarding.
If you’re familiar with the teaching of Jesus, you’re going to hear echoes and intimations of James’ big brother, Jesus, OK? So, just keep your eye on that and let me just read you some words from Jesus. Matthew 6:19–21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.”
Jesus gave instructions, the ungodly rich have not heeded them, and now James is rebuking them. Jesus says, “You have clothes that you don’t even wear and the moths eat them. That’s not the best use of the clothes.” “Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten,” James says. Jesus says, “Don’t just pile up everything you have and don’t even need. Share it.” James says, “You have so much gold and silver, it’s corroded.”
This is like someone who has more vehicles than they can drive, and one is rusting, falling apart in the driveway because they have no need of it. And they live next door to the single mom who, every day, is walking the kids to school and really could use something to drive. And it never dawns on the owner, “I am not using this. It’s just rotting and it’s perfectly good and usable. I should just give it to someone who needs it.”
Here’s the big idea: You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead. That’s what Jesus says. Store up your treasures in heaven. You can send it on ahead. By sharing, by being generous, God, who in the end does all the accounting, will reward you eternally for your faithfulness presently. That’s what he’s saying.
We need to be careful to read this. He’s not talking about the godly rich. The godly rich are generous. The godly rich are sharing. Sometimes, the reason that godly people are rich is because they’re givers and generous, so God keeps giving more to them because he knows he can trust them with it. That’s not the situation or scenario here. He says that their clothes are rotting, their wealth is corroding, and their God is watching.
OK, what category are you in? What category are you in? Godly rich, ungodly rich, godly poor, ungodly poor? All right, have you even practically, functionally taken your wallet and taken your Bible, put them together, and said, “OK, how does this affect this?” The godly rich, they do that. The ungodly rich, they don’t.
So, the first problem is hoarding. It’s not that you don’t have a right to take your wealth and to purchase something, but if you have things you don’t even need, if you have things you don’t even use, does not your heart open to love, to help, and to serve, and to bless others? If not, then you don’t have the heart of God because that’s God’s heart. God’s heart is a giving heart. God’s heart is a sharing heart. God’s heart is a glad heart.
So, he rebukes for hoarding and also defrauding. James 5:4–6, “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by”—what? “Fraud”—there’s the issue—“are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You’ve fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”
OK, here’s the situation: There are two groups. One are the landowners, and the others are the laborers. These are the two groups, the landowners and the laborers. The landowners that he’s speaking of, they’re unbelievers. They don’t love the Lord; they don’t serve the Lord.
The laborers that he’s speaking of do love the Lord, and they’re receiving tremendous injustice and so they are crying out to the Lord. These are hardworking guys who are supposed to get paid at the end of the day so they can go home and provide dinner for their family. And they worked hard all day and they didn’t get paid. And so they go home, and they’re sitting around the dinner table with their family. It’s like, “Kids, I hate to tell you, Dad didn’t make anything today.” “Did you not work, Dad?” “No, Dad worked hard all day.” “Well, what happened?” “Well, they didn’t pay me.” Then the family is weeping, the kids are crying, and it’s so loud that God hears it.
I know what this feels like. See, my dad was a union drywaller. He was a construction worker. And so when there was work, he would work, and when there wasn’t work, he’d go find side jobs to make ends meet. Some of you know my dad’s story. He hung drywall until he literally broke his back feeding his family. He would come home from work and lay on the floor in such pain from holding sheetrock. He actually shrunk a few inches over the years by carrying so much sheetrock on his back that it compressed his spine. I remember as a little boy, my dad would come home in just such great pain, and he still coached our Little League teams.
I still can’t believe it: as a little boy, he would go down on the street and he’d put a glove on and catch me, because I was a pitcher and he coached my Little League teams. All right, my dad’s back was always in pain, yet he would still squat down and be catcher for me. And sometimes, before he’d go out and catch me, he’d be like, “All right, Dad’s gonna lay on the floor.” He couldn’t afford a chiropractor. “You kids walk on Dad’s back.” And you’ll hear it pop, OK? Now, at the time I thought, “I’m helping.” Today, I realize that might not have been the most helpful thing for Joe’s back, OK?
There were times that my dad would have to go away because there was no work in town. That’s actually how we ended up in Seattle. We were in North Dakota, and then we ended up in Spokane, and then we ended up in Seattle. We kind of went wherever work was for my pops. And there were times when my dad would have to leave town because there’d be a job somewhere else.
My dad would sleep in his truck or he’d sometimes sleep on the sheetrock. Take a nap, get up, and hang more because you get paid by the board foot, and so you work hard. And there were times that my dad would be away from home, sleeping on the job site. I was the oldest of five kids, my mom stayed home with us, and there’d be times that they didn’t pay my dad. Not because he didn’t work, because he did work. Not because he was lazy—he wasn’t lazy at all. But they knew there’s nothing he can do about it, because you know what a guy like that can’t do? Go get an attorney and file a suit. He doesn’t have the means to.
I can still remember when I was a little boy, my dad had an old Chevy pickup truck that I loved. And I remember as a little boy when we’d be at job sites—because sometimes I’d go to the job sites with my dad. I had a little Thermos and a lunchbox. I had my own steel-toed work boots. I had my own overalls, my own tools. I wasn’t very helpful, but I thought I was. When it was really cold, it had this heater right in the center of this old Chevy pickup truck, and I would just huddle down by the heater to warm up. I’ll never forget the time that, you know, my dad being stiffed on the job, not getting paid for stuff, just to even pay the rent, we had to sell my dad’s truck. I remember as a little boy standing there as the truck drives away thinking, “That’s my dad’s truck and that’s our truck to go to work.” I cried as a little boy because I knew my dad worked so hard, and that wasn’t right.
James is talking about scenarios and situations like that. He’s not talking about lazy people who refuse to work or guys who just refuse to submit to authority so they can’t keep a job. He’s talking about hardworking, honest, put food on the table, take care of your family, salt of the earth men of God, like Jesus and James’ brother had a dad named Joseph who was a carpenter, and was poor, and had a huge family with a bunch of kids, and swung a hammer to put food on the table.
Jesus and James came from a family like that, and so when James sees the way that the wealthy landowners are treating the poor laborers, there’s a sense of justice and righteous indignation that rises up in him and says, “Hey, don’t treat guys like my dad, like that.” So he’s stern in his tone.
The way it worked legally was this: as a general rule—there were exceptions—the landowners were educated; the laborers were not. Well, guess what that does when it goes to negotiate a deal or have a contract? The guy who went to college negotiating with a guy who’s illiterate? The way it worked as well in the legal system was, you only had legal rights if you were a landowners. Not everybody voted, just the landowners. Not everybody could bring a case to court, only the landowners. It wasn’t the kind of culture that we enjoy because of biblical values.
See, the reason that we have a culture that considers all created equal is because they’re endowed by their Creator with rights. Everybody, because of the teaching of the Bible, is equal, and we should be equal in the standing of the law, and we should be equal in the sight of the government because we’re supposed to be equal in the sight of God. And it doesn’t always work that way, but in principle, that’s the world that we’re more accustomed to because of the influence and effects of biblical teaching.
Now, in that day, in the Roman Empire, it was like a class system or a caste system, like we see in India. These people own land, and these people were educated, and these people had legal rights. And these people were uneducated, and they didn’t own land, and they didn’t have legal rights. And so if these people would commit injustice against these people, there was nothing they could do. The laborers had no recourse from the landowners, so what they would do is they would go up the chain of command, and they would bring their concerns to the Lord who rules over all. And they were crying out to the Lord. Because if you go to work and they don’t pay you, and so you go to work somewhere else and then they don’t pay you, and you need to feed your family, what do you do?
These are godly people, and now they’re being tempted to do ungodly things to put food on the table for the family. Do you feel it? Do you feel it? The Bible’s not just a book about what happens when you die. It’s a book about everything. It includes what happens when you die and everything that happens before that. God cares about your business. God cares about your family. God cares about your dinner, right?
I want you to think biblically, and I really want you to distinguish. Because what we can do—and this is what some of you are doing in your heart right now, right?—we look at the rich, the ungodly rich, and we’re like, “They’re terrible. They’re horrible people.” Well, but the way that we get into that similar scenario in whatever level of affluence or influence that is entrusted to us is, we think in terms of ownership instead of stewardship.
Really, behind this great conflict and this rebuke from Pastor James are two ideologies, two mindsets, two worldviews. One is one of ownership, and one is one of stewardship. And so let me break these down for you. And these are massive biblical categories, but here’s really how the ungodly rich are thinking: they’re thinking in terms of ownership. Here are their underlying prevailing ideology and their commitments.
Number one, “I do not belong to the Lord. If there’s a God, he doesn’t own me like a possession. He’s not in charge. He’s not in control. Maybe if I want him to come serve me, maybe that’s a possibility but certainly not rule over me. And language like, ‘Lord,’ no, I’m not interested in that.”
Number two, “Nothing I have belongs to the Lord. I don’t belong to the Lord, right? So this doesn’t belong to the Lord, and what I drive, and where I live, and what I do, that doesn’t belong—that’s all mine. That’s not his, that’s mine. I’m not his and that’s not his.”
Number three, “I deserve all that I work for. Hey, there are winners, losers. They couldn’t afford an attorney. Whatever the case is, I took it, I stole it. Might makes right. Survival of the fittest. That’s just the way it works. Whatever I’ve got, it’s mine. I deserve it. You lose, I win.”
Number four is, “I only answer to myself. I’m not going to answer to God. I’m not going to give an account. I’m not going to have a Day of Judgment before I stand before some sentient being and talk about what I did with my life and my stuff. No, that’s not the way it is. I give an account to myself. I rule over myself. I’m in charge of myself.” That’s the underlying ideology that James is going after in the ungodly rich. It’s this issue of ownership. What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine, right?
Now, biblically, it’s not about ownership; it’s about stewardship, OK? Here are the underlying values. I put some Scripture with each of them. You’re welcome to look it up and study it for yourself. A steward begins with this principle. “I belong to the Lord.” Romans 1:6, “And you are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” For me, that was an earth-shattering, heart-melting, life-changing verse. The word of God is living and active.
I still remember, I was a freshman, just lost, did not know the Lord. I’m sitting in my dorm room at a state university, right? God’ll go anywhere to get you. That’s the point, right? And I’m reading the Bible that Grace gave me as a gift, and I’d had it for a long time and hadn’t read it. And I’m reading Romans 1. I kind of had to read it for a philosophy class at a state college, right? And I read Romans 1:6, and it says, “And you are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”
It’s like God flipped a switch in my soul. I was like, “Oh, I belong to Jesus.” And I remember this was almost an instantaneous thought. That changes everything. If I belong to Jesus—like, if I’m not my own, if I belong to someone else, well, that changes everything. I remember sitting there in that moment just thinking, “I don’t know exactly what this entails, but I think this is going to affect everything,” like who I marry, what I get for a degree, what I do for a career. Like, this is a massive alteration of my whole existence to go from, “I belong to myself,” to “I belong to Jesus.” Just so you know, that changes everything, amen?
How many of you have become Christians, and you didn’t know this at the front end; otherwise, you would have been a little more hesitant to join Team Jesus, right? But how many of you joined Team Jesus and you’re like, “He’s in charge of everything. Like, I belong to him, like in a way that I used to think that my possessions belonged to me. I’m his possession. He owns me.”
That’s a good thing. Don’t think it’s a bad thing. Jesus is way better in control than you. He’s way better in charge than you. That’s what I’ve learned. But a steward starts with this, “I belong to the Lord.” “I was bought with a price,” the Bible says. Jesus died for me. He paid a price to purchase me. I’m his possession. I belong to him.
Well, relatedly, then number two, well, then, everything I have belongs to him. It’s his ownership, my stewardship. In Haggai, God says, “The gold is mine and the silver is mine, declares the Lord.” It’s his way of saying, “It’s all mine. It’s all mine.” This is why I don’t even want you to think in terms of, “Do I have to give 10 percent?” No, you give 100 percent. Everything belongs to him. It’s not, “How much of what I have do I give to the Lord?”; it’s “How much of what is the Lord’s is he generously sharing with me?” God says, “I’ll give you 90 percent.” You’re like, “Of your stuff? Awesome, great deal.”
That’s amazing that he would give us 90 percent of his stuff. It’s a whole lot easier to accept that than giving him 10 percent of my stuff. It’s not my stuff; it’s all his stuff. Everything belongs to the Lord. You know what? These are the Lord’s. Thanks, Lord. We’re all glad I’m wearing pants. Yay!
But it’s really practical. It’s really practical. You’re like, “My days belong to the Lord. My time belongs to the Lord.” If you have a family, your family belongs to the Lord. You get in the car to drive away from this meeting. That car belongs to the Lord. Everything belongs to the Lord, and what it compels then is an attitude of gratitude. “Hey, thanks! Thanks!”
Some of you are like, “I have a very hard time praying. Life is very hard.” Look, assume you deserve hell and that nothing you have is yours and it all belongs to Jesus, and immediately, you’ll start finding reasons to be thankful. “I’m not on fire, yay! Thanks, Jesus!”
Number three, everything I have is a gift. All right, Paul says to the Corinthians, you know, “What do you have that wasn’t given to you from Jesus?” It’s all a gift. It’s all a gift. When’s the last time you just sat down, carved out a few hours, maybe even got a pen and a pad of paper—for you kids, this is what we used to use. But without the distraction of your technology, and just put this question at the top: “What has Jesus given me?” And then start writing. Wow. You could spend the rest of eternity writing.
I’ll give you some examples. How many of you say this is a pretty good planet? Compared to the options, I like this planet. Early in the Bible, it tells us who made the planet. And he gave it to us as a gift. Wow, thanks for the planet.
See, right now you’re breathing air. Do you know who made air? God did and gave it to you as a gift. Oh, and it’s going through your lungs. Hmm, he made those, too. You’re listening to this sermon—thank you for doing that—in the body that God made for you, with the ears that God designed for you, being filtered through the brain that God has entrusted to you. I mean, if we just stop presuming on God’s grace and stop to remember God’s grace, it’s really life-changing.
It’s amazing because sometimes people don’t sense that or experience that until they’re on the precipice of losing their life. You ever talk to somebody who thought they were going to die and then they didn’t? They’re like, “Oh, everything tastes better. Everything is better. I’m more grateful, I’m more thankful, I’m more appreciative, I’m more—” Yeah, because the sense of entitlement is gone, the sense of presumption is gone, and the sense of awe, wonder, and gratitude has come. Christians should always live, to some degree, in that state—that it’s all a gift.
I mean, my kids are a gift. I can tell you this. I kiss my kids on the head a lot. Like, if they ever have a bald spot right here, it’s because of me. And my kids will tell you all the time, I kiss them on the head and I tell them, “Thank you for being my blessing. Thank you for being a gift.” They are a gift. I want them to know, “You’re my gift.”
The people in your life are a gift. The opportunities in your life are a gift. The possessions in your life are a gift. The resources in your life are a gift. The days in your life—they’re a gift. And the greatest gift of all is salvation. I mean, you need to know this. Every other religion, you’ve got to pay for it. You’ve got to pay for it. You’ve got to reincarnate and pay God back for all this stuff you did. You’ve got to suffer. Or you’ve got to do a good deed every time you do a bad deed. Or you’ve got to go to purgatory and pay it back.
Jesus just gives. He gives his righteousness, he gives his holiness, he gives his love, his grace, his mercy, and his forgiveness. He goes to the cross, he gives his body, he gives his blood. He gives it all. He gives. Everything you have spiritually is a gift. Everything we have physically is a gift. Everything we have relationally—it’s a gift.
So, number four, if I belong to the Lord, and everything I have belongs to the Lord, and everything I have is a gift from the Lord, then I am a steward of the Lord. “Lord, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to help them? Great, because you help me. Oh, you want me to be generous with them? Great, because you’re generous with me.” “You want to help me so I can help them? That’s great, what a deal! You’ve alleviated burdens for me, Lord Jesus. You want me to go alleviate a burden for them? I can do that. That’d be great.” And a steward recognizes and realizes that if it’s Jesus’ stuff, he ultimately gets to decide what I do with it.
Friends, I don’t care if you’re rich or poor. I care if you’re godly or ungodly. I grew up seeing, in my parents—my parents were poor, working-class poor, and they were generous—being generous people. I can still remember as a little boy, there were a lot of kids in our neighborhood who didn’t have a dad. In fact, I don’t remember any other kid having a dad except for me. And so the moms would go to work, and the kids would get in trouble because they’re all by themselves, right? That’s what boys do. And so then, my folks decided, “We’re going to set up our house so that all the kids can come to our house to help keep them out of trouble.” So, we put up a batting cage—we played Wiffle ball. We were, again, not a rich family, but we were a generous family.
Particularly, my mom had a heart for all the kids in the neighborhood. It was really quite beautiful. The kids would come over, and we weren’t a rich family, but she would cook lots of food, knowing that there’s going to be extra kids who don’t have any food. We fed the neighborhood all the time, pretty much every day.
When we’d go to Sears Surplus to buy coats—in the winter, you got one winter coat and you go to Sears Surplus because it’s the cheapest place to buy a coat. We’d find the sale rack and get the coats, and then my mom would buy a few extra coats. And I’d always be like, “Mom, why are you buying extra coats?” She’s like, “Because there’s always kids in the neighborhood who come over to the house during the winter and they don’t have a coat, and we’re going to give them a coat.”
My dad always coached Little League, again, because he was probably the only dad. And during the off-season, we’d go to Goodwill, or we’d go to St. Vincent de Paul, or we’d go to secondhand stores any time we’re driving by. We’d pull over in his truck, his work truck. “Marky, we got to run in.” “What do we got to run in for?” “We’ve got to see if they got any ball gloves.” We’d go in and buy all the old baseball gloves for a couple bucks because we were poor. “Dad, why do we have to buy all these baseball gloves?” “Mark, you know, when the season rolls around, there’s a bunch of kids that show up and they don’t have a glove, so we need to have a lot of gloves and let them pick a glove.”
I’m really glad for the generosity of my folks and that I got to see that. I got to see my folks when they didn’t have money to pay the rent, take money to help somebody else pay their rent. There was a spirit of generosity and sharing that lived in my parents that I praised God for.
I saw it first in my Grandpa George, my mom’s dad. He was working-class poor. He was a diesel mechanic, and then he got poisoned working at a feed plant from all the chemicals, so he died when I was 10. And I loved him with all my heart. And I remember I’d stay at his house—and I’ve probably told you the stories, but we—well, Grandma tried to make us eat tomato soup, but we didn’t really go for that, so instead, we would eat caramel apples. And he was a big guy too, so he ate a lot of caramel apples. And we’d watch wrestling, and we’d work in the garage, and we’d make stuff out of wood.
He lived in sort of a cul-de-sac, and then in the summers when I’d be over at his house, the ice cream man would come. “Ding ding ding ding ding ding,” play all the music. And all the kids in the neighborhood would run to the ice cream truck, and my grandpa would come out and pay for ice cream for everybody, all the time. OK, my grandpa was not a wealthy man, but I remember being so glad that he was my grandpa. Because these kids, a lot of them, are latchkey kids, they didn’t have a dad. You know, it’s not a rich neighborhood, they don’t have extra money, they’re not going to be able to afford the ice cream man. But somehow, Grandpa George factored into his budget ice cream for the kids, and that was a big priority for him. And I remember the ice cream man would come and all the kids would just run, because it’s free ice cream, right? And if you’re in a poor neighborhood and the kids know it’s free ice cream, it’s on, right? Like, that guy’s going to get looted in the ice cream truck. He’s going to be swarmed.
I remember, then my Grandpa George would walk out—and I remember walking. I remember intentionally, as a little boy, walking behind my Grandpa George. I wanted to see the ice cream truck, all the happy kids, and I wanted to see my grandpa, and the joy that he had going to pay for the ice cream. And the look on his face, it was invaluable. It told me everything I needed to know about my Grandpa George. He was generous. He was a giver.
That’s the heart of God. And I don’t care if you’re rich or you’re poor. I could give you stories of some of the richest people I know, and they are some of the most generous people I’ve ever known. I’ve actually been out in public in a coffee shop with a really rich person who was talking to somebody in line who was struggling with medical issues with their child, and volunteered to pay for it after a few-minute conversation in line at a coffee shop. I mean, who does that? God’s people do that if they have God’s heart.
I don’t care if you’re rich, I don’t care if you’re poor, I care if you’re godly or ungodly. And that’s what a steward understands. A steward understands, “It’s Jesus’ stuff and he’s given to me generously. And some of it I get to use, spend, and enjoy, and some of it I get to lavish on my family”—because generosity should not overlook your family. That’s what religious people tend to do. We give to everybody while we don’t take care of our own. No, no, no, (1) your family, (2) the family of God, and (3) others. And this is the heart of a steward.
This is why James is so angry, and he’s so frustrated. Because what he has is, he has godly, poor people who are generous stewards, and they’re good givers, and then he’s got ungodly, rich people who are thinking like owners and not stewards, and they’re takers, and they’re not givers, and they’re stealing and defrauding, and he sees the injustice in it all. The anecdote to hoarding and defrauding is giving. It neutralizes it. It disarms it. It defeats it.
See, Jesus came into the world and he conquered Satan, sin, death, hell, and the wrath of God by giving. That’s how he did it. And let me be careful. Usually at this point, a horrific theological error is made, and it is, “Give to get a blessing.” Have you heard that? Give to get a blessing. Here’s what I’m saying: “Give to be a blessing.” Give to be a blessing. God gives, and God’s blessed by his giving, and God is joyful in his giving. That’s why the Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver. God is a cheerful giver. You don’t give to get a blessing; you give to be a blessing.
How many of you, in a moment of generosity, have done something generous for somebody, and you didn’t need anything. Just the ability to do that was such a joy; it was such a delight. Your heart welled. You’re like, “That just felt right.” You know why? Because that’s the heart of God. I just wish—I wish I could show you the face of my Grandpa George as he took the money out of the wallet in his overalls and paid for the ice cream for all the kids.
You know what he didn’t need to hear? A prosperity sermon. “That $27.50, God’ll return it a hundredfold. That’s going to be a lot more loot. You’ll add your—” That’s wrong. You don’t give to get a blessing; you give to be a blessing. And the blessing is seeing other people blessed. God gives generously, lavishly. God enjoys giving. God loves giving and his joy is in being a blessing. And then when he saves us and he entrusts to us as stewards, as we get an opportunity to give generously, it’s not giving to get, it’s getting to give. And I’m jealous for you.
I’m not saying I’ve nailed this. I certainly didn’t begin with this. When I first married Grace, her family was generous in their giving to the Lord. Her dad had been a pastor. He was a pastor for more than 40 years and died just over a year ago, and I got to preach his funeral. But they gave to the Lord, and they gave to others, and they were a generous family. And one of my wife’s spiritual gifts is giving. You can’t hang out with us and not leave with something. That’s just the rule.
I mean, she loves to give. I remember when we were first married and broke, she’s like, “Well, how much are we going to give to the Lord?” “Uh, we’re in college, and married. And the Lord—the Bible says he owns a cattle on 1,000 hills. He’ll slaughter one and figure it out, but we’ve got no cows.” She’s like, “No, we’ve got to give. “We’ve got to give to the Lord, and we’ve got to give to the Lord first, and then we’ve got to give to those in need.” Give to those in need? Hey, we are those in need.
There’s broke, and then there’s college broke. We’re college broke, right? We’re living in a $250 a month basement apartment that includes utilities. I’m driving a vehicle that has enough miles that I could have driven to Jesus, right? We are not—whatever economic ladder there is, we’re at the bottom just holding on to the rung. Like, we’re not at the top. “No, we need to give. We need to give the Lord. “We need to give to those in need. We need to give, we need to give, we need to give.” You’re right. I didn’t know that. I didn’t understand that. I’ll be honest with you. For a while, I didn’t agree with that.
But boy, as you learn to give—I mean, here’s what breaks my heart in James: he says there are people that have a pile of clothes that moths are eating, and they’re missing out on the opportunity to go give somebody the clothes and say, “You need clothes? I’ve got clothes.”
What a wasted opportunity for joy. They’ve got a pile of gold and silver. It’s rotting. I mean, it’s corroding. They don’t even need it. They’re never going to use it, and they can’t just go out and even pay the laborer who’s worked hard, faithfully, during the harvest season. I don’t know if you caught that in the text. This is when everything’s going really good in the business. It’s not, “Are rich or poor?” but “Are you ungodly or godly?” This’ll be controversial, unlike anything I’ve ever said, but let’s throw it out there: I think it’d be great if many of you could start a business and grow a company. That’d be great.
See, the reason that I’m in this country is there was a famine in Ireland, and my relatives were starving to death, and boarded a coffin ship, and ended up in America trying to survive. So, I’m not against starting a company, feeding your family, handing something off to the next generation, because Proverbs says, “A wise man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children.” That’s actually a really good idea.
If you’ll obey the teaching of the Bible, you’ll actually stay out of some economic difficulty that comes with drunkenness, gambling, and divorce. I’m not saying all divorce is a sin, but there are certain things that are really expensive and hard to recover from. And if you followed the teaching of the Bible, by God’s grace, you’ll avoid some things that are just very expensive. This could set you up to be just in a better, healthier position, like some of those first-generation immigrant families that worked by some of these very clear principles in my neighborhood growing up. And there may be an opportunity for you to start a business.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could feed your family? Wouldn’t it be great if we could give to the Lord, give to the poor, help others, and be generous? Wouldn’t it be great if you could employ people? And if you do, don’t do James 5. Don’t do James 5. Pay them what they’re worth. If you’ve got outstanding debts to your suppliers or your salespeople, make good on your obligations. Don’t go into every business negotiation thinking, “You know, legally, they can’t really defend themselves, so this is an opportunity to exploit them,” because God doesn’t do that with us. God doesn’t meet with us and say, “You know what, you’re guilty according to the law. I could absolutely crush you under the weight of the law, therefore I will.” Instead he says, “You know what? I’m going to give you grace and mercy, and I’m going to treat you with love and dignity.”
Mars Hill, you have no idea how many businesses are going to start in this church, how many businesses have started in this church. Some of them are going to be small mom-and-pop, some of them are going to succeed, some of them are going to fail, but let me just tell you this: with the talent pool that we have, some gifted people, some educated people, some people who are getting their lives together, people who are networking, all of a sudden, are able to work together vocationally and professionally. It’s a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate generosity. And I would just encourage you not to lack ambition but to commingle with that ambition godliness so that you’re not just thinking of it as your business but his business, and not just how this benefits you, but how it benefits your family, and your legacy, other people, their families, the community, the poor, those in need. Does this make sense? And giving transforms us. It reveals to us the gracious, generous, giving heart of God.
And I was thinking about it—I’ve read a lot of systematic theology over the years and they usually start somewhere near the front with the attributes of God, and I don’t remember seeing generosity, but it is an attribute of God. It’s an exceedingly important attribute of God, one that we’ve all benefited from, amen? And if God is generous with us, we want to be generous with others. I don’t care how much you make, but God cares what you do with it, OK?
Now, that being said, at this point, we’re going to respond, and that’s worship. We’re going to collect our tithes and offerings. As we’re collecting those, I want to thank you. We set a goal at the beginning of James—because James says to care for widows, orphans, and those in need—of sponsoring 500 children in Ethiopia where we sponsor a lot of church planters as well. Pastor Sutton told me today that we’re almost at 1,200 children sponsored and still a couple weeks to go in James, and so I just want to say thank you. I want to say thank you. It’s good to give. It’s good to give, and the Bible says it’s more blessed to give than receive, and you feel that.
In a moment, we’re going to partake of Communion, remembering the gift that Jesus gave, right? God became a man, that he lived without sin, that he gave his body and he gave his blood, shown forth in the bread and in the wine. And he gives himself to us. God so loved the world he gave us his only begotten Son. And if you’ve not received Jesus, you need to receive Jesus. You don’t come to God with stuff in your hands to give him anything. You come to God empty-handed to receive Jesus. That’s where it all starts. That’s where it all starts.
Then I want you to be in a Community Group, and Community Groups are where we do life together as God’s people, and we’re all a mess, and a wreck, and a work in progress. So, if you’re a total disaster, you’ll fit right in, and we welcome you into a Community Group, OK? And this is where we talk about what the Scriptures say in our life and what God has for us.
So in your Community Group this week, I want you to kick around these questions: What type of family did you grow up in—godly poor, godly rich, ungodly poor, ungodly rich? OK, what kind of family did you grow up in? This will help you get to know one another in your background a little bit.
Number two, what examples have you seen of godly rich and poor? Encourage one another, set forth examples of people about whom you say, “That’s the kind of person by God’s grace I’d like to be.”
And number three, what does godly stewardship look like for you? Has anything been laid on your heart by the Lord? Has anyone been laid on your heart by the Lord? It’s a wonderful opportunity that God has given you, then, to become more like God with a heart of love and generosity, where you stop loving money and using people and you start using money to love people.
Father, thanks that I get to teach the Bible at Mars Hill Church. I love it. I enjoy it. Lord, thank you for the incredible clarity of James. And Lord Jesus, thank you for giving, giving us God. I just—that’s just mind-blowing. We’ve been given God. That’s unbelievable, that’s unimaginable, that’s unfathomable. God, thank you for giving us your Son. And as we come to respond in Communion, thank you Lord Jesus for giving your body and your blood on the cross. Thank you for rising from death. Thank you for being alive right now.
Lord Jesus, as you’re seated on your throne, you’re still giving. You’re giving new life and salvation. You’re giving generously, gladly, continually, and unreservedly. And help us to receive, Lord Jesus, all that you have for us and to be good stewards of everything you’ve entrusted to us. And we ask for this grace in your good name, amen.
Note: This sermon has been edited for readability.