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The Book of James
Read for This Week's Study: James 5:1-6, Ps. 73:3-19, 1 Sam. 25:2-11, Lev. 19:13, Luke 16:19-31, Matt. 5:39.
For where your treasure is, there will
your heart be also (Matthew
The worldwide popularity of the
Wants to Be a Millionaire? suggests that many people
vicariously enjoy the rags-to-riches fantasy and probably hope it could
happen to them someday.
But wealth isn't all that many believe it to be. Studies suggest that increasing income follows the law of diminishing returns: beyond allowing people to live comfortably, more possessions do not buy more happiness. Meaningful relationships, job satisfaction, and a purposeful life usually make a greater contribution to one's happiness than does wealth. The best things are freely given, such as loving words, a smile, a listening ear, simple kindnesses, acceptance, respect, a sympathetic touch, and genuine friendship.
Even more precious are the gifts given by God: faith, hope, wisdom, patience, love, contentment, and many other blessings that come through His Spirit's presence in our lives. The irony is that, while many Christians would agree with these sentiments, their daily living suggests that selfishness often has the upper hand. As we'll see this week, greed is a big mistake, one fraught with horrendous consequences.
*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 6.
Sunday November 30
Chapter 5 of James begins with
Come now, you
rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!
5:1, NKJV). No
doubt, that would have gotten his readers'
1:10-11, he reminded the rich of the
wealth. Here, in chapter 5
, he urges those who stubbornly hold on to it
weep and howl. It is as if their impending
judgment is even now being poured out. The vivid description continues
throughout our passage for this week, bringing to mind the divine
retribution for the wicked excess that characterizes the period just
prior to Christ's return (see Luke
Tim. 3:1-2; Rev.
18:3, 7). A similar attitude
permeates God's last-day church (Rev.
Interestingly, the Greek word translated as
5:1 comes from the same root used to describe
There is so much injustice in the world, especially economic injustice. Sometimes it is so hard to understand why some people get rich exploiting the poor and, worse, why they seem to get away with it! Read Psalm 73:3-19. What hope is found in these verses regarding this perennial problem?
Throughout the books of the Old Testament prophets, we find a concern for justice and the promise that God will act to set things right. But this persistent and settled sense of hope did not seem to make the uncomfortable and perplexing period of waiting for God's intervention any easier. For instance, writing at a time of widespread apostasy among God's people, when Babylon, swelling with pride, celebrated its power and prosperity, the prophet Habakkuk peppered God with pointed questions (see Hab. 1:2-4, 13-14). God's short answer was to trust in Him and wait a little longer (Hab. 2:2-4). And the prophet did just that (see Hab. 3:17-18).
What injustices cause you to simmer and burn inside with anger and outrage? (And there is so much more going on that you don't even know about!) Though, of course, we should do what we can to alleviate injustice, how can we learn to rest in the promise that, somehow, when it's all over, God's justice will be done?
Monday December 1
Read James 5:2-3. What warning is James giving here? Though his words are quite strong, what kind of wealth is he talking about? What's the basic message?
Rotting wealth, moth-eaten clothing, and even silver and gold rusting-these are images for us to consider soberly as our planet spins blissfully on, faster and faster toward its demise.
The world's economic situation always seems to be going from
one crisis to another; even the
good times, when
they come, rarely last and are always followed by a downturn. Any
semblance of economic stability and tranquility that the global
marketplace might offer is fleeting and largely imaginary. Discontent
and instability grows as the disparity between rich and poor widens.
Such was the situation when James wrote that the poor were growing
increasingly desperate and the rich more intolerant of the plight of
Consider the following individuals and describe the effect wealth (or the lack of it) had on them:
Sooner or later, worldly wealth loses its luster for all of us. We learn its limitations and maybe even its dark side. Money has its place; the problem is when people put it in the wrong place.
James says money will be
a witness against
those who misuse it (James
Though he gives this warning in an
end-time context, the point should be clear: how we use our money
matters. The image of flesh-consuming fire is meant to wake us up to
the seriousness of the choices we are making with our money. Are we
heaping up treasure that will ultimately be burned up, or are we saving
for eternity? (See Luke
Think carefully about your attitude toward money and how it affects your relationships. What does this say about how you are using it?
Tuesday December 2
Reading through James, we may notice that several different
categories of wealthy people are mentioned, including rich merchants
who will be cut down in the midst of their pursuits (James
business people who sue to protect their investments (James
agricultural landholders who have withheld wages from their laborers
5:4). These verses
describe the rich negatively based on their
past behavior, present attitude, and future punishment. These people
heaped up treasure (James
5:3, NKJV) at the expense of the
Behold, the pay of
who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out
5:4, NASB). Compare
What important principle is seen here, not just in the immediate
contexts but in general in regard to how we deal with others?
In Israel in Bible times, as soon as wages were paid, many if not most of the workers used these earnings to buy food to feed their families. Withholding wages often meant the family had to go hungry. Thus, it was a serious matter that James was addressing here.
No wonder, then, that James spoke so strongly against those who held back wages from those who worked for them. It's bad enough to defraud anyone of anything, but for someone already rich to hoard wealth by stealing from the poor is a sin, not just against the poor but a sin against heaven itself. And, as James writes, it will be dealt with in due time!
Riches bring with them great responsibilities. To
obtain wealth by unjust dealing, by overreaching in trade, by
oppressing the widow and the fatherless, or by hoarding up riches and
neglecting the wants of the needy, will eventually bring the just
retribution described by the inspired apostle: -Ellen
G. White, Testimonies for the Church,
vol. 2, p. 682.
Go to now, ye
rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
What are your dealings with others when it comes to money? What do those dealings say about your Christianity and about how much you reflect the character of Christ?
Wednesday December 3
You have lived on the earth in
luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of
What do these passages link to luxurious indulgence?
In the ancient world the notion prevailed that there was a
fixed amount of wealth, meaning that if the wealth of some people
increased, the wealth of others had to decrease. In other words, the
rich can get richer only by making the poor poorer.
wealth without adversely affecting the wealth of others, however, seems
to be a relatively modern idea. Some even argue that, as the rich get
richer, they can help make the poor richer too. On the other hand,
considering the competition among developed and developing nations for
increasingly scarcer resources, the limitations of wealth creation can
seem more pressing. Hence, the issue of wealth inequality still rages
One of the most famous stories of Jesus dealing with issues of
inequality is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (see Luke
16:19-31). At the time of Jesus,
most people were lucky to
garments instead of just one, and happy if they feasted once a year. By
contrast, the rich man in the story
was clothed in purple and
fine linen (the most expensive kind of garments)
who feasted sumptuously every day (vs. 19, ESV). Poor
Lazarus, despite being carried to the gate of the rich man's house, had
to beg for the few crumbs he received.
Contrary to popular opinion, the real focus of the parable is this
life, not the afterlife. In fact, the original Greek makes no
all. Both the rich man and Lazarus are depicted in the same
place (vs. 23)-the grave (hades).
separating them symbolizes the fact that after a person dies, his or
her eternal destiny is fixed. Therefore, how we treat people in this
life (as described in
Moses and the prophets,
29, 31, NKJV)
is extremely important. There is no future life in
which we can make up for what we failed to do in this one:
who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God
whom he has not seen? (1
John 4:20, NKJV).
What regretful things have you done
that, though you might be able to
make up for them
now, you won't be able to make up for them later?
Thursday December 4
When someone has done wrong, the natural tendency is to try to
escape responsibility. Often people try to do this by transferring the
responsibility to someone else-including the person who has been
wronged. Murderers excuse themselves by pleading self-defense or
blaming their upbringing. By saying they were enticed, sexual abusers
blame the victim. Husbands and wives who get divorced typically blame
the other for the failed marriage. Those guilty of killing the martyrs
of the Christian faith blamed the martyrs by accusing them of heresy.
Indeed, Jesus warned His disciples that
is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service
In light of this, the words in James 5:6 carry even more weight:
Ye have condemned
and killed the
just; and he doth not resist you. How many times have you
condemned others only to realize later that you were really the one who
was wrong? Think especially about the last phrase of this verse. Does
this mean that we should just let people walk all over us? On the other
hand, how many quarrels have you had that would never have happened if
you had put up no resistance? What does Jesus mean by
the other cheek? (Matt.
How are we on a practical
level to do this (or is the problem that we want to be
about something that, in and of itself, isn't really supposed to be
As we have seen, James has quite a bit to say about the rich
and the poor. It should be kept in mind, though, that James never
condemns the rich simply because they are rich. It is their attitudes
and actions that matter to God. Similarly, the bare fact of
being economically poor does not in itself endear a person to God. It
poor in spirit and
in faith who will be
the kingdom (Matt.
2:5, NKJV). These inner
qualities may have no relation to our particular economic
circumstances. But then again, they may. Those who are
and increased with goods (Rev.
3:17) may be more needy
spiritually than they think. God warned Israel to beware lest after
they entered the land and became prosperous they should forget that all
the good things they enjoyed came from Him, including the
to get wealth (Deut.
Friday December 5Further Study: "Money has great value, because it can do great good. In the hands of God's children it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, and clothing for the naked. It is a defense for the oppressed, and a means of help to the sick. But money is of no more value than sand, only as it is put to use in providing for the necessities of life, in blessing others, and advancing the cause of Christ.
"Hoarded wealth is not merely useless, it is a curse. In this life it is a snare to the soul, drawing the affections away from the heavenly treasure. . . .
He who realizes that his money is a talent
from God will use it economically, and will feel it a duty to save that
he may give.-Ellen G. White, Christ's
Object Lessons, pp. 351, 352.
The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender(Prov. 22:7, ESV). "Many poor families are poor because they spend their money as soon as they receive it. . . .
When one becomes involved in debt, he is in one of Satan's nets, which he sets for souls.-Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, p. 392. Is helping people to get out of debt or to avoid getting into debt a part of
preach[ing] the gospel to the poor? (Luke 4:18). Why, or why not?
Joel Sandoval grew up in an Adventist home, but his life was not transformed by God's grace. As a teen he resented the restrictions that the church represented. At age 15 he dropped out of church and joined a gang. He quickly became involved in organized crime, drugs, and spiritism. He had his body tattooed with symbols of the devil and began smoking marijuana. Soon he moved to hard drugs, such as cocaine.
Joel's parents allowed him to live at home, hoping that he would see the error of his ways. But when he was high on drugs, he often destroyed things in the house and terrified his mother. When the drugs wore off, Joel became depressed. One time he even tried to commit suicide. In spite of his parents' constant prayers and offers of help, Joel was convinced that no one loved him.
He made fun of his parents and others who invited him to church. Joel hated them for what they stood for; he hated the church; he hated God. In spite of his abuse, his parents and church members continued to pray for him and remind him of God's unfailing love. His mother was convinced that someday he would return to God and the church.
One night Joel was supposed to join his gang in a battle with another gang. A voice seemed to warn him to not go out that night. He remained home. Later he learned that his best friend had been killed during the fight. Joel realized that the warning voice he had heard was the voice of God. It had saved his life.
As he thought about the past few months, Joel realized that God had been speaking to him, telling him that the life he was leading was wrong. He began to cry, for he saw no way out of his drug-infested life. He began attending church again, but when members welcomed him, he thought they were staring at him. He felt like an outsider and stopped attending.
Joel decided to leave the country. When he told his mother, she cried. Before he left she pressed a small book into his hand. "Please, take this," she begged. It was a New Testament. And in spite of his feelings about religion, Joel asked her to pray for him.
Joel and five other young men left Honduras, heading for Mexico. They passed through Guatemala and crossed into Mexico. But early one morning they found themselves surrounded by an angry mob who were brandishing knives and guns. The youth realized that these men intended to kill them. The previous day someone had stolen merchandise from a local business, and the mob was convinced that the six youths were the thieves. Spewing death threats, the locals locked the youth in a house, then circled the house with their guns and knives in hand.
Frightened, the boys watched as the locals prepared a noose to hang them. Some swore; others sobbed. Joel thought about how he had disappointed his family and God. He pulled out the New Testament that his mother had given him and began reading.
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