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Lesson 10: Weep and Howl! *

Introduction: A New York Times' best-selling book called "Drive" reports on what makes employees satisfied. It reveals that just paying employees more money is not the key to job satisfaction. Money is important, of course, but only to a certain point. Once an employee can live reasonably comfortably, then what becomes more important is the ability to be creative, to believe you are doing something worth-while, and to be given the freedom to make job decisions. Is this also true for the rest of life? Money is not the mainspring of happiness? James seems to have a bias against the rich. Let's dive into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn from James about wealth and happiness!

  1. Miserable Rich

    1. Would you rather be rich or poor? I suspect almost everyone answers, "rich." Let's read James 5:1. How would James answer the question I just asked? (It seems that he would agree with you - rich is better. James says that misery is coming to the rich, not that they are miserable now. It reminds me of James' prior comment ( James 1:10-11) where he says to the rich, "you will die soon." Both assume the rich are doing just fine now, but James says bad things are coming.)

    2. Read James 5:2-3. What, exactly, is the misery that will face the rich? (Astonishingly, James says that the misery ahead for the rich is that they will lose their wealth! The wealth of the rich is going to be corrupted. James seems to endorse the fact that having wealth is a blessing, because having it taken away from you causes misery.)

      1. Another New York Times' best-seller, "Nudge," is about structuring choices. It gives an interesting example about choice. Assume your employer told you that next year (2015)you could choose to have 30 days more vacation, or $10,000 more in salary. You take the $10,000, even though you would be equally content to take the 30 days. If the following year (2016) your employer decides to switch, and give you 30 days instead, you would now be very unhappy - even though you did not have a strong preference between the two. Nudge reports that people feel the loss of something they currently possess twice as much as if they never had it. What does that teach us about James' prediction that the rich will lose their money? (It really is cause to weep and wail.)

    3. Look again at James 5:3. Why would the "corrosion" of the gold and silver of the rich "testify" against them? (The allegation seems to be that they did not use their money for good purposes. "Corroded" indicates a lack of use.)

      1. What is James talking about when he says that they have hoarded wealth in the "last days?" His audience did not see the Second Coming of Jesus. What do you think James meant? (The commentators I consulted disagreed. It could be a prophetic statement about the rich just before the Second Coming of Jesus, or it could have been a statement about the soon-coming destruction of the Jewish nation. I vote for the second interpretation.)

      2. Let's assume I'm right, why would wealth "testify" against the rich and "eat their flesh like fire" because of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans? (The rich collected money to protect themselves, yet it could not protect them against the Romans. Thus, it testified that they placed their trust in the wrong thing.)

      3. Can you begin to see why James can correctly predict the coming misery of the rich? His statements do not come from personal bias.

      4. What do you think the rich should have been doing with their money?

  2. Honesty

    1. Read James 5:4. Those of you who follow my studies know about Deuteronomy 28 which says that following God brings riches, and disobeying God brings poverty. Sometimes we add Hebrews 11 to the picture because it says that life on earth is unpredictable for the faithful, some enjoy success and others suffer. Thus, James' theme that having wealth means you have a flawed character has to be reconciled with Deuteronomy 28 and Hebrews 11. What is the reason for James condemning the rich here? (The rich owner of the field did not pay his workmen their wages.)

      1. What does the reference to "crying out to the Lord" mean? (These workers believe in God and they have asked God for justice. This tells us that the rich being addressed here have cheated those employed by them.)

    2. Look again at James 5:4, do you think James' condemnation includes paying low wages, and not just no wages?

      1. If you said, "yes," how low is a sin?

      2. The AFL-CIO (a collection of American labor unions) has something called the "Executive Pay Watch." It lists the income of the managers of big companies. Since the AFL-CIO does not represent any of these managers, it is not bragging about what it has done for them. Rather, it is appealing to the covetousness of those workers who it does represent. I recall a church member who used to complain about the difference between what her husband earned (a well-compensated engineer) and the top manager of his company. Is that what James is condemning - that owners and managers make more than the workers?

      3. Let's consider Henry Ford. Henry Ford was an early automobile inventor. He used mass production to assemble cars that ordinary people could afford. How much was a man working on Ford's assembly line worth? Let's say each car sold brought $50 in profit, that fifty men worked on each car, and that the fifty men produced fifty cars a year. That would mean the maximum value to be paid to each of those fifty men was $50 a year, right?

        1. Would it be fair to pay all of the profits to the workers, and none to Henry Ford?

        2. What is the value of the man who invented that car, invented the production method, and built the plant? (Let's say a 50% split in the profits between Henry and the workers is fair. The individual worker now gets paid $25 a year. If you agree that a 50% split is fair for the person who created the car, the plant and the job, you can see that Henry would be making a lot more than the individual worker.)

          1. What if we drop Henry and say you invented something, invented an efficient way to manufacture it, and owned the plant and machinery for making it: would you agree to a 50% split in the profit with someone who did the assembly work?

          2. Is paying workers less than the owner the sin problem identified by James? (This discussion suggests that it is not sin.)

    3. Read James 5:5. "Fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter." That is an interesting phrase. What would it mean for cattle? (We want the cattle to be fat on the day of slaughter.)

      1. If that is correct, what would it mean for humans? (That being rich has made them a target when their nation was destroyed. The picture is that these rich people have made the wrong choices. They have cheated and alienated their workers, they have used money that belonged to others for their own self-indulgence. This made them a target when the nation begins to collapse.)

      2. The leading nations of the Western world carry an extraordinary debt load. This makes the possibility of economic collapse more likely. I know people who store food in case of disaster. However, they also store guns to protect their food against those who will be hungry because they have not prepared for disaster. What do you think about this? Is this like the rich who hoarded wealth and the Jewish nation collapsed?

    4. Read James 5:6. Is it okay to condemn and murder innocent men who are opposing you? (No. James tells us that these are outrageous cases. It is obviously wrong to condemn and murder innocent men. But, if you are killing innocent people who do not even oppose you, what excuse can you have? None. These rich murdered the innocent because they could.)

    5. Friend, what is James' message about wealth and happiness? James tells us that wealth is fleeting. Worse, the improper use of wealth and power results in a time of judgment. Is James describing you? If so, why not ask the Holy Spirit to guide your use of your wealth and power?

  3. Next week: Getting Ready for the Harvest.
* Copr. 2014, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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