(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

This passage is not a great comfort except to those folk who are longing for the materially rich to get their come uppance. It is easy to exclude ourselves from the class James condemns because we do not reckon to be wealthy. I think it is possible to be rich in many ways and whatever the way there is danger involved.

(B) A bitter irony. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. v3.

There seem to be several ironical remarks in the passage. First of all gold and silver do not rust. They are imperishable metals. James tells us that in the last days even these highly stable, precious metals will be worthless - as though corroded clean through with rust. The knowledge of their worthlessness will be a torment at the Judgment. This is probably the meaning of: Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. Professor William Barclay paraphrases, You have hoarded wealth in the last days: It is a treasure indeed that you amassed for yourselves in the last days!

James is so contemptuous of the wealthy because:
(1) The things we set such store on in this life may be the very things that condemn us in the next. Some people are inordinately gratified by their substantial investments. They give more pleasure than all else. God will want to know why the rich man has not expended more of his assets on the poor and hungry.

(2) What makes us rich in this life makes us poor in the next. A man or woman might enjoy one success after another. Success can spoil us. Think how it spoiled David, Solomon and Hezekiah. These were three of Judah's better kings! At the end of his life Hezekiah received visitors from Babylon. He was so proud of his treasure that he showed it all to the emissaries from a distant land. It was a very foolish thing to do. Isaiah told him: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. 2Kings20v17.

Failure can be good for us. It tests our character and resolve and it keeps us humble. One of the good things about playing cricket is that you are never successful for long. Oh the bitter disappointment of being dismissed first ball for nought! It kept me from getting too cocky!

(3) The things by which we value ourselves are frequently worthless in God's eyes. There are some Christians with great reputations as preachers, evangelists and teachers. They reap the benefits by being much sort after for conferences, seminars, conventions and rallies. There is a danger in it! The Pharisees loved the best seats at feasts and the greetings of admirers in the market place. Jesus said of the Pharisees who prayed on street corners to be seen of men: I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. Mt6v2. How awful if Jesus should say that of us! How tragic if our reward at the end of the day is but the plaudits and adulation we received in this life.

(C) A series of searching tests.

Is there anything you:

(1) Hoard?
James condemns those who hoarded wealth in the last days. What is it that we do not like sharing or giving away? It may be money, success, responsibility, power, authority, time or the limelight. I am afraid some pastors do not like to share their pulpits! They are not happy about a member, who may be the better preacher, making a contribution to the teaching ministry. Such men are like Diotrephes, who loved to be first. See 3Johnv9.

Some folk hoard their time. They are not prepared to give their precious time to do mundane jobs for Christ's sake. It is remarkable how Christians with a reputation for holiness are not especially good at listening to the rather tedious conversation of the dull and boring. My mother visited the elderly almost every day of the week. She listened to the same old stories over and over and over again. My mother found it trying but she never showed it. She was generous with her time.

When I was a young and energetic teacher I used to take part in the school pantomime. While rehearsing 'Cinderella' a fight nearly broke out between the ugly sisters. One was trying to upstage the other. They both wanted to be in the limelight. In church circles there are those who love to be the centre of attention. It is not something they would ever give away.

(2) Cheat for?
James castigated the rich landowners who refused to pay the wages of the labourers who mowed and harvested their fields. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. v4. They cheated the poor out of what was rightfully theirs.

Many churches get a ministry on the cheap. They do not adequately reward their pastors. It is a sad reflection of the value put on spiritual welfare in England that clergyman are paid less than any other professional. There are a not inconsiderable number that attend church who think they should be paid for listening to a sermon!

We cheat whenever talent goes unrecognised or faithful service is unacknowledged, unappreciated and unrewarded. It is a terrible thing to take the credit that belongs to someone else or to withhold credit from an individual who has earned it.

(3) Can't get enough of?
James makes the accusation: You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. v5. I am afraid much the same could be said of many who live in the West today. Chronic over eating and wastage of food is endemic in the U.S.A.. I have watched people at functions where food is free piling their plates with far more than they can possibly eat. The consumption of petroleum in W. Europe and the States is scandalously high considering it is a finite resource. Many well-to-do middle class environmentalists argue that something should be done about global warming without themselves being willing to forfeit their holiday abroad. Increasing numbers in Britain fly to a holiday destination two or three times a year with all the consumption of fuel that entails. We are incredibly rich in the Developed World and flagrantly self-indulgent. The rich practise no restraint - they do just as they wish.

There are other things men and women cannot get enough of - success, glory and adulation. The latter is particularly addictive as Kings Nebuchadnezzar, Darius and Xerxes showed. King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, set it up on the plain of Dura and demanded all the officials of his kingdom to bow down and worship it when the orchestra struck up. It was announced by the herald as: the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. The ruler of Babylon was not best pleased with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they refused to worship the golden idol. He was furious with them and had the three courageous Israelites thrown into the blazing furnace.

(4) Grab - or would if you could?
James says the rich are little better than soldiers looting and pillaging as opportunity arises. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. v5. Soldiers in war are notoriously lawless and opportunistic.

You have heard the ugly expression, "I'll have some of that." When is it used? Men grab at easy money, free sex and illicit romance. King David was guilty of this. He was rich. David had several wives and concubines. There was no shortage of sex in his life. He, unlike some of us, was hardly sexually frustrated! The seductive Bathsheeba was ripe for the taking and David took her. It was a dreadful act - far worse than some highly sexed, unloved teenager indulging in soft porn. It was a truly awful act. David, the rich man, took for his own gratification the poor man's one, little, ewe lamb. It still happens! I read recently of a very well known, highly successful and glamorous actress going to any lengths to get her man in spite of the fact that he was married. She did exactly what David did. The Lord, the God of Israel said to David, "I gave you so much. I would have give you even more. Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes?" 2Sam12v9.

(5) You would kill for?
The final indictment of the rich was: You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

King Ahab murdered Naboth for greed. He wanted Naboth's vineyard to extend his palace garden but the Jezreelite would not sell. So Jezebel with the connivance of her husband engineered Naboth's death. King David had Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheeba's husband, killed to preserve his reputation. The Jewish authorities rushed Stephen to his death to uphold their authority.

It hardly needs saying that thousands of lives have been sacrificed during the last 200 years to profit. Working conditions in Britain only slowly improved thanks to the efforts of philanthropists and the unions. Often bitter battles were fought to improve safety at work.

We may not be guilty of killing a man physically but there are other things we can put to death. We might we willing to destroy a person's reputation to preserve our own. We can suppress freedom of expression to maintain our authority. The Roman Catholic hierarchy did this in the time of Galileo when they prohibited laymen from pronouncing on doctrine. The trustees of religious magazines do this when they prevent the publication of articles that question the received wisdom of an intolerant faction.

(D) A wasted opportunity.

The silver and gold of the wealthy was finally useless - Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. v2.

This is a terrible shame because we can do so much good when we share what God has given us. Very often the benefit to others is out of all proportion to the cost to our selves. One sunny afternoon I was coming home from work along a country lane in the depths of mid-Suffolk. I was half a sleep after a tiring day at school when an elderly cleric came into view. He was standing by his motorcar frantically waving a can in the air. I gave him a bit of my time - driving him to a filling station and then back to his car. It didn't make much difference to me but it made a deal of difference to him!

Whenever I come across an example of great generosity it warms my heart. On Friday, January 28th, I read an article in the Daily Telegraph about Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Great inventions often have many authors but the creation of the World Wide Web is generally accepted - if not entirely by the man himself - to have been the achievement of Sir Tim alone. As Time magazine put it in its list of the 20th century's 100 most important people: 'He designed it. He loosed it on the world. And he more than anyone else has fought to keep it open, non-proprietary and free.'

Instead of patenting his invention, Sir Tim - who has always been determined to keep the web from falling into private hands - made it freely available to all. And, as director of the World Wide Web consortium, he continues to work towards the web's advancement rather than his own.

This morning, Saturday February 5th 2005, I read in my favourite daily newspaper the obituary of Max Schmeling, former Heavy Weight Boxing Champion of the World. He is best known for his epic contests with the legendary Joe Louis the first of which he won. The 'Brown Bomber' battered Schmeling to defeat in the second of their two fights. The solitary line in the obituary which moved me to tears was: In 1981 he (Schmeling) paid for Joe Louis's funeral.

The reason stories of extraordinary generosity move us so much is because we are made in God's image and although tarnished sometimes that image shines through.

I cannot do better than finish with an anecdote told by Warren W. Wiersbe in, 'Be Mature.'

What we keep we lose. A famous preacher, known for his long sermons, was asked to give the annual 'charity sermon' for the poor. It was suggested that if he preached too long, the congregation might not give as much as they should.

The preacher read his text from Proverbs19v17 - He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will He pay him again.' His sermon indeed was brief: 'If you like the terms, then put down your money.'

Yes, money talks. What will it say to you at the last judgment?

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net