Warning to the Wealthy

James 5.1-6

James has some strong words for the rich…those who have chosen to store up for themselves treasures on earth rather than treasure in heaven.

And while James’ warning certainly applies to many believers today who have bought in to the lie that “he who dies with the most toys wins”, it doesn’t have to apply to you. Money can be a tool for great good as well as great evil. It depends on how you use it. And it depends on Who or what you are trusting in. Am I trusting in the Lord or my stuff? Sounds kind of absurd that we would trust in our stuff…but does it really? That’s what building bigger barns is all about.

But if we see our stuff as simply a resource that God has provided for us as stewards (it’s all His, right?) to help others and invest in His kingdom, then our stuff…our riches can become a tool that God uses for great good.

Reminds me of the story of a guy named Zaccheus from Luke 19. Jesus is in the vicinity of Jericho headed for Jerusalem. The head of the Jericho tax cartel…the kingpin if you will…is a guy named Zaccheus. Chief tax collector. Worst of the worst. Hated and despised by everyone who fell victim to him…which was pretty much everyone. Kind of guy that would be hard for a mother to love. And like the rich young ruler, he was rich. Filthy rich. Not a likely candidate for the kingdom.

Oh, and Zaccheus is also vertically challenged. Luke describes him as small in stature…we might call him a wee little man. Anyway, Jesus is in town and Zach wants to see Him. Why? Not sure. Maybe curiosity…maybe he’s heard about Jesus healing the blind man…maybe he’s a friend of Levi…maybe he’s heard that Jesus is a friend of tax-collectors and sinners from some of his tax-collecting buddies at the annual tax-collectors’ conference, buddies who had shared a meal with Jesus when He told the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost/prodigal son. But for whatever reason, Zach really wants to see Jesus. One problem though…did I mention he’s vertically challenged?

With his profession, you can imagine that no one is interested in helping Zach out. The crowds are barring his way from seeing Jesus. Not only is he small in stature, but he’s also small in the estimation of others. But Zach is not to be denied. He does something very undignified for a rich Jewish man…he runs and climbs a tree. Running and climbing…that’s not an old man’s game, that’s something that kids do. But it shows Zach’s desire and singleminded intent to see Jesus. He doesn’t care what others think. Didn’t Jesus say something about becoming like a little child to enter the kingdom (Luke 18.15-17)?

As Jesus passes by He looks up and sees Zaccheus…imagine Zach’s surprise when Jesus says, “…hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Not words of rebuke, but of compassion. Almost sounds like Jesus is on a mission to find Zach… and notice the sense of urgency. Zach runs to the tree, Jesus says hurry and come down… you can almost feel the excitement and anticipation.

Zach receives Jesus gladly…joyfully…same response we’ve seen from folks throughout Luke’s Gospel when they are rescued by Jesus (Luke 1:14; 8:13; 10:17; 13:17; 15:5, 9, 32; 19:6, 37). But while Zach rejoices, what is the crowd doing? Same thing we’ve seen the Pharisees and scribes do before…grumbling and complaining (Luke 5.30, 7.37-50, 15.1-2). Why? Because Jesus is hanging out with the wrong crowd. Zach is a sinner…and a really good one in a bad sort of way.

Don’t know if Zach hears the grumblings of the crowd, but something’s going on with him. He turns to Jesus and offers to give half his possessions to the poor and payback anyone that he’s cheated 4x the amount. The Law required a person who defrauded their neighbor to pay back the stolen amount plus 20 percent (Leviticus 6.1-5, Numbers 5.5-7). He goes way beyond what is required. So how much would Zach have left if he gave half his stuff away and paid back 4x the amount stolen, especially assuming that he made his living by stealing…by defrauding others? Not much.

But Zach has had an encounter with Jesus that changed everything. An encounter that changed him from being a taker to a giver. “…where your treasure is…” And so Jesus became Zach’s treasure, no longer his stuff. It made being generous easy. He had found the pearl of great price. What the rich young ruler could not or would not do, Zach does. What seemed to be impossible with men, is not with God (Luke 18.18-27). Zach is walking through the eye of a needle and living to tell about it. 

Zach provides us with a powerful counter example to the rich that James warns us against. His is a life that’s been radically changed by Jesus. So has ours, but sometimes we forget that and make ourselves the main character of the story that God is telling. Don’t let that be you. And if you are afraid it might be, remember the tale of the wee little man.

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This post is based on a sermon from our James series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store.