[Carlos Slim Helu for the past two years has topped the Forbes billionaires list as the richest man in the world. He owns a majority interest in Telemex and Americana Movil, which are the Latin American equivalents of AT&T and Verizon. This week as the world financial markets shrank with fear at the government debt problems in the U.S. and Europe; Carlos Slim Helu lost 6.7 billion dollars, almost 10% of his wealth.
As we have studied in the Bible multiple times before, wealth and all material possessions are temporary. This week many of us logged on to our on-line retirement accounts or clicked "update" in Quicken and saw tens of thousands of dollars vanish in an instant, and wondered "where did it go"? ]
Rich Oppressors Will Be Judged
1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.
[James the half brother of Jesus wrote this two thousand years ago, and yet it has a meaning so contemporary it could have been written this week. Did you watch the evening news on Tuesday or Thursday this week? If so you heard some rich and not-so-rich weeping and howling as the world stock exchanges declined. Since July 22 the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen 10%, and the wealth of the world declined by trillions of dollars. Finally after decades of government overspending, the world is waking up to the problem of public debt and wondering "who is going to pay for all this"? For the U.S. the national debt works out to over $130,000 for each tax payer and growing. Congress worked out a plan the cut spending by 2.7 trillion over 10 years, but the federal government is overspending by 1.5 trillion every year. So this week the credit rating U.S. government debt was downgraded from AAA to AA+ with a negative outlook.
So how does government debt connect to a declining stock market? The answer we saw last week, in James 4:13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow.
You see the market values a company based on its future expected earnings; and that carries the assumption that everything will be stable, normal and predictable. But as verse 14 says "you don't know what will happen tomorrow", so when governments can't borrow and spend like before, everyone understands that change is coming, but until the exact form of that change is well understood, then all future business is under a cloud of uncertainty, and future earnings are unpredictable. So the past two weeks the free markets discounted future earnings by about 10%, to account for the uncertainty.
As verse 3 in chapter 5 tells us this "corrosion" of wealth is a witness against us; because it reveals what we are really trusting. If your confidence is in your retirement account then you probably became very anxious this week. Watching the stock market decline 10% would be gnawing at your guts, or as James said it "eat your flesh like fire". So if all your effort was in "heaping up treasure in the last days", then watching a big chunk of it evaporate all at once makes for a hard week; and we hear the rich howl and weep in their misery.]
4 Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.
[Beyond the condemnation of trusting temporary riches, there is a greater judgment against dishonest business. The main example here is not paying that wages that are earned by those who do the work. Day laborers were to be paid at the end of every day because they would need that money to buy food. Pastor Haley teaching in Revelation brought out the example of that economic collapse where is will take a whole days wages, to feed one man for a day.
The message of Revelation and James 5 is the same, judgment is coming. James says the benefits of cheating your employees and committing fraud are temporary. Nothing is hidden from God. Verse 4 says the "cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord", so wealth gained by fraud will be fleeting. Those who will commit fraud to feed their greed, will be so consumed by their overindulgence that they would do anything to sustain their lifestyle, even commit murder.]
Be Patient and Persevering
7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
[So if the rich would break the rules for instant gratification, how should we be? What behavior would we refine by really trusting in God. Patience "until the coming of the Lord". Like a farmer waits for the harvest so we wait for the Lord's judgment. Patience is an act of worship, that establishes our hearts are sustained by the promises of God.]
9 Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! 10 My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. 11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
[Too many Christians believe that God should act according to our schedule, but that is not our example, nor is it what God has promised. The prophets many times endured years to see the word of God fulfilled, and many died never seeing the completion of God's promise, especially those regarding Messiah. Job is our example of long enduring in patience, trusting that in the end the Lord is compassionate and merciful, that is our hope.]
12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your "Yes" be "Yes," and your "No," "No," lest you fall into judgment.
[Taking an oath to add strength to your words has the same problem as the business plan, in chapter 4. You cannot make anything more likely by swearing an oath, there will always be many things outside of your control. Hebrews 6 said that God swore by himself because he could not swear by anything greater! In reality many people swear falsely using oaths to add to their deception. They use it as a tool to commit fraud. But we should be as reliable as a person can be, saying just yes or know, "as the Lord wills" was our instruction in chapter 4. This week we got a good object lesson in things outside of our control. The question for all of us is "what do you love, and who do you trust"?]