We have spent a number of our lessons this year talking about how to have hope when crushed by trials, when hopeless because of suffering and loss, when feeling alone, and when tempted. All of these difficulties of life, from temptations and trials to sinning and being alone can cause us to be anxious. In today’s lesson I want to speak about what the scriptures teach us about how to have hope when anxious. But I have already talked about a number of life areas where we experience anxiety. There is another area of life where anxiety sets in and that it is when it comes to money. Jesus realized our anxiety can be directly tied to wealth and health.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:24–25 ESV)
Jesus told us that one of our temptations is going to be to have worry and anxiety about money and possessions. To state the idea informally, Jesus says not to worry about physical stuff. Do not worry about money and things. Now if you think about this, this can be really hard to do. When things break, it can be very troubling. We can now wonder what we are going to do because we no longer have certain possessions or no longer have the income we expect. So it becomes easy to worry about our things. It seems natural and right to worry about food or money. So how can we fight against having anxiety when we lose our money, when we lose our job, when our stuff breaks, or when our possessions are not doing what we think they ought to do? Turn in your copies of God’s word to James 5. This will be our text for our study today.
As you turn to James 5, I want you to think about how James is writing to Christians and he is going to warn them about money. Sometimes we can read the scriptures about wealth and apply it to the sinners in the world. They are the ones with the problem. But Jesus was speaking to his followers. James was speaking to Jesus followers. The scriptures are trying to warn us and help us so that we do not fall into the same traps as the world.
The problem is that money is one of the top competitors for our hearts. Money and possessions compete for our hearts with God, and often we do not realize it. We think that more money will make us happy. Let me ask a question. How much more money would it take to make you happy? If you are honest, you will realize that the answer is always more the amount of money you currently have. There is never going to be enough money to make us happy. We think that more will make us happy but there is always the need for more. When you get more, you are going to think that you still need more because no amount of money provides true, lasting happiness. We become anxious because our money and possessions are not doing for us what we thought they would do. So listen to what James says about wealth in James 5 which will help us no longer be anxious about money and possessions.
Wealth Does Not Protect (5:1)
Notice that James tells those who have money to weep and wail because miseries are coming upon them. I want us to see that there is still misery coming upon them. We have learned this truth in our present crisis, right? How has wealth protected you from the current pandemic? Wealth did not keep you from having to deal with all that our country has gone through. Money does not insulate us from problems. Money certainly does not insulate us from the coming judgment of God. So here is our first thought. Why should we be anxious about wealth and possessions when these things do not protect us from suffering, pandemics, or other problems?
Wealth Is Not A Savior (5:2-3)
Further, wealth is not a savior. Not only can money and possessions not protect you from trouble, but is also will not help during your trouble. Did having money help you through Covid? No. You could not find toilet paper like everyone else. But this is one of the reasons why people accumulate wealth and hoard. They think that their wealth is going to deliver them. They think that their possessions are going to save them during their difficulties.
In fact, you will notice that James says in verses 2-3 that all of excess goes to waste. This was illustrated with the nation of Israel while they were in the wilderness. What happened if the people tried to hoard the manna or the quail? God made that excess turn rotten. James says that their riches are rotting and their clothing is eaten by moths. He says that their gold and silver are corroding and the corrosion is proof that you have laid up for yourselves treasures on earth. This is such an important warning in our society that commends and normalizes accumulating wealth. I think we all have experienced this because of how prosperous our nation is. Have you ever forgotten that you had something but found it later because it was buried in a closet or garage? What good is having possessions that cannot be used? What good is having possessions that are rotting from lack of use? What good is having possessions that can’t be found? Our accumulation turns to waste. Our accumulation is not there to help us later. Wealth cannot save us and we end up throwing away what we were accumulating. Stuff wears out, breaks, rots, decays, and disintegrates. Time does not improve our possessions. Having a lot is not going to help you in the times of trouble. Do not be anxious about your money and possessions. They were not going to save you in the midst of your suffering anyway.
Wealth Does Not Satisfy Our Hearts (5:4-5)
In verse 4 we see people having wealth but still defrauding and stealing from others. Why would they do that when they already have wealth? Here is God’s teaching point to us. God made wealth so that it cannot satisfy. The writer of Ecclesiastes expresses this truth on a number of occasions. He says that he built houses, planted vineyards, amassed silver and gold, had the treasure of kings and of provinces, and surpassed all who were before him. But here is what he said about it.
All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse myself any pleasure, for I took pleasure in all my struggles. This was my reward for all my struggles. When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:10–11 CSB)
So here is what he figured out God has done when it comes to wealth and possessions.
The one who loves money will never be satisfied with money, he who loves wealth will never be satisfied with his income. This also is futile. When someone’s prosperity increases, those who consume it also increase; so what does its owner gain, except that he gets to see it with his eyes? (Ecclesiastes 5:10–11 NET)
God made it so that what you think you need you will never achieve. The more you have, the more you spend. The more you make, the more it disappears. I will never forget when a great basketball player, Patrick Ewing, was representing the players wanting to be paid more from the NBA. His argument was very simple: we make a lot of money but we spend a lot of money. He said what God said. It does not matter how much you make, you are going to spend it away and not be satisfied. We think we would be satisfied if we had millions of dollars. Athletes are not and CEOs are not satisfied.
You see that James is showing us that when we trust in wealth we do one of two things: accumulate or consume. You either try to store up or you spend it as you get it. The words of verse 5 should be chilling to us. “You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence.” Sometimes our anxiety about money is because we are living as if there is no God. We are acting like all there is to life is this life and we do not have what we want from this life. God is showing us that living in this way only brings judgment. James continues in verse 5, “You have fattened your hearts in the day of slaughter.” So why would we be anxious regarding money and possessions when our things are not going to satisfy?
Hope When Anxious
One of the important truths that God tries to teach his people throughout the scriptures is that money and possessions are not solving your anxiety but giving you anxiety. You are worrying about your money and stuff, but your money and your stuff will not keep you from suffering, will not deliver you through your suffering, nor will satisfy you at any point. Accumulating just leads to decay and waste. Spending just leads to more spending. When you love money, you will never be satisfied with it. When you love stuff, you will never have enough stuff. The more to try to get, the emptier will feel inside as God made this pursuit in life to be futile. Being anxious about money or possessions tells us that something is wrong within us. It is telling us that we have our hope in the wrong place. Anxiety shows us that we are mastered by money.
So where is our hope? Our hope is in the fact that God made money and possessions to not satisfy so that we will look to the Lord who is truly taking care of us. Every time your money lets you down, it is moment to step back and pray to the Lord who does not let you down. Every time your possessions let you down, it is in that moment that you turn to God who will not let you down. You do not need to allow anxiety to enter at that point. You are not going to be okay because you have your stuff. You are going to be okay because God loves you and cares for his people. We need those moments when stuff breaks and money is gone to challenge our faith and test our dependence. The apostle Paul summarized the message like this:
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. (1 Timothy 6:17 CSB)
If your money could talk, what would it tell you? Does your money reveal that you are putting your trust and hope in money? Does your money reveal that you put your hope and trust on God who provides us with all things to enjoy? Wealth is a terrible savior. God made money be unable to save. Do not be anxious about it.