Mistreated? Wait For the Lord
June 5, 2016 Speaker: Reid Strahan Series: James - A Portrait of Living Faith
Passage: James 5:1–7
One of the hardest lessons for us to learn is that: LIFE IS NOT FAIR. It is very likely that you will be taken advantage of, or hurt, maybe very painfully, in some way, at some time in your life. There are all kinds of ways that you will be mistreated in this world, a spouse may be unfaithful, a close friend may desert you or betray you.
In these verses, James deals with financial oppression and in justice. There are lots of ways that can happen. You can buy a house from someone who doesn't tell you there is serious water problems or structural problems. I know a man who had made lots of money, but was defrauded by an investment broker and lost everything. Others have been cheated out of everything by a business partner, someone they trusted and worked with at one time. Some get cheated through a divorce settlement.
In this passage in James, men and women were laboring hard and long hours and being paid barely enough to live, OR not being paid at all, or not being paid on time for their work. This abuse was carried out by the rich. It was disgusting, sickening and unfair. And these Christian people are crying out to the Lord, about their mistreatment.
Many of the brothers James wrote to were poor laborers. And they saw the rich men they work for, who are NOT concerned about God, making big bucks. The rich are abounding in grain and corn, and dressing in expensive clothes, and amassing great amounts of silver and gold. Yet even with all this wealth they oppress the poor Christians working for them. Living in great luxury, and extravagance themselves, they will not pay the laborers who mowed their fields, or they pay them as little as possible so that they can increase their wealth even more and live in more extreme self-indulgence.
Without a doubt, some of these mistreated believers were struggling with the injustice of it all.
So James issue a blistering warning to the ungodly rich, AS A COMFORT to the GODLY brothers and sisters, who are being grossly mistreated. It is like someone has sued you and taken your home and everything you had, and then God says, here is what I have to say to that person, and here is how I will deal with that person who has been so cruel to you. And you find it comforting because God says they will not get away with it.
In Psalm 73, Asaph said, I know God is good but I came close to stumbling when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles....they are always carefree and increase in wealth...surely in vain I have kept my heart pure. “When I tried to understand all this it was oppressive to me UNTIL I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” In a sense James is taking these oppressed brothers into the sanctuary of God and showing them the final destiny of those who oppress them. Do not envy the rich who oppress you. They will face the terrors of judgment for what they have done. Do not think that God does not see what is being done to you. Wait for the Lord and he will repay the wicked and reward the righteous.
This blistering judgment against the godless rich is connected to Jame's message to the brothers in verses 7-10. “Therefore, be patient brothers, (in the face of this suffering), until the Lord's coming!” If you are being severely wronged, be patient. The Lord is coming! When he comes he will righteously judge every person. He will vindicate you. If you love God, he will bring a glorious end to your life story. Even IF your PRESENT life circumstances are very miserable and full of injustices, the outcome of the Lord's dealing with you will be good! So....
The message is life is unfair, but hold on, the Lord is coming. God will deal with those who oppress and mistreat you. The godly person will have a great outcome.
Vs 1 “Come now you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.” James is speaking to the rich, he is also showing his oppressed brothers the end of the rich. He is saying, Do not fret about the evil and the injustice of it all. Look at their end! Look at the end of those who have pursued riches and not God. Look at the end of those who have withheld your pay. Look at the end of those who have condemned and put to death the righteous.
Their end is utter and complete misery; they will be abandoned by God to eternal punishment. James tells the rich, to weep and howl, because of the terrors that will come upon them in the final judgment. He sees these rich men going hardened and unrepentant right up to the judgment of God.
This is a frightening picture of the response of people, who have not taken refuge in Christ, at the day of judgment. No longer boastful and proud and self-sufficient they will weep and howl in terror of the judgment coming upon them. Revelation 6:16 says, They called to the mountains and the rocks “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come and who can stand”.
Vs 2 “Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded (rusted)”; The three status symbols of wealth in that day, were grain, clothes, and gold or silver. James looking ahead to judgment day says “Your corn and grain that fills your barns, have all rotted. Your fancy and expensive clothes have become moth food. Your gold and silver has all corroded. Seeing these men at the judgment of God, All that these men treasured is seen as completely ruined! Completely worthless!
Paul Stookey, Peter Paul and Mary wrote a song "Meanings will change":
Meanings will change as you learn to grow
And all that is known becomes suddenly old
And that which you had to last you 'til the end
Turns out to be just a passing friend
And would you spend your life away
Collecting great treasures
So you'd be safe someday?
And when you're old, and when you're gray
meanings will change; life's just that way
So don't you worry 'bout your money friend
Don't you worry 'bout your fame
It's all a conspiracy; all part of a game
Vs 3 “And their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat (consume) your flesh like fire.” He says you will stand before God with your corroded silver and gold, but without the treasure of salvation. Your corroded wealth will be evidence that you have lived apart from God.... and it will consume your flesh like fire...Your riches, and your love for them and the mistreatment of others to get more and more, will be the very things that cause you to be cast into the fires of hell. These are terrifying pictures of eternal punishment. Jesus also described going into hell as going into the unquenchable fire.
James goes on, “It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!” After the first coming of Christ the next event in God's timetable of salvation is the 2nd coming of Christ. “The last days”, means the period of time leading up to the coming of Christ and the final judgment. We are living in the last days, in the sense that we are to be ready always for the coming of the Lord. But these rich men, instead of preparing to stand before God, they are playing games to see how rich they can get. Their interest is solely in how much profit they can make, instead of repenting and seeking salvation.
Vs 4 “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, (which has been withheld by you), are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts.
The poor saints working in the fields of these rich men have been grossly mistreated! They are paid very little. What wages they do make, the rich landowners withhold or delay payment to save themselves more money. It was typical of the culture that they were paid at the end of the day for each day's work. Often they had no savings and if their wages were withheld for a day or more, the worker and his family could not eat.
These working poor have been crying out to God in their desperation, “God, see us in our need! See the way we are treated! See the way these rich men fatten their pockets and leave next to nothing for us”. Indirectly, God is telling the poor that he has heard their prayers about their oppression! God has not been blind to your financial hardship. God has listened to your cries. And he is telling the rich, I have heard the cries of those you oppress, and I will take vengeance on you for it.
Vs 5 “You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence (lived a life of wanton pleasure), you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter”. MSG “You think you were piling up wealth, what you have piled up is judgment”.
Before farm animals are taken to the slaughter house, they are fattened up to the have the most pounds possible to make the highest price possible. The animal enjoys lots of feed, not knowing that it is nearing the time of its own death. James says to the rich man, you are like that. You have added to your luxury just before you are eternally condemned.
Vs 6 “You have condemned and murdered the righteous person; he does not resist you”. In a final pronouncement against the ungodly and uncaring rich, James calls them murderers. He maybe referring to the wealthy Jewish leaders who condemned Christ to death. Or he may be using “condemn and murder” in a more symbolic way to describe their heartless, uncaring treatment of people. Or it maybe that the rich actually, at times, so overworked and underpaid these poor workers that they died. Either way God is saying, “Your judgment is just”.
This verse also shows just how unfair and unjust things can become sometimes for the righteous man or woman, and maybe for you. Injustices in this life CAN be extreme, and we can feel them deeply. It CAN be to the point of death. “Christ committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth”, yet he insulted, beaten, mocked and crucified”.
You may secretly think, sure, I can put up with some injustice like everybody else does. BUT WHAT I AM GOING THROUGH IS SO UNFAIR – I JUST CANNOT ENDURE IT. That is not true and it is not how God wants you to think. Look at the severity of this mistreatment of these righteous people – to the point of death. Life CAN get very unfair. But even if you are condemned and put to death, James said, Wait, be patient for the coming of the Lord.
Vs 7 “Therefore brothers, be patient, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also be patient, strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand”.
So when we are mistreated and dealt with unfairly, or taken advantage of, what is the ultimate solution? Are we to rebel? Are we to hate? Are we to take revenge? James say, BE PATIENT, UNTIL THE LORD COMES. I am not saying there is nothing you can do to seek to straighten out injustices in your life but for the most part it will have to wait for the coming of the Lord. We can become bitter over these things OR we can remind ourselves that the Lord is coming and these things will be taken care of. He will deal with things and people that need to be dealt with!
Vs 10 “Brothers, as an example of PATIENCE IN THE FACE OF SUFFERING, take the prophets...we count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
When others take advantage of you, even if it causes you to suffer, keep following the Lord. Just keep on! Like the farmer has to wait for the crop to come up. Like the prophets had to endure mistreatment and wait for the Lord to vindicate them. Like Job had to wait till his sufferings were over, WE TOO ARE TO BE PATIENT IN THE FACE OF SUFFERING. THAT IS THE ANSWER! This is the answer to all the unfair things people do to you! You have been wondering “How do I handle this?” This is how!
Jesus said, “Your reward is at the resurrection of the righteous”. There is a reward in doing things God's way in this life! But the primary reward for those who do good and bear up under suffering is at the coming of the Lord. Peter said, “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory”.
Unless you believe this, you will waste much of your life trying to make sense out of life's unfairness and disappointments! Unless you believe what God says about eternity you will waste much of your life trying to right all the wrongs that have been perpetrated against you.
*Do not be stingy or mistreat other people in any way, to protect or increase your own financial interest. 1 Timothy 5:17 “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to to put their hope in God, who richly supplies us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in goods deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” Generosity is to mark all of us, especially those who have more.
*Pay people what they are worth and don't cheat them out of it. One of the main charges against the rich in this passage is that they do not pay people fairly. 1 Timothy 5:18 says “The laborer is worthy of his wages”. If you have people work for you, don't try to work them down to the very lowest penny you can pay them.
Waitresses? Babysitters? Employees? What about companies that provide services for you? How we pay our bills is part of our testimony.
Many sub-contractors don't want to go to work for individual homeowners because they don't know if they will get paid or not. They don't know if they will withhold wages and drag out payment. As Christians we should not do that, unless there is some very good reason.
Deuteronomy 24:14,15 “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is pour and needy....You shall give him his wages each day before sunset because he is pour and he is counting on it”.
Jeremiah 22:13 “Woe to him who uses his neighbor's services without pay and does not give him his wages”. We think of a lot of things as sin but maybe unaware of how much God is against being stingy, or not paying people enough for what they do, or unjustly withholding money.
*Concern yourselves with being rich toward God. God blesses some with wealth in this life but our concern should be on building wealth for eternal life. In Luke 12:15-21 Jesus said, “For not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions. They Jesus told a story about a man who kept building larger barns to store all his grain and goods. And he said to himself, “Self, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry”, but God said to him “You fool, this very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Then Jesus concluded, “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself and was not rich toward God”. As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5, “Be rich in good deeds”.
It is good to save and to plan for tomorrow but let's be totally conscious of storing up reward in heaven. Store up reward by serving the Lord and doing good to all men and especially to God's people. One of the reasons to be engaged with other believers is to build heavenly reward. Look for ways to serve others, to bless others, so that you become rich towards God.
*If you are aware of mistreatment by someone in your life, choose this morning to look to the Lord and his coming as the main solution to your problem. Choose to look to the Lord to fix things. Choose to hope in the outcome that the Lord will bring! Psalm 37:7 “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him. Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of him who carries out wicked schemes”. Evil doers will be cut off...The Lord will bring forth your righteousness”. No matter who has been unfair to you, no matter how you have been hurt or mistreated, the outcome of YOUR story will be glorious!
*Prayers about those who have hurt you or been unjust to you, may seem to go unanswered, but they are not. God has heard your cries during times when you are mistreated. Your cries have reached the ears of the Lord....just as the cries of these men and women who mowed the fields of the rich without pay. God heard those prayers and he will hear yours.
*Are you ready for the day of judgment? Have you come to Christ for your salvation? Or are you just living life, going to work, making money, unprepared for the Lord's coming? Are you ready?
More in James - A Portrait of Living Faith
July 17, 2016The Important Work of Turning a Wandering Brother Back to God
July 3, 2016God's Pathway to Healing
June 26, 2016Healing and the Heart of God