Study # 72
Thesis: The New Testament prejudice against the wealthy is based upon three major factors:
February 17, 1999
Introduction: Last week we looked at James' accusation that some of his readers, being caught up in the profit motive, were making, and intending to pursue, plans which the Lord did not initiate. This is fundamentally contrary to the entire mindset of "bondservanthood". Thus, it is a great evil. No believer has any business "making plans"; it is our business to discover the plans our Master has already made, and to pursue those plans according to His direction. About 90 percent of those plans are already revealed; the ten percent we do NOT know are the details of how we as individuals personally apply the 90 percent we DO know. James concluded that paragraph with the statement that if we know this is God's way of doing things, it is sin for us to refuse to do them this way.
Now, in the next paragraph, which, in our Bibles, opens chapter five, James does a very logical thing: he unveils the character and destiny of those who are the envied ones by those he addressed in the previous paragraph. In other words, people who make their own plans are emulating a group of people that are headed toward an unmitigated disaster.
This evening we want to begin our study of James' revelation of the destiny of that group...so that we will NOT want to emulate them.
- 1) their wealth was gotten unjustly;
- 2) their wealth was maintained unjustly; and
- 3) their wealth was used impiously.
- I. The Tension in Scripture Regarding Wealth.
- A. A cursory reading of the New Testament gives the impression that the wealthy are to be condemned and pitied.
- 1. There is NO encouragement to pursue wealth.
- 2. There are powerful warnings against the deceptions of weath.
- 3. There exists only one or two positive examples of wealthy men...and the vast majority of examples of wealthy people are given in a context of powerful condemnation.
- 4. A fundamental teaching of the New Testament is designed to encourage believers to make themselves poor for the enrichment of others.
- B. This impression stands in strong contrast to the general impression of the Old Testament.
- 1. Almost every major personality in the Old Testament was a person of power, influence, and wealth.
- a. Abraham is described as a man of great wealth.
- b. The "restoration of Job" includes the extraordinary multiplication of his wealth.
- 2. Under the Old Covenant, wealth was almost an automatic by-product of godliness--so much so that it became axiomatic that if a person was wealthy, he had an inside track with God. [Note the disciples' amazement at Jesus' rich man/camel/eye of a needle statement.]
- II. The Task of James Under a New Covenant Addressing the Powerful Influence of the Conditions Under the Old.
- A. His first task is to attempt to wipe out the link between wealth and life that was gradually entrenched under a flawed covenant.
- 1. Under the Old Covenant, the focus was upon the outer man--addressing the issue of whether man who was hedonistically fulfilled would ever be a loyal servant of God on that foundation.
- a. The historical evidence argues powerfully that a focus on the outer man is irremedially destructive.
- b. Even under the Old Covenant, wealth was seen as a by-product that became a central focus.
- 2. Under the New Covenant, the focus is upon the inner man--addressing the reality that only when man is relationally fulfilled is he trustworthy enough to be a good steward of wealth.
- a. In the history of the church, it has been demonstrated that those that are relationally fulfilled are good stewards.
- b. In the latter days, the relational realities have broken down so badly that now wealth has again become the objective instead of the by-product of faithfulness.
- B. His task is approached in three ways.
- 1. He declares the ultimate end of the wealthy.
- 2. He declares the pragmatic necessities of gaining wealth under his particular historical setting.
- 3. He declares the pragmatic necessities of maintaining wealth under his particular historical setting.
- III. Considerations Which Must Come in Since the Historical Setting Has Changed.
- A. It is no longer axiomatic that wealth means ungodliness.
- B. It is no longer axiomatic that wealth requires the dishonesty and persecution that once existed.
- C. It is STILL axiomatic that wealth has the ability to seize our hearts and hold our affections and distort our faith.