Please have your Bibles opened to the book of James chapter 4. We are just two lessons away from the completion of our series titled, “Dispersed & Dedicated”. Lord willing, we will complete that study by the end of November 2021.
I have titled the message today, “Come Now” based on two important issues that James wanted Christians to understand from James 4:13-5:9. While this may seem like a strange context, we have noted before, and such is the case here, that verse numbers and chapter breaks are not always well placed.
Let’s read that passage and then we will outline the sermon to give us some direction for today’s message.
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. For you are just a vapor that appears for a little while, and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. So, for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, for him it is sin. Come now, you rich people, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted, and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have corroded, and their corrosion will serve as a testimony against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of armies. You have lived for pleasure on the earth and lived luxuriously; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous person; he offers you no resistance. Therefore, be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brothers and sisters, against one another, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”
“Come Now…” with your plans (4:13-17)
Today or tomorrow is unknown (4:13-14a). When we talk of plans in the immediate or distant future, we are not even sure what our life will be like 2 minutes from this moment. The patients that are suffering from COVID have been placed on ventilators and their families are having to make decisions about their life. I am certain that these individuals all had other plans. They could never anticipate that life would change so drastically from one day to the next.
While we are free to eagerly await what is to come in life, we must remember to live moment by moment. That is all we are guaranteed anyway. Even while we look forward to going to heaven and in the meantime, we make plans for the journey, even then we cannot sit idly by because God has work for us to do each day. We do not know the will of God unless we pray and study His word for guidance along the way.
James says that your life is just a vapor (4:14b). You are only here for a short time and then you vanish in death. If you have ever watched the steam rise from a pan of boiling water, it is only a matter of seconds before the steam disappears into midair. James compares this brevity to our lifespan in comparison to eternity.
Our existence here is so minimal. This passage is not condemning moving to new locations, starting a business, or even making a profit, etc.
Instead, we ought to seek the will of the Lord (4:15). We should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live here or there”. We need to ask, “God, if it is your will, I would like to settle in city X and start a business to make an income."
What do you need to seek the will of the Lord for today? Fill in the blank. If it is your will ___________________________. The point is that we want our plans to coincide with God’s eternal plan for our lives.
Arrogant boasting about our plan is sinful outside of considering God’s plan for your life (4:16-17). God is not trying to restrict you, but He knows what is best for us and we should desire to stand in His will and receive His blessings. Some people only consider what they want and not what God wants.
The evil ones were prideful in their plans and never even sought or thought that God may have other places for us to go and other tasks for us to accomplish. A verse here that is often used out of context is verse 17. James says, “for one who knows the right thing to do (that is seeking God’s will in all things) and does not do it, for him it is sin.” Could this apply to all areas of life? YES! In the immediate context, James is referring to adding an, “if the Lord wills” to every plan of action.
“Come Now…” with your possessions (5:1-6)
All earthly possessions will perish (5:1-3). Miseries will come upon those that put their trust in material things when they realize that their wealth will cost them their eternal soul. In Isaiah 13:6 we find,
“Wail, for the day of the LORD is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty.”
Take note that the last plan of action that these prideful people were making was to go and make some money. Again, there is nothing wrong with earning an income. The point is that we must be focused always on the true riches above. The riches obtained on the earth will rot, garments will be moth-eaten, and gold and silver will suffer corrosion. Everything here wears out and eventually is worthless.
Paul warned in I Timothy 6:9,
“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
James says that these truths about material wealth serve as a testimony or witness against them. Just as the things that they come to trust in will perish, so will the soul of man that never put His trust in the Lord. The end of the unsaved is to have their flesh consumed by death and their eternal spirit dwell in the torments of hellfire.
The concern that James had for these Christians is that they would lose their faith and return to the world of sin or a vain faith at a critical time when the Lord could have returned, and they would have been unprepared for the judgment to come. Paul said in Romans 2:5,
“But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God…”
The lost souls in the world have stored up earthly treasures but they are willing to lose their own soul and miss out on the rich blessings that God wants to bestow on us in heaven. Jesus said that even if you could gain the whole world it is not worth losing your soul (See Mark 8:36). But people sell their souls to the devil every day. Jesus taught that where our treasure is, that is where our hearts will be also. He also said in Matthew 6:19,
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”
While we must use finances and goods to live here, as followers of Christ, we lay up treasures in heaven and we refuse to worship wealth (Matthew 6:24). In heaven, the Bible says, rust, moth, and corrosion cannot damage or destroy that treasure. Neither can thieves break in and steal what is reserved above. This reminds us of the story that Jesus told of a wealthy landowner in Luke 12:16-21,
“And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, 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 soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
This also recalls the story of the rich man and poor Lazarus (Luke 16). The moral of the story is that the rich man would not help the poor man and when life was over, the rich man found himself in torment even though throughout his life he lived it up in luxury. If we live for pleasure, we are dead even while we live (See I Timothy 5:6).
We must have honest, responsible financial transactions (5:4-6). James starts by saying, “Behold” to get our full attention. He then tells these hoarders of earthly wealth that they were crooked in their dealings with those that rendered services by mowing their property.
This unfair and unjust behavior is not overlooked by God. Their lack of responsibility in not paying rightful wages to these workers cries out against them. The Lord heard the outcry of those who helped them with the harvesting of their crops who are now having their wages withheld wrongfully.
It is interesting that James referred to the Lord as the “Lord of armies”. What will be the end of these sinners? When the Lord sends forth His angels to carry out His wrath, all sinners will be punished and ultimately destroyed. The Lord hears the righteous and will reward them abundantly.
James adds that these wicked men lived only for pleasure on the earth and although they lived in luxury, they were merely fattening their hearts for a day of slaughter. Think about it. A cow out in the open field grazing is enjoying the lush greenery and the freedom to do whatever it wants. Next summer when the cow is mature, reached a good weight, and filled out, you know the rest of the story. It is time for a cookout! Right?
What do you live for? Consider that question for a moment. Are you all about earthly pleasures? Is your goal to get comfortable down here only to join the rest of the world in their luxury? Know that you are also joining them in their pending judgment. While we spend all kinds of money on “stuff”, how many of us have continued to give back a portion of what God has blessed us with as an offering on the first day of each week as a direct command to members of the church? Does God see and know? Certainly! How many of us have continued to serve God with our resources and love others with our blessings? Many people went into doomsday mode and began hoarding earthly goods in a panic during the pandemic. This is the opposite of what Christians should do. We share and show kindness. The one truth that stands out in this passage is that God already knows what we are thinking and doing and what exactly we are going through down here.
This verse was not just an admonition and warning to the rich to pay what they owe to their workers. James ends this portion of his letter,
“You have condemned and put to death the righteous person; he offers you no resistance.”
Let these last few words sink in when you consider recent events in our nation. In the last episode, I offered some advice that is founded in Scripture about not reviling others when they speak evil of you. We do not return evil for evil. Vengeance belongs to the Lord! He will repay. This is all patterned after Jesus’ trial and death. Jesus trusted God to raise Him from the dead and to restore Him to His glory. Jesus taught,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
There is no profit in saying your piece if it cannot be said in a peaceful way. We are not to be involved in demonstrations if those demonstrations violate the law. If you feel like you have enemies, pray for them. There is something better in store for us when our life on earth is over. Whether you die of natural causes or if someone sinful takes your life because of your faith, here it is said that they offered no resistance! These words pricked my heart and I hope that they do the same for you.
This nation is divided right now. While some want to point to racism, politics, or even the Coronavirus as the culprit for the unrest, the fact remains that sin is the root cause of all of this world’s problems. We are being asked to pick sides. I am not sure about you, but I am on the Lord’s side. Being peaceable and gentle is our responsibility. There are stories of martyrs and the tremendous amount of suffering that they endured. Some were burned at the stake without renouncing their faith and others were ripped to shreds in an arena for public entertainment while they remained unshaken. They understood that death is not death, because our parting from here serves as a transition point as we enter eternal life and all that God has in store for those who love Him. All of our most challenging trials will seem like nothing when compared to the glory that is to come.
When will Jesus come? Now? (5:7-8)
“Therefore, be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brothers and sisters, against one another, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”
Patience is a virtue while we wait on the Lord to return for His people (5:7). We patiently endure hardship, but we also remain patient with one another until the coming of the Lord. It is easy to lose our focus and lash out either at evildoers or our own brethren. Tough times begin to wear us out and before you know it, we are ready to act out of godly character. Check yourself!
A second illustration about farming is used here, but indirectly teaches us a lesson about long-suffering while we await the coming of the Lord. Just like a farmer must wait for produce, we also must go through the rainstorms in every season of life in order to reap eternal blessings (See Deut. 11:14). This is how we grow and mature spiritually. James says we too need to be patient. God will use the rain to produce fruit.
We need to strengthen our hearts because of the nearness of the coming of Christ (5:8). When we speak of maturing, we also think of becoming stronger. From a spiritual view, many quote Philippians 4:13, where Paul said “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” How does the Lord give us strength? Paul learned this strength through hardship.
The strength comes from studying the Scriptures and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us. Strength comes from prayer, fasting, and meditation. Strength comes from spiritual fellowship with other believers in worship as a church. Strength is gained through spiritual disciplines that we use daily. Strength is not acquired by accident. This was a command to strengthen the heart.
The reason that James says to strengthen our hearts is that the coming of the Lord is near. We cannot be found weak in our faith when the Lord returns. We want to be there to exalt Him and rejoice in His return. I fear though that His coming will be just as much a surprise to those who claim to be Christians. As a result, many will lose heart before that day and return to a former manner of life in sin.
Do not judge your brother or sister so that you do not fall under the judgment of Christ (5:9). James has previously warned these brethren about the measure of judgment that they use. We are not to turn against one another when times get tough, but we are to lean closer and hold on tighter to one another. It hurts to watch brethren that are tired and weary take it out on other Christians. I have heard and seen some discouraging things take place during the pandemic, with the racism that resurfaced and the recent election where Christians have revealed some darkness in their life that did not seem to be there before this past year. We are not as invincible and resilient as we think we are. Often, we show our old man in our interactions and we have to remember that we were born again, and the old man of sin was buried with Christ in baptism and we were raised to walk in the newness of life (Romans 6:1-8).
James reminds these Christians that the primary reason that they cannot judge one another is that the Lord is the Judge. Even more important was the positioning of the Judge. He is standing at the door. In other words, His coming for judgment could happen any day. Be ready and continue to love, be compassionate and forgiving. We need to hear this whether we think we do or not. Are you holding a grudge? Do you have some resentment? Is there a secret sin that needs to be removed from your life? Get rid of such things and see the Judge is at the door.
I want to close with a reading from Revelation 22:12-21,
“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying. I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen."
Are you a Christian? Can we assist you in obeying the gospel of Jesus? If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died on the cross for your sins, are you willing to repent of your sins, confess Jesus as Lord, and be baptized to wash away your sins by the blood of Jesus? I would love to assist you in this decision to become a child of God and gain the hope of eternal life when this life is over.
If you are a Christian but your walk has been in darkness lately or maybe you feel this dark world trying to pull you down, the Bible asks us to confess our sins to one another and pray to God about those struggles and He will forgive us of all sins and cleanse us from any unrighteousness. Please reach out if you need prayer!