If you are a part of First Church, you know that I have spent the summer preaching through the book of James. The letter is full of useful wisdom, encouraging believers to live out their faith in real, practical ways. One of the blessings and difficulties of preaching straight through a book is that one is unable to avoid difficult passages. It is a blessing because it forces me to wrestle with passages that I may otherwise have avoided. This opens the door for God to teach me something new. I discovered that I learned more about God’s character and how we as Christians are called to respond to him than I did just reading through James on my own. I have personally benefited from this kind of study and preaching, and I pray that First Church has as well.
It is difficult to preach this way because I am unable to avoid difficult texts.
The reality is that some passages are easier to preach than others. If most preachers were honest with themselves, we’d admit that it would make our lives more comfortable to just stick with the familiar, easy-to-preach-and-understand passages. Preaching through a book like James forces me to confront and wrestle with passages that are out of my comfort zone.
This is what happened this past Sunday. As I planned out the sermon series, I knew James 5:1-6 would be one of those passages. The kind that would be easier to skip over than deal with directly. But given the commitment I made to preach through the entire book, and my belief that “all Scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Honestly, I was not looking forward to it and was not sure how I would handle the text.
Then Charlottesville happened. Then it clicked. As I prayed and prepared for the message, I realized that James 5:1-6 held a timely and important message for us. In God’s sovereignty, he brought us a message we needed to here when we needed to hear it.
James 5:1-6 is a warning to the unjust. James is specifically talking to wealthy landowners outside of the Christian community. These people used their wealth to their own advantage. They ignored God and lived self-indulgently. They ignored and even abused the poor laborers in the community. They hoarded wealth and power for themselves.
We live in a different economic and social climate, but the same principles hold true. Those of us with power and influence should not use it to our own advantage. Influence comes in many forms. Money is a powerful influence, but it is not the only one. Our relationships at home, work, and in our community are influential. Our words, and our silence, carry a lot of weight.
James says that it matters what we do with these areas of influence. The rich landowners of his day abused their influence and focused only on themselves. They pursued wealth, power, and pleasure at the expense of others, and neglected God completely. They stand condemned because they misused the resources that God gave them.
How are you using the influence God gave you? How we spend our time and money reveals what we really care about. How we treat others at home, work, and in our community makes a difference. Even more important in the age of social media, how we use our words says a lot about our character. As Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45).
In light of recent events, it is critical that Christians take a stand and denounce bigotry, racism, and violence in whatever form it takes. All people, regardless of their creed, skin color, gender, or the size of their bank account, are made in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect. To believe otherwise is incompatible with faith in Jesus Christ.
We live in a world where it is normal and even expected for people to only look out for themselves, much like the wealthy land owners in James 5:1-6. This leads to abuse and neglect of those in need, hatred toward those who are different, and disunity. As Christians, we need to share the love of God with friends and enemies alike, pray for healing and reconciliation, and share the good news of Jesus Christ with a broken world.
To sit on our hands and remain silent would be a misuse of the influence that God gave us.