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Ill-Gotten Gain (Part 2 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
September 15, 2023 4:00 am

Ill-Gotten Gain (Part 2 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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September 15, 2023 4:00 am

You’ve likely heard the saying “Save for a rainy day.” It refers to tucking some money away for an unforeseen need. Careful planning isn’t the same as wrongful hoarding, though. Learn how to distinguish between them on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at tfl.org thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!





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We've all heard people talk about saving for a rainy day.

Usually means to tuck away some money for when it's really needed, and certainly having an emergency fund or a retirement account can be sensible, but there's a difference between careful planning and wrongful hoarding. Today on Truth for Life, we'll learn how to distinguish between the two. Alistair Begg is teaching from the opening verses of James chapter 5. Well, we return in our studies in James to these opening verses of chapter 5, where James issues what is nothing less than a stinging condemnation upon ill-gotten gain. In issuing such a condemnation, he also issues a warning and a clear warning to any and all who are tempted in the realm of the misuse of money and wealth. Now, when we come to this stinging condemnation, as we've put it, we will go immediately wrong if we fail to recognize that James is not issuing a blanket condemnation of the wealthy. But it doesn't stop people from doing it, taking the first six verses of James chapter 5 as some great sort of sociopolitical template that they can press down on all of us.

No, we must allow the Bible to be the Bible and not impregnate it with our own political and economic theories. James knows his Bible well enough to understand that when Solomon wrote Proverbs 10.22, he was very, very clear, the blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it. Solomon understands Deuteronomy, where Moses says, Who gave you the ability to get money? Who gave you the ability to get wealth? Obviously, God did. And when God gives in this way, he doesn't add trouble to it.

We, because of our perverse human nature, add trouble to ourselves. But God, in the giving of good things, in the giving of wealth and prosperity, does not bring it mixed in with a little trouble. James understood the Bible. And indeed, I'm sure that's why he quotes Job in verse 11 of chapter 5 here. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. We discover that God gave him back many times over what he had taken from him in the first instance, so he ends up an exceptionally wealthy individual. And James is not about, on the one hand, to hold him up as an example of God's blessing and compassion, and then, on the other hand, to take others who've known such blessing and compassion and rub their noses in it just because they have riches.

Hence the importance of allowing the Bible to interpret itself. The rich here are, to quote Professor John Murray, the fraudulent, extortionary, cruel, sumptuous, voluptuous, and extravagant who grind the faces of the poor. Who grind the faces of the poor.

And you will notice what a noisy passage this is. There's a lot of weeping and wailing and shouting, and this notion of wages shouting. And the cries of the money bag mingle with the cries of the harvesters, verse 4b, and these cries of the harvesters reach the ears of God. And God cares, you see, because he's a father to the fatherless and a defender of the widows. He's the God who loves the alien, who gives the alien food and clothing. He's the God who determined that his people, when they reap their harvest, would not reap to the edges of the fields or gather up the gleanings, and the reason being that he wanted them left for the poor and for the alien. In other words, he instituted within the fabric of Israel a system for dealing with the poor. And it was those who refused to obey God, who went to the very edges of the field, who gathered up all the stuff, who kept it all for themselves, that failed then to provide the opportunity for those who were impoverished to enjoy the blessings and benefits that accrued as a result of the investment and the capability of the individual who could do that which took place in the fields.

In other words, if you like, God put together his whole social system within the fabric of Israel. And it worked, provided those who were listening were not stingy, acquisitive misers. Because actually, that is who is addressed in this charge. So if you want to have it clear in your mind, we could call this—although I call this study ill-gotten gain—we could actually equally call it a word to acquisitive misers.

A word to acquisitive misers. And I think we can get to the heart of it by understanding the charges that James levels against these individuals. Let me tell you what they are, and then we'll begin them, although we'll only get so far and have to come back again this evening.

At least I will. Number one, you have hoarded wealth. Number two, you've failed to pay. Number three, you've lived in luxury. Number four, you've flattened yourselves. And number five, you have condemned innocent men. Well, let's just go through them in turn. First of all, you have hoarded wealth.

You'll find that at the end of verse 3. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. In other words, the picture here is not a picture of careful planning, but it is a picture of selfish acquisition. It's very easy for us, those of us who don't make careful planning, to look at somebody who does do careful planning and dismiss it as selfish acquisition.

But that's only because we're jealous and haven't done any careful planning. You don't need a lot of money to do careful planning. You only need a dollar. But your grandmother told you, a dollar of income and ten percent saved, ten percent given to the church, and the rest used wisely, will put you in a pretty solid position. A dollar of income and a dollar fifteen spent will put you in penury in no time at all. And fascinatingly, in The Wall Street Journal and in The New York Times, in the last few days, I saw at least one article describing the phenomenal new discovery in America, which is the discovery of actually using cash, of actually only spending what you have.

And it was written up as, Here is an amazing idea. The country was built on that idea, clown. That is the whole point. That is why we're in the predicament in which we find ourselves. You have hoarded wealth. It's not wealth that is being shared. It's wealth that's being stored. It's the same thing, as Jesus said, when the two brothers came to him, remember, and they said—I think it's in Luke chapter 13. Maybe not.

Doesn't matter where it is right now. When the two guys come to Jesus and they say to him, the one fellow says, I want you to have my brother divide the inheritance with me. And Jesus says, Well, I'm not here actually doing this kind of work at the end of the day, but now that you're asking, I will tell you a story, and I'll tell you a story of an individual—I think it's got to be in Luke.

It's Luke 12, actually. And I'll tell you a story of a certain man, a rich man, who produced a good crop, and he thought to himself, What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.

That's a practical problem. It's understandable. Then he said, This is what I'll do. I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.

That's good as well, isn't it? It's a fairly practical plan. You've outgrown your capacity. Therefore, increase the capacity. And I'll say to myself, You have plenty of good things laid up for many years.

Take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry. Now it's starting to go wrong a little bit, didn't it? He didn't say, This is fantastic.

I have got such an abundance, I'm going to have the opportunity to share this. No, he said, I'm pretty well set for the rest of my life. Let the good times roll. 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? See, that's the key phrase. It's not a condemnation of the fact that the fellow was a successful businessman. It was that God looks on him and says, You just prepared this for yourself.

And then the sting in the tail. This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God. The whole prevailing emphasis of James is akin to that of his brother, who said on number of occasions, It is imperative that you do not invest ultimately where thieves break in and steal and where moths eat it away and when everything tarnishes and ruptures and explodes in your face.

But make sure that ultimately your investment is in the best place. But these individuals, whom James now addresses, were nowhere in relationship to this, and instead they should begin their weeping and their wailing, because everything was about to fall apart. Now, in James's day, the indication of wealth was the possession of grain and oil, clothes, and precious metals.

So it's no surprise in verse 2 that he writes as he does. Look what he says. Your wealth has rotted. Your wealth has rotted. The picture there of grain being stored away far more than is needed and stored in such a way that it is not being used.

And it's some weird satisfaction, perhaps, to affect the balance of trade. The individual decides, I would rather let it rot than reduce the futures on the market by letting it out at this level. Your wealth has rotted. Your clothes are all eaten by moths.

And your gold and silver are all corroded. It's quite a picture, isn't it? It's a salutary picture. I immediately think of people I can apply this to. I'm sure you do as well. Makes you feel so much better, doesn't it? If you can think of somebody that you can say, Oh, look at that. Oh, yeah, there they go. Because then you can say, No, I'm not doing that.

No, but I'm doing something for sure. I mean, this is leveled against the acquisitive miser, but the warning inherent in it is, you better make sure that you don't become an acquisitive miser, that you don't become an idolater, that you, the people of God, do not get so swallowed up by the world in which you live that you make their convictions—your convictions and their decisions about these things—your decisions. And you baptize, as it were, something into a biblical orthodoxy that is actually challenged by the very Bible that we read. Now, I say this humorously and not with any condemnation, and because I know that everything gives back to somebody eventually with this internet and CDs and everything, but I have some friends who feel sorry for me because I'm a pastor. And they have, when they go shopping, the ability to buy not only one of what they're needing but three or four of what they're needing. So they buy a sweater, but buy it in four colors. And when you go in their closet, then they have the one they have out, and then they have the others in the bags—the same is true of trousers and different things and so on. And my friend, he likes to bring me in there and show me his stuff and then have me try it on. And when I try it on, and if it looks good, he takes it back immediately. If it looks bad, he says, You can have that. And he's got stuff in there that goes back probably, you know, three fashion cycles.

I mean, he's got the possibility now that he might be coming right back around so that some of the stuff will be back in vogue, but most of it is just all a complete, you know, uselessness. And I say to myself, How many of those things do you need? But then I say to myself, How many of those things do you need? How many pairs of shoes do I have in a world that goes barefoot?

How many pens am I allowed to buy myself before it becomes a problem, when people are learning even how to write in the world? Now, I find it very easy to point it out. It's much harder to face up to, isn't it? You see, the difference between storing it and sharing it, hoarding it so that we can look at it, missing the fact that we're selfish with it, displaying a lack of trust by holding onto it, suggesting somehow or another that the God who made it possible for us to have it in the first place has only been able to look after us up until this point. I was thinking about that as we sang the last second-to-last hymn, I think it was, He Will Keep Me Till the End. I thought, No, I don't want him to keep me till the end. I want him to keep me beyond the end. You know?

I forget. Keep me till the end. We're all coming to the end. We want to know what happens beyond the end.

He's going to keep me beyond the end, as God manages to provide for me to today. So I've got to hoard all of this and keep it, because I don't know what'll happen tomorrow. Again, this hard distinction between careful planning and wrongful hoarding and acquisition. Lazarus, in the story that Jesus told you, remember, longed to eat what fell from the rich man's table.

The rich man didn't realize what fell from his table, and he was oblivious to the poor man at his gate. Says Calvin, God has not appointed gold for rust or garments for moth, but on the contrary, he has designed them as aids to human life. Well, we need to move on. But notice the phrase that I've missed at the end of verse 3. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Why does he add a timeline there? And what is this timeline? Well, the way the New Testament uses the phrase the last days is to describe the period of time between the coming of Jesus and the return of Jesus. Hence, on the day of Pentecost, when the people hear the gospel proclaimed in their own language by those who are not normal speakers of that language, and some say they must be drunk, Peter stands up and he says, These men are not drunk, as you suppose, but this is simply what was declared by the prophet Joel, In the last days I will pour out my spirit.

And he says, And this is exactly what has happened. The same thing, as you find in Hebrews chapter 1, in verse 1, In the past, in various ways, God spoke of old by his prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. Now, what is the danger with a rich person? Especially if you combine this word to the rich with the word to the presumptuous back up in verse 13 of chapter 4. Well, I think it's probably this—that riches may deceive us into believing that the riches are permanent and then cause us to act as if we will live forever.

And James is adding a little note here, if you like. He is referencing God's clock. And he's saying, These individuals who have hoarded wealth have done so in the last days. They have lived without keeping an eye on God's clock.

He's already said back in verse 12 of chapter 4 that there is a lawgiver and a judge, the one who is able to save and to destroy, and it is to this one that we will eventually give an answer. But these individuals are continuing to hoard things and without paying attention to God's clock. And God, in his grace and in his mercy, chooses to remind us that we're on his clock and on his time. And that's one of the reasons that many of us disavow any interest in funerals. I actually have a theory it's one of the reasons that communities don't allow church bells anymore. Why clocks are uncommon, especially if they sound out the passage of time. Why cemeteries are no longer built within the orb of the church steeple.

Because everyone who came would walk past their gravesite on entry and on departure and would be reminded of God's clock, which would then make a difference to God's money given to them for a brief time to enjoy and to use. Well, that's just the first of the charges. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. We'll pick it up from you have failed to pay. You have failed to pay the workers.

Maybe I'll make some comments, maybe I won't, about this whole idea of having people work in your house and not paying them after they've done the work, but stringing it out for as long as we can so that tradesmen have to go and buy the wood and the materials and do the outlay and come to our house and provide a service which, upon completion, we immediately enjoy and then decide to hold payment to the very last limit that we can of acceptable behavior and absorbable understanding on the part of the tradesman. Read the passage. Think about it.

It may actually cut a little deeper than many of us have even given consideration to. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life. We'll hear more on Monday.

Keep listening. Alistair returns in just a moment to close today's program. If you are a regular listener to Truth for Life, you have probably heard me mention that all of Alistair's teaching is available on our website or through our mobile app and for free. All of our resources are made available to you at our cost.

We do all of this because we're passionate about giving unlimited access to all of our online teaching. That's a passion that we share with a large company of our listeners called Truth Partners. Their generous monthly giving is what makes it possible for you to download or listen to more than 2,000 Bible teaching messages from Alistair for free, or to buy high quality books and audio series for just a few dollars at Truth for Life. Recently, we heard from a Truth Partner, Verna, who explained that she signed up because there are so many being led astray out there. I want to support your ministry to help spread the truth to as many as you can. So if you are one of our Truth Partners, thank you. Without your faithful giving, this program would not be possible. And if you are not yet a Truth Partner, why not join this important team today?

You can sign up through the mobile app or online at truthforlife.org slash truth partner, or call us at 888-588-7884. When you join us as a monthly Truth Partner and you pledge $20 a month or more, we want to say thank you by inviting you to request two monthly book offers we make available. Today we're recommending a book called God's Big Promises, Stories of Jesus. This is a biblically sound storybook that will help you tell young children, children between the ages of three and six more about Jesus, about the savior of all who believe. As you read together, your child will also learn how to pray and how to become a part of God's kingdom. Today's the last day we're offering Stories of Jesus though, so be sure to request your copy when you become a Truth Partner or when you give a one-time donation at truthforlife.org slash donate.

Now, here is Alistair. Father, thank you that we're not here to listen to the meanderings of our minds. We are here to study the Bible, grant that what is true and right and helpful may be written into our hearts and to our understanding. We pray, Lord, that where the cap fits, that we will wear it. Forgive us when we are tempted to become idolaters in this realm, and instead of worshipping you, the living God, to worship that which you have made. Forgive our sins. Turn us again to your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who though he was rich, yet he became poor, in order that we might, through his poverty, become rich towards you, the living God. And may the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God, our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, rest upon and remain with us and keep us on track with you. Now and until Jesus comes or calls us to himself, and then forevermore. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you're able to worship with your local church. Being wealthy isn't a sin, but sometimes the way money is acquired or the way it's used is clearly sinful. We'll learn more on Monday about ill-gotten gain. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-28 18:28:29 / 2023-10-28 18:37:21 / 9

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