Ever notice that we always take God into consideration when we are sick or have trouble in our relationships but rarely consider His sovereignty in our business affairs? We pray over meals, for the sick and the poor but when was the last time we saw a prayer offered over a business deal? In his epistle, James tells us that failure to consider Him as Lord over our financial affairs will lead to three main dangers.
Arrogance is a feeling of superiority, the making of great claims about ourselves or boasting of our worth without regard to God.
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."
- James 4:13
Making plans for the future without considering God is arrogant because who knows, or can guarantee the future except God? James says that these business people plan as if they had control over the future.
Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
- James 4:14
In reality there is no "sure thing" in life. James compares life to a vapor, something very fragile and short lived - here today, gone tomorrow and forgotten two days later.
Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."
- James 4:15
What we do, we do because God permits us another day of life, and He does so in order to store up for His eventual vengeance or blessings.
But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
- James 4:16
Pretending that one has control of the future to the extent of boasting about what one will do with it is evil indeed, says James.
Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
- James 4:17
To know these things and yet to ignore them is sinful.
The Christian needs to know that the future is in God's hands and his plans for the future need to be put there. Whether our business fails or succeeds is not the point. What determines our guilt or innocence in this area before God is not success or failure, it is whether we have put the matter into His hands or not. Not to do so is a sign of arrogance.
Greed occurs when we seek satisfaction through the act of acquisition rather than through the cultivation of contentment. The problem with this approach and the reason that it is sinful is that one cannot find satisfaction by acquiring more (of anything), and to seek it in this way keeps our focus strictly on material things to the exclusion of spiritual things (where contentment and salvation reside). Greed, therefore, is the failure to control the natural desire to acquire and the pleasure that comes with it (one becomes addicted to the pleasure that acquisition generates to the point where how much we have no longer satisfies, only having more brings us a measure of satisfaction). The Christian needs to be wary of greed in his business dealings because the greedy will be punished (I Corinthians 6:10). At the judgment, people will not be condemned for being rich, they will be punished because of greed. The irony here is that the greedy person is actually settling for less (more and more earthly stuff that can't satisfy in any quantity) and misses out on the greater value of heavenly riches that provide contentment here, and eternal value and joy in heaven.
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.
- James 5:1
James warns the greedy rich of the judgment that is coming and if they knew this, they would begin to weep now.
2Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!
- James 5:2-3
In these verses he describes the danger of greed. The true condition of earthly wealth is that it is already rotting away and one day will be destroyed forever. Greed has a way of tying us to wealth and thus keeps us prisoners of things. The point is that those who are tied to things will ultimately be destroyed along with their things (II Peter 3:10).
When Christ appears in order to reveal the glory of heavenly and eternal things, the emptiness of earthly treasures will be revealed and this revelation will be a testimony/accusation against the greedy rich. They have set their hearts on worthless things and have demonstrated the worthlessness of their own hopes by doing so. In the end, James says, they will be destroyed along with their wealth.
Arrogance and greed are the basic attitudes to watch out for in money and business matters. Injustice is the overt sin that one does against another because of arrogance and greed.
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 Sabaoth.
- James 5:4
There will be a judgment against those who become rich by depriving others of what is their due by cheating, lying, extortion and manipulation. James pictures a rich farmer holding back some of the salary of his poor laborers on some pretext. He says that the wages themselves cry out to God for justice and will be a voice condemning the guilty at judgment. The Lord of Sabaoth means Lord of Hosts or Armies. The idea here is that the One who leads the armies of heaven is capable of punishing and exacting justice on the mighty and wealthy here on earth.
You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
- James 5:5
A rancher feeds an animal to fatten it up looking towards the day he will slaughter it. The beast does not know what is going to happen, it is merely content to keep on feeding. James notes that in the same way the arrogant rich who feed themselves on luxury at the expense of the poor are unknowingly preparing themselves for their own slaughter at judgment.
You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.
- James 5:6
Their ultimate sin of injustice is the death of the innocent who are unable to defend themselves. The helpless poor are sacrificed in order to preserve the wealth of the greedy rich.
This is the ultimate injustice caused by arrogance and greed. Just like murder is the ultimate sin of anger and resentment, and adultery is the ultimate sin of lust; death of the poor is the ultimate injustice caused by greed and arrogance. History is full of examples of the poor being trampled underfoot by greedy and arrogant wealth.
James warns those who are involved in business to be careful in their affairs because they are always in danger of falling into the sins of arrogance, greed and injustice. These, he says, will be punished by God.
As Christians involved in business, what should our attitude be?
- Bring all matters, including business matters, before God in prayer. Realize that He alone holds the future in His hands. This is the mark of a wise and humble man. Prayer is always the businessman's first step. Businessmen and women should be people of prayer. In business, God is the boss.
- Recognize that God distributes wealth as a tool for service towards others, not as something to hoard for our own security and pleasure.
6Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; 9as it is written, "He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness endures forever." 10Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; 11you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.
- II Corinthians 9:6-11
God gives us abundance so we can provide not only for ourselves but for others as well. This gives glory to Him because those you help will bless God based on the generosity of His children. This attitude protects Christians against greed and selfishness.
John Wesley (1703-1791), died with only $200 in his bank account. In his lifetime, however, he donated a total of $5 million in order to start orphanages and other benevolent works (worth 50 million in today's dollars). He was a dynamic businessman and a powerful champion for good works (also served as an Anglican minister). Someone once asked him what his secret for success was. He replied, "I throw money out of my hands as quickly as possible lest it finds its way into my heart."
I pray that when it comes to business, we will allow Jesus to control our hearts, and not the insatiable desire for more.