Monday, November 29, 2010

What does it really mean to "have it all?"

What does it really mean to "have it all?"

Some of us might answer that it involves a house furnished with a big screen TV, a car in the driveway and perhaps even a boat in the garage. Or a cushy job making six of seven figures, invites to exclusive lavish parties, and extravagant vacations to exotic locals around the globe. Success, especially in America, is often equated with massive monetary gain.

As Americans we are culturally indoctrinated to think of more money as good, and less money as bad. So then it is no surprise we're so easily blindsided by an unusual verse in the Book of James:

"Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.Your gold and silver are corroded.Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxuryand self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter."
The Apostle James Brother of Jesus (as recorded in The book of James chapter 5)

Rich people are told to "weep and wail" because of the misery that is coming upon them?
What kind of "misery" could financial wealth possibly bring?

At this point, it would be easy enough to tread the familiar modern interpreters path that money is not evil in and of itself; it's the love of money that is evil, stuff isn't bad just don't idolize it. Then we could back it up by sprinkling in a verse or two like 1 Tim. 6:10, and quoting the prayer of Jabez (Lord increase my lands...). But, what if we were to take it a step further. What if instead of dismissing this passage because it is culturally uncomfortable we were to unpack it, explore it, and trust the spirit to guide us through it?

Since the text wasn't written in English (I know thats shocking to some folks) lets look at a couple of key pieces of language here.

"…weep and wail…" is actually the words klaiō ololyzō
klaiō is a sign of pain and grief and ololyzō is a loud cry or a lament

This is no small regret (like oh I wish I had gotten my new SUV in Forest Green instead of Metallic Blue). It is a call to shrieking loud lamentations. (like the Middle Eastern Mourners as they carry a casket through the streets crying out and loudly lamenting a life and all its possibilities that have been lost forever).

Wealth is the word ploutos
ploutos is an abundance of external possessions
And is found elswere in scripture:
1Ti 6:17Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment
Hbr 11:26He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward

Rev 18:15The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn and cry out: " 'Woe! Woe, O great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls! In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!' "Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off.

The phrase "lived on earth in luxury" is the words tryphaō and spatalaō
tryphaō is to live delicately, luxuriously, to be given over to a soft and luxurious life.
spatalaō is to lead a voluptuous life, to give one's self to pleasure

They are only used once in the whole New Testament. The use of them together suggests softness of luxury and or a breakdown of moral restraints; going beyond pleasure. Together these phrases picture a life without self-denial, which offers no resistance to any hunger or craving, and promises comfort and enjoyment despite the cost to others.

This was writen in the early days of the church. In such a time a person could display his wealth in basically three ways: by means of food, clothing, or possessions, particularly if they were made of precious metals. Those who were wealthy ate well, dressed extravagantly and spent lavishly, but James says these things will rot, be eaten, or corrode.

"You have lived on earth in luxuryand self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter."

We are frequently in conflict with our own nature... We have an instinct to stand up against oppression, to cheer for the under dog, to reject marginalization, and shout at the top of our lungs when we see injustice.

But, we are also creatures shaped by our culture of greed and self loathing.

We long for the things that are out of our reach, things that are just a little better than what we have now. Those things that we are told will satisfy our cravings, and make us better, more fulfilled, more well liked people.

And we are urged, by subtle and not so subtle messages, to look the other way over some injustice here or there to get these things (the ends justify the means right?).

But, everything eventually turns to dust and rust

Advisers spend a lot of energy convincing us that we will be happy if we just buy that new shiny car... But after a few years, especially if you live in a cold climate where they spread copious amounts of salt on the roads, it starts to turn into rust.

This is the case for everything we lust or long for. (even other people) They always return to dust or rust.

We live in a culture that promises to fulfill that yearning that need for Glory in a million ways. It has been said marketers can invent a new way to fall into debt every single day. That is they are skilled at convincing us that they have tapped into a new way to find fulfillment and happiness...

But it is all Dust and Rust! Even if it provides us that fulfillment for a short time it always fall short in the end.

One of the central, if not THE central claim, of Jesus is this...

Gods Glory has come to earth! The fulfillment of the very things we long for the very things that our culture trys to sell us, but always falls short, is present and is at hand. It has arrived and is available for anyone who is willing to accept it.But only if you are willing to let go of all the lies, of all the dust and rust that our culture sells us!

Because you can't grasp what has been offered if your hands are still full of the shopping bags.