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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am & 1045am Service, 2013-05-05

Text: James :1-6

Last Wednesday, Labour Day was celebrated in more than 80 countries worldwide. This public holiday symbolizes solidarity among workers. It also commemorates the labour movement’s historic campaign to protect the rights of workers, including the 8-hour day and fair wages for all who are in the workforce. The reforms that have been instituted by the labour movement have done much to improve the welfare of employees.

Today, those of us who work are able to enjoy good working conditions, as there are laws to protect us from being exploited. According to the Employment Act of Singapore, an employee is not required to work more than 8 hours in a day or 44 hours in a week. Even if he agrees to do some overtime work, he cannot be made to work more than 12 hours a day. He is not to work more than 6 consecutive hours without a break, and the break should be no less than 45 minutes. He is also entitled to one day of rest every week.

All employers are required to pay their workers’ salary at least once a month, and they must pay them within seven days after the end of each salary period. Those who fail to do this will be heavily prosecuted (If convicted, they could be jailed up to 6 months and/or fined up to $5,000). Just two weeks ago an International construction company was fined $8,000 for failing to pay its workers’ salaries on time. This was brought to light after two Chinese migrant workers who were not paid climbed onto the tower cranes at their worksite and refused to come down until their claims were resolved.

The sad thing is that there are many migrant workers who are not paid on time. NGOs who help such workers will tell you that it is a widespread practice to withhold and delay payment of wages to migrant workers as collateral for “good behaviour” and to discourage them from terminating their contracts early. Such manipulative tactics to exploit workers and deprive them of their due are actually not new. Throughout man’s history, many have suffered from being exploited by rich and powerful men, and they had no labour laws to protect them from such exploitation. As we study James 5:1-6 this morning we will see how this problem is addressed in God’s Word. As you read these verses perhaps you may think to yourself, “Why did James condemn the rich men in the church with such strong words?” He seems to have nothing good to say about them. He does not say in verse 1, “Repent and change your ways, lest great miseries should come upon you,” but he tells them instead to weep and howl as if nothing can stop their miseries from coming upon them. And in verse 3 he speaks about their impending destruction as a done deal. It seems that these rich men had no hope whatsoever.

The reason why James wrote about them in such a manner is that they were not believersat all. They were not even part of the church. However, there were rich believers among those that James wrote this epistle to and his tone toward them is different from what we see here. We see this in James 1:9,10 – “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.” Here, James calls the rich brother in the church to rejoice like the poor brother. And the reason given why he ought to rejoice is that he is made low and would thus realize that material wealth cannot last for long. In the early church many rich Christians lost all their wealth as a result of severe persecution. But because of their faith in Christ, they could rejoice and look forward to something which is far better than all their lost wealth, namely, the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (1:12).

But the rich men in James chapter 5 are different from them. They had nothing to look forward to. Instead of rejoicing, they could only weep and howl in fearful anticipation of the miseries and destruction from God that was coming upon them. This is because they were the ones who were persecuting the brethren in this epistle. This is revealed in chapter 2:6,7, where James wrote, “Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” These rich men were unbelievers who abused their wealth and power to oppress the poor believers and drag them to court to make false charges against them.

And therefore, these rich unbelievers were the ones referred to in James 5:1 – “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.” But you may ask, “Why then would James address them directly, as if they were present in the church that this epistle was sent to?” This is where some knowledge of biblical literary devices can be helpful.

The one that is used here is called ‘apostrophe’. It is a direct address to someone who is not present as though he is present. Using the direct address expresses intense feeling and generates a sense of dramatic excitement. One powerful example is found in 1 Corinthians 15:55, where Paul says – “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” This device was also used in many OT prophetic declarations of coming judgment against pagan nations like Babylon and Assyria who had oppressed God’s people (e.g. Isaiah 13-21; Ezekiel 25-32).

Now James uses the same literary device of direct address in our passage to declare God’s coming judgment of the rich unbelievers who oppressed and exploited believers. From this we can now understand the real purpose of this passage: It was a powerful way to comfort the believers who were oppressed. As they heard this imminent doom declared on those who were oppressing them, they would be strengthened to endure the cruel treatment of these rich unbelievers. And this fits in very nicely with what comes just after this passage. In vv.7-11, James exhorts them to endure their afflictions with patience.

Now, the comfort that this passage speaks about was meant not only for those who were exploited in the time of James. God’s Word is written for our comfort as well. If you are being exploited by others, and nothing can be done to stop it, God is speaking to you through this passage of Scripture. And there are two basic responses that He wants you to have toward any exploitation you face. Firstly, He wants you to

I. Trust God to Deal with Those who Exploit You

This of course assumes that you have tried your best to find every possible way to end their exploitation through proper channels. You have tried to reason with them, but they refuse to listen to you. You have tried to plead with them, but this does not help at all. You have tried to seek help from others, but everyone seems to be indifferent or unwilling to stick their necks out for you. You have reported the matter to the relevant authorities, but there is no good response. Your situation is utterly hopeless. So what should you do? Bring your case up to the Highest Court of all: Commit the matter fully to the Lord. Cry out to Him from your heart, and you have His full assurance that He will hear you. This assurance is given right here in v.4 – “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.”

I want you to see what a glorious truth this is, that God hears every cry of the oppressed! Listen to what God says in Exodus 22:22,23 – “Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry.” King David discovered this to be true when he was in trouble. That is why he testified in Psalm 34:6 – “This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” And this led David to conclude in v.15 of the same psalm, that “The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.”

Unlike all human authorities, God never takes long to understand your plight completely. You don’t have to struggle through a bureaucratic maze, making appointments to see this officer and that officer. You don’t have to spend hours writing detailed reports and gathering all the supporting documents, photographs and evidences to back up everything you say. This is because God already sees everything and knows everything. Those who exploit you may think that no one will ever know about their misdeeds because they have all the means and ways to cover up their tracks. But the first part of v.4 tells us that nothing can be hid from God – “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth.” Just like the blood of Abel whom Cain murdered (Genesis 4:10), the money that was left unpaid cries out to God to declare the offender’s guilt and to demand justice!

But what if all these cries reach the ears of one who is unable to bring those who are guilty to justice? And worse still, what if the ones who exploit you are just too strong, too powerful for anyone to oppose? No law can ever touch them, because they have built up impregnable layers of protection to avoid prosecution by any authority. King Solomon encountered such a situation in his own kingdom, which he describes in Ecclesiastes 4:1 – “So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.” Even Solomon with all his widom and authority could not overcome the great power of these oppressors. Somehow his own hands were tied, and he was unable to bring any help or relief to those who were being exploited by them. Who then, is able to help them?

The answer is found in the name that is used for God in v.4 of our passage. He is called the Lord of Sabaoth – which means the ‘Lord of hosts’ or the ‘Lord of armies.’ This name portrays Him as a mighty military commander, One who can at a mere word summon rank after rank of protective power to fight against evil. And so whenever the cries of the oppressed reach the ears of the Lord of hosts, nothing can stop Him from delivering them from their oppressors!

For instance, the book of Exodus begins with the slavery of the people of Israel. The Egyptians exploited them to build their huge cities. They ‘made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field.’ (Exodus 1:14) This made the Israelites cry out to the Lord. And the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:7-8)

And the Lord of hosts did deliver them, “by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors.” (Deuteronomy 4:34) Neither Pharaoh nor all the forces of Egypt could stop Him from delivering them from slavery. Is there any power on earth or in heaven that can prevent the Lord of hosts from delivering those who are oppressed by them? None at all! Indeed, His power to deliver those who are oppressed, exploited or enslaved is revealed many more times in biblical history.

And do you know what is the greatest deliverance that the Lord of Hosts has accomplished? It is His deliverance of our lives from the oppression of sin and eternal death. This is the most terrible oppression because it brings out the worst in man and it robs man of all hope of heaven and eternal life. Living in sin is worse than being exploited by anyone. It leaves you in a most helpless and pitiful state. If you are still unsaved, you need Jesus Christ who is the Lord of Hosts, to deliver you from this oppression. I would urge you to cry out to the Lord Jesus today to save you from your slavery to sin. Do this without delay, and He will deliver you, just as He has promised in His Word.

And thus we have seen that according to v.4 of our passage, the first response that God wants you to have to exploitation is to trust Him to deal with those who exploit you. He hears your cry, and He will deliver you from them in His own good time. Just leave it to Him to work out how He will do it and when He will do it. Now we come to the other basic response you should have to exploitation:

II. Be Warned against Exploiting Others

This warning against exploitation can be seen in the strong words that James uses in this entire passage. But you may ask, “Why would those who are being exploited need to be warned so strongly against exploiting others?” This warning is needed because of our sinful propensity to emulate the sins of others. You see, one reason why some people exploit others, is that they themselves were exploited. When a person has suffered long enough from being exploited, he may actually become envious of the prosperity enjoyed by those who exploit him. He is tempted to become like them.

This happened to a man called Asaph, who testified that he nearly fell into the same sin as the wicked who oppressed the righteous. Listen to what Asaph wrote in Psalm 73:2-3 –“But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I wasenvious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” In the verses that follow he describes how these oppressors seemed to get everything they want and no one could stop them. But he, on the other hand did not prosper at all despite trying to live a godly life. Instead of prospering he suffered affliction all the day long. And so Asaph almost compromised because he saw how well the wicked were prospering. It was only when he came into the Sanctuary of God that he understood their final end and realized how foolish he was to be envious of them.

Perhaps you may be in the same situation as Asaph. You work in an office where the most successful workers are those who exploit other workers. They take all the credit for what is not theirs, and they make others take the blame for what is theirs. They get everything they want and climb up the corporate ladder easily. Then they teach the subordinates they exploit to do the same thing to others if they want to succeed. This sinful behaviour propagates from the top level right down to the bottom, and those at the lowest rung of the ladder are hit the hardest.

If you in caught within a web of exploitation and you cannot get out of it, you must be very careful not to compromise. And the warning given in our passage can help you to be strong and to stand firm. There are three things mentioned in this strong warning against exploitation. The first is that…

A. Greed for Wealth Will Bring Destruction

This is the point of in vv.2-3. Exploitation is engendered by a greed or love for wealth. Now, there is nothing wrong with having wealth as long as you have the right attitude to it. Abraham and Job were both very rich in material things in their own time, and yet they were righteous and godly men. God blessed both of them with abundant wealth which they used well for His glory.

The problem begins when you trust in riches and love them. You begin to feel that your life consists in the abundance of the things you possess (Luke 12:15). Then you want to possess more and more riches. You want to lay up for yourself treasures upon earth (Matthew 6:19). And so you start thinking of ways to increase your earthly assets and to get more gains for yourself. Then you discover that one easy and quick way to do this is to exploit others, and you look for every opportunity to do this.

Do you think God is pleased with this? Not at all! Do you think He will bless your riches and give you more to possess? Certainly not! God will never bless any riches that are gained in a sinful way or for a sinful purpose. If the Lord grants you the opportunity to have more than what you need for a time, it is only for the purpose of exercising good stewardship over His wealth. You are to use it to bless others and to build His kingdom.

But if you now regard it all as your own precious wealth to be used for your own selfish ends, then all your riches will become a curse to you rather than a blessing. As vv.2,3 says, “Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.”

This tells us that the curse of riches that are gained in a sinful way or for a sinful purpose is not just the loss you suffer as they decay and lose their value, but also the immenseharm they will eventually inflict on your life. They will cause you much anguish, worry and pain. They will destroy your health, wreck your marriage and family life, and will create more enemies for you than friends.

This can also happen to employees – if you allow yourself to be exploited because of your greed for riches. So you work longer hours and sacrifice all the time you spend with your family and with the Lord. You will suffer in the end!

How ironical it is that what you relied on to bring you a better and more comfortable life, brings you untold misery and destruction instead! If you do not want this to happen to you, then please heed this warning not to be controlled by a greed for wealth which leads to exploitation. The second deterrent mentioned in this warning against exploitation is…

B. Dishonest Gain Will Bring Judgment

This is found in the first part of v.4 – “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth.” The word ‘fraud’ here shows that this holding back of wages in order to get gain is dishonest. Some employers may do this by imposing salary deductions for fees that were never agreed upon. Others make excuses for delaying salary payments, e.g. “The director who signs the paycheques is on holiday”; “The accountant’s computer broke down”; “The company is not doing so well.”Whatever the method or excuse one may use, it doesn’t change the fact that it is dishonest to delay the payment of wages.

I mentioned earlier that according to our country’s labour laws, an employer who does not pay his workers within seven days will be prosecuted. God’s law is even stricter than this – According to Deuteronomy 24:14,15, payment cannot be delayed by even one day. The employee must receive his wages before the sun sets. Paying him later than that is considered as robbery (Leviticus 19:13)! And that really brings out the wickedness of exploitation – It is a form of robbery, and it violates the 8th commandment – “Thou shalt not steal”.

Please take heed of this, especially if you employ anyone to work for you. This includes those who employ domestic helpers – make sure that you treat them faifly and kindly, and do not take advantage of them.

God takes this violation seriously, just as He takes any violation of His commandments seriously and will bring judgment against all who violate them. However, what aggravates this violation is the fact that the ones who are exploited are often greatly disadvantaged. They are vulnerable and have no power to stand up for their rights. In some situations, the workers really have no choice but to keep on working for those who exploit them because at least they still get some income to feed their families and to pay their household bills.

Life is extremely hard for many people in the world today because of exploitation, and yet those who are responsible for it have no sympathy or pity for them. They don’t feel any compassion for the misery of the oppressed. Why is this so? Isn’t it because their hearts have become so hardened by what they gain from exploiting others? And this may also happen to you if you do not heed the warning against exploitation.

C. Desensitised Hearts Will Bring Ruin

Listen to what James says in vv.5-6 – “Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.” The picture here is that of an animal being fattened with food, not knowing that this is going to lead to its ruin. Like this animal, the rich unbelievers who exploited the poor were indulging themselves with all the gains they had obtained, not knowing the horrible consequences that awaited them. They mistakenly thought that all the pleasure they indulged themselves in justifies the means they used to obtain it. “So what if my actions may have caused some people to suffer? I don’t care as long as I am having a good time.” Their hearts had been so fattened and desensitized with pleasure and selfish indulgence they they could no longer feel any compassion at all for the plight of their victims. As long as they got what they wanted, it doesn’t matter who has to suffer for it, even if he happens to be a just person who gives no resistance to them at all.

Now, isn’t this the same attitude as that of the unbelieving Jews who sought to condemn and kill our Lord Jesus? Look at the account given in John 11:47-50 – “Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” Can you see how they used the same line of reasoning that the end justifies the means? All that mattered to them was to keep their supreme place of authority in the leadership of Israel. As long as they could do this, it didn’t matter that Jesus must be condemned to suffer and die the cruel death on the cross.

 
What James wrote here in v.6 of our passage implies that those who exploit others put themselves in the same league as these unfeeling Jews who crucified our Lord Jesus. Any true believer who knows this must surely realize how evil exploitation is. Let us therefore be warned against the greed that engenders exploitation, and against thedishonest gain and desensitized heart it will lead us to. May the Lord help us to respond to exploitation the way He wants us to respond.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11