Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. — James 5:1-4
We’ve all heard it said that “you can’t take it with you.” But as I was reading the epistle of James recently I began to wonder if perhaps we actually can! In this passage James is warning those people who have loved riches and earthly pleasures over people and were willing to steal and cheat to have more. James intrigued me when he said that the corrosion of their gold and silver would someday do two things. First, it would testify against them, and then it would burn their skin like fire. Neither of those things seem likely to happen in this life.
Envision the judgment seat of Christ where all our secrets will be exposed, whether good or evil. Imagine a greedy man and woman trembling before the King and Judge, and beside them is a piled of the goods they accumulated through evil means, stacked up as evidence against them. They got to take it with them, but not for their pleasure! Historically, gold and silver were the currencies used throughout most of the world. So for many standing before the throne it may be stacks of gold and silver coins that come with them as evidence against them. Or perhaps it could also be the toys they’ve bought along the way, their jet skis, airline tickets for Europe, 3-car garages and vacation homes.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with having any of these things; it is the lust of those things that offends God. In fact you don’t have to have have that kind of money to be in the same predicament. Even the poor in this country would be considered rich by the standards of most of the world and even compared to the rich of earlier times.
God has never been against things. He created the earth and all that is in it. He blessed Abraham, David, Solomon and many others with riches. It’s only when we turn riches or things into idols—when we value the pleasures of this life above God—that we have a problem. That’s why Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26) In many other passages we are commanded to love and honor these people. So He wasn’t saying that we need to literally hate them. Rather He was using hyperbole to say that we need to put God first, even if it costs us everything and everyone else. We need to love the Lord with ALL of our heart, soul and strength. We need to be heavenly minded.
So once God has condemned the greedy man or woman for their ungodly love of gold and silver, He casts them into the flames of Hell. And to their surprise, they do get to take it with them! Every bit of it falls with them, turns into molten metal and lands on them, burning their flesh for eternity. It’s a very sobering thought. And it reminds me of another cliché: be careful what you wish for.
The story of Job also comes to mind when I ponder whether or not we can take it with us. A godly man who lost all his possessions, servants and children in a single day, Job proclaimed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
Job wasn’t saying that he would return to his mother’s womb or even that he would be literally naked when he died. He was describing the fact that the time we spend in this world is separated from the rest of eternity so we cannot be fixated on what we accumulate in this life, whether possessions or people. In both birth and death, we each make the transition alone. Job was speaking out of his realization that we can’t hold onto anything or anyone. Our only sure thing is God Himself.
This in no way contradicts the godly attitude that Dan Tucker taught us, especially as he neared his own death. Dan was zealous in his exclamation that the only thing we can take with us to heaven is people. He understood that the love of the things of this world is a misplaced love. We need to be so engrossed in the desperate mission of sharing the gospel that we don’t care much about this life’s pleasures. And that devotion to the mission rises out of our recognition that God’s love for people outweighs His passion about everything else. As we love people the way God does, leading them to God’s saving grace becomes more important than whether they think we’re fanatics, more important than whether or not they like us and more important than whether or not they reject us.
Job suffered his life’s greatest heartache only to then have to endure the accusations of his friends who thought it would be a good idea to accuse him of sins until something stuck and he repented. Eventually God stepped in and blessed Job again, so much so that in the latter part of his life he had literally double all he had lost. He went from 7000 sheep to 14,000, from 3,000 camels to 6,000, and from 500 yoke of oxen to 1,000.
God also gave Job 10 new children, the same number he started out with. Why not give him double the number he started out with? Because while Job’s destroyed crops were gone for good and his stolen livestock were gone for good, his first 10 were not gone for good, they were just waiting for him in the spirit realm known as Abraham’s Bosom. Think of it as a waiting room where every saint sat until Jesus rose from the dead and took them to heaven.
So perhaps we can take it with us. If we treasure material things and put them in the place of God in our hearts, they will follow us into judgment to testify against us and to Hell to punish us for eternity. But if we value God and His prized possession, people, we can take some of them with us to heaven by loving them, sharing the gospel with them and praying that their eyes are opened and they accept God’s forgiveness.
Let’s be careful what we wish for. Let’s not wish so much for material goods and earthly pleasures. Let’s wish for the people around us to accept the gospel. And let’s love them so supernaturally that they want that same supernatural grace we’ve found. Let’s see the similitude of God within them, and let’s take it with us.