The Latter Epistles – James 5

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on 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 workers 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 luxury and self-indulgence.  You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.  See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.  Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged.  The Judge is standing at the door!
Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered.  You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.  The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else.  All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.”  Otherwise you will be condemned.
Is anyone among you in trouble?  Let them pray.  Is anyone happy?  Let them sing songs of praise.  Is anyone among you sick?  Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.  If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a human being, even as we are.  He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

  • James 5:1-20

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

James 5:1-11 ‘addressing sinners and saints’: “The address to sinners; and here we find James seconding what his Master had said:  Woe unto you rich; for you have received your consolation, Luke vi. 12.  The poor among the Jews received the gospel, and many of them believed; but the generality of the rich rejected Christianity, and persecuted those who believed on Christ.
“1. He foretells the judgments of God that should come upon them, v. 1-3.
“2. What those sins are which should bring such miseries.  Covetousness is laid to the charge of this people.  God gives us our worldly possessions that we may honour him and do good with them; but if, instead of this, we sinfully hoard them up, this is a very heinous crime, and will be witnessed against by the very rust and corruption of the treasure thus heaped together.  Another sin is oppression, v. 4.  Those with wealth in their hands get power into their hands, and then they are tempted to abuse that power to oppress such as are under them. …  Another sin is sensuality and voluptuousness, v. 5.  God does not forbid us to use pleasure; but to live in them as if we lived for nothing else is a very provoking sin.  Luxury makes people wanton. …
“The address top saints: From what has been said concerning wicked and oppressing rich men, occasion is given to administer comfort to God’s afflicted people.
“Attend to your duty. … Consider what encouragement here is for Christians to be patient.”

  • Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Scripture quotations are not in bold/italics)

James 5:11 ‘endurance’: “A person going to a surgeon will bear sharp pain when he is convinced he will be cured by such pain.  If a man proposes to cut me, I decline his offer.  But if I know that I will die unless the incision is made, I welcome the knife.  Let him cut without mercy if he intends mercy by it.  It might be unmerciful to hold back his hand in such a case.  Such knowledge should make us patient under divine chastisement.  The Lord never grieves us because he likes to grieve us.  He is full of pity and will only rid you of what would harm you.”
‘the Lord’s compassion’: ”Let us not be persuaded by man or devil to think ill of our God.  He has a father’s heart even when he makes us feel the strokes of his hand.  Our God cannot be unkind to us; he cannot forsake us.  If we would see his goodness and his justice blended, we must look at the Son of God on the cross, dying in our place.  Let us not doubt the tenderness of him who gave his one and only Son.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

James 5:16 ‘effects of prayer’: “Prayer is the recognition that if God had not engaged himself in our problems, we would still be lost in the blackness.  It is by his mercy that we have been lifted up.  Prayer is that whole process that reminds us of who God is and who we are.
“I believe there’s great power in prayer.  I believe God heals the wounded, and that he can raise the dead.  But I don’t believe we tell God what to do and when to do it.
“God knows that we, with our limited vision, don’t even know that for which we should pray.  When we entrust our requests to him, we trust him to honor our prayers with holy judgment.”

  • Max Lucado, Walking with the Savior

James 5:20 ‘turning a sinner from death’: “In the days of James, if any erred from the truth and from holiness, there were believers who sought their recovery and whose joy it was to save their soul from death.  He who has erred was one of us, one who sat with us at the communion table.  He has been deceived by the subtlety of Satan.  Let us not judge him harshly.  Above all, let us not leave him to perish without pity.  If he was ever a saved man, he is still our brother, and it should be our business to bring back the prodigal and make our Father’s heart glad.  If he is not a child of God, if his professed conversion was a mistake or pretense, grieve over him all the more, for his doom must be the more terrible.  Still seek his conversion.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

My Thoughts

Luke 18:18-25 tells of a rich young ruler who wanted to follow Jesus.  After the young man basically lies about following all the commandments (but he probably thought he had), Jesus tells him to give away his riches.  The young man did not do so, instead going away with a heavy heart.  After he is gone the disciples asked, and Jesus said how hard it was to enter the kingdom of God if you were rich.

Of all the pastors that I have heard preach on this topic, they violate what James says in James 2, by making exceptions for the rich in their church, even pandering at times.  If they preached on how unlikely it was that the rich in the church could ever enter heaven, the rich would leave, along with their large giving, and find a church where they had a better chance at heaven – or better yet, build their own church across the street.  When you have that much money, you can do such things.

But here, James again attacks the rich.  Again, James claims that the needs of the poor are not being met.  In fact, James gets specific in that the rich man did not pay the guy who cut his grass.  Okay, this may not have been lawn care.  The words in the NIV are “mowed your fields.”  This could be anything from lawn care to plowing the fields.  I have a suspicion that James made a general comment, but he had someone specific in mind.  Yet, the general comment applies to all of us.

Even when we are far from being the rich in America, do we cut back on our tips at restaurants and other places?  I have found that since my wife and I are on a fixed income, we are giving a higher percentage tip and we round up when we cannot make change.  When you have less, you notice others who have less and with a caring heart, you wish to help.  Don’t get me wrong.  When I worked hard for little pay, what I thought was too little, I tipped the standard amount.  I was not the guy who dropped a $100 bill down on the table when I had only bought a cup of coffee.  I do not drink coffee, but you get the point.  Yet, I have been at large gatherings of 20 family members and if any of the others tipped at all, it was a dollar here or two dollars there.  In those circumstances, my wife and I paid twice the price of our meal, and still the wait staff was cheated.  The way the economics works in these situations is that the wait staff only get minimum wage with ample tips and sometimes, they may work a full shift to get no tips at all.  It is hard to keep the smile on your face on such days.  And when the company that you work for is picking up the tab, there is no excuse for not tipping adequately – extra if they did an exceptional job.

But as Matthew Henry explains, these introductory statements address both sinners and saints.  The second paragraph likens the saint to a farmer who sows the seed and then waits patiently.  My mother could not understand this concept.  She would wait, but with a hoe in hand and as the ground began to break, where a weed might emerge soon, she was on it, ripping the ground apart to find the germ of the weed and kill it before it could even be “born.”  Yet, to gain sustenance from the garden, waiting is always part of the deal.  And grumbling begets grumbling in return, which leads to ill will.  I think that is the reason that I rarely go onto social media anymore.  Everyone complains and no one provides new ideas that would resolve the issue being complained about.  People are not patient.  They do not wait unto the Lord.  They just blame God when they do not receive on their human timescale.  In other words, they would rather risk being cursed and be rich than being poor and expectant of treasures in heaven.  And that concept becomes all consuming.

In fact, the next paragraph likens our journey in life to that of Job, a journey of perseverance.  Forget patience.  If you read Job’s comments, he may not have cursed God as is wife wanted him to do, but he was not patient either and he felt what he had suffered was far from just.  Today, we feel the same way, but we blame God for it.  Again, social media gives the average person the ability to rant.  In reading the social media pages, you quickly learn how little patience exists today and how there seems to be no one who waits expectantly upon the Lord.  I have written about how the book of Job has about three good chapters, then over 30 chapters of pop psychology and the blame game, then God enters the picture to establish who is sovereign.  I have wondered why those 30+ chapters are often quoted, those chapters that border on the edge of heresy, as a minimum, what is not exactly true.

But then, the chapter and the book of James end with a barrage of useful, practical ideas.  Do not swear an oath.  Pray if you are troubled.  Sing praises if you are happy.  Go to the elders for the anointing of oil if you are sick.  And confess your sins.  Elijah is given as an example that the prayers of the righteous are effective.

Of all these, the one I may never try is the anointing of oil.  While I would welcome that from most pastors, some pastors I would keep at arm’s length, and most lay leaders in the church would have no idea what anointing of oil is.

The final sentence is “worth the price of admission,” to coin a phrase.  Indeed, the greatest thing that can be done for a fellow traveler is to get them to turn their lives around and follow Jesus.  I know of no true believer that could refute that, but why is it that so few are brave enough to even talk about such things?

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“2. What does James imply about using wealth as power?
“1. When you experience hardship, what enables you to be patient and wait for God?  What has really tested that?
“2. When have you come the closest to wandering from the faith?  What (or who) helped bring you back?  How does that illustrate the healing ministry of the body of Christ?  How would you help someone else come back to the faith?
3. The book of James can polarize those who grapple with it.  Which way do you find yourself leaning: Guilty or inspired?  Resistant or repentant?  Passing the buck to the rich, or passing out bucks to the poor?
4. How can you be a ‘doer’ of the truth you have heard in James?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There are two question 2 due to James 4-5 being split into three study sessions in the Serendipity Bible.  There is logical overlap between the end of James 4 and the beginning of James 5.

The last question made me cringe.  Why I gained a lot during this study of James, James 2 seems to be the focus with many people, “doing their way into Heaven.”  The book of James has a lot of practical things to do, but once the focus is on the “doing,” faith and even God take back seats to the doing, because we can see the fruits of that labor.  It is a trap that the enemy loves using – using the church to lead people away from God by making it a “doing” activity instead of growing closer to our Savior.  Yet, going to church and closing in the walls so that we only learn about God hides our light, and it is unable to shine.  It is not the right idea to compromise somewhere in the middle, bargaining with God.  We must have faith first, and then allow the Holy Spirit to work within us to make the “doing” a natural outflow from our faith.  Thus, everyone is “doing” for the right reasons.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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