James 5

Warning to Rich Oppressors, 1-6

James 5:1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.

The love of money is a root of all evil

See 1 Tim 6:10. Who are these rich people? Why are they so roundly condemned? Note:-

  1. How they got rich, v4.
  2. Their life-style, v5.
  3. How they have treated believers, v6.

The sinful rich have built a comfortable world around themselves; but this world is turning into a nightmare, vv2ff. See Mt 6:19ff.

Vengeance belongs to the Lord

See Rom 12:19. What else does the Bible say about the retribution of the wicked? Is there any escape?

‘A boat overladen sinks, so much wealth drowns men in perdition.’ (Jerome)

James 5:2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.

James 5:3 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.

James 5:4 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.

James 5:5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.

James 5:6 You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

Patience in Suffering, 7-12

James 5:7 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.

Afflicted believers should be patient until the coming of the Lord

How would you describe the patience mentioned here?  It is passive resignation?  See also Heb 12:1f.

What does the Lord’s coming mean to you?

James 5:8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

The Lord’s coming is near – ‘Christian waiting is not waiting for something, but for someone. Twice James mentions the Lord’s coming and once says the Judge is standing at the door. The NT frequently refers to Christ’s return as ‘near’ (Rom. 13:12; Heb. 10:25; 1 Pet. 4:7). While most of the writers probably expected this to happen within their lifetime, it is a tension that is always ‘in the air’, for no-one knows when it will be, next second or next century (Mk. 13:32).’ (NBC)

James 5:9 Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

The Judge – Although it is possible that God the Father is meant (cf. James 4:12), the immediate context (v7f) suggests that it is Jesus Christ.  For a close parallel, see Mt 24:32.

James 5:10 Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The prophets – ‘The prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord, namely the OT prophets, also suffered at the hands of the wealthy and powerful. Yet now kings such as Ahab and Manasseh are forgotten or reviled, while prophets such as Elijah and Isaiah are honoured on earth (and even more so in heaven; cf. Mt. 5:11–12).’ (NBC)

‘Because “man is a creature that is led more by patterns than by precepts,” the Bible is full of examples for us to follow. There are many afflicted, oppressed prophets; prophets who “faced jeers and flogging”, who were “chained”, who were “put to death by the sword”, who “went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated” (Heb. 11:36-37). Jeremiah, Micah, Joseph and Paul all spent time in prison; Isaiah was sawn in two, John the Baptist was beheaded. At times, we complain under our affliction, but “our betters have endured far worse.”‘ (Scripture Studies)

How willing are we to learn from the past?

James 5:11 As you know, we consider 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.

We consider blessed those who have persevered – Cf. James 1:12. Cf. also 2 Cor. 4:17-18; Rom. 8:18.

Job’s perseverance – Although the AV speaks of Job’s ‘patience’, the point is that he persevered and maintained his moral integrity. See Job 1:21; 2:10; 13:15; 16:19; 19:25.

‘Few of us would single out Job as a model of faithful endurance in the midst of suffering. The canonical book rather pictures Job as a bit self-righteous, overly insistent on getting an explanation for his unjust sufferings from the Lord.  [But] although Job did complain bitterly about God’s treatment of him, he never abandoned his faith. In the midst of his incomprehension, he clung to God and continued to hope in him (see James 1:21; 2:10; 16:19–21; 19:25–27). As Barclay says, “Job’s is no groveling, passive, unquestioning submission; Job struggled and questioned, and sometimes even defied, but the flame of faith was never extinguished in his heart.”‘ (Moo)

‘Job certainly is the prototypical example in human history of the patient sufferer. Though he vehemently discussed his situation with God during his affliction, Job committed himself to God and His providence. After losing his livelihood and his children, Job persevered in his faith and patience and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21). After his body was struck with painful boils, Job continued to persevere, saying: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10).’ (Scripture Studies)

‘Job exemplifies that we, the people of God, should view our afflictions differently than those of the world view theirs. After losing their livelihood, their children, and their health, those of the world would consider that they have lost everything. For us, however, these things are but temporary blessings of God for our comfort and happiness on this earth, and they are but a foreshadow of the blessings He has prepared for us in the next life. Yes, we may lose our livelihood here, but we have riches stored up in heaven; yes, our children may pass from this life, but in doing so, they only precede us to our heavenly mansions where we will spend eternity with them; yes, our earthly bodies may deterioriate, but only as that of a caterpillar, and like a caterpillar, our bodies will metamorphose into a glorious new being. Those of the world lack the two important qualities that are needed in order to bear affliction with patience: faith and hope. We have faith to believe that, indeed, “the LORD gave and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21). Job’s example shows us that godly people will experience affliction within God’s will. Through faith, we believe that, even in our afflictions, the Lord is in control. Also, through faith, we have hope. James tells us not only to consider “Job’s perseverence”, but also “what the Lord finally brought about.” As David tells us: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalms 30:5). We all have the hope of eternal blessings when we pass from this life. In Job’s case, the blessings of God were restored to him in his life on earth, as “the LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” (Job 42:12).’ (Scripture Studies)

You…have seen what the Lord finally brought about – Lit. ‘you have seen the telos of the Lord.’  This could refer either to purpose, or to outcome.  The purpose was refinement of character; the outcome a termination of suffering and a redoubling of blessing.

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy – ‘God has not forgotten the Christians James is writing to. He cites Pss. 103:8 or 111:4, noting God’s compassion and mercy. God is not trying to make life hard for his believers, but is instead showing his mercy in assisting them to develop character and put their investments in heaven, where they will last forever.’ (NBC)

James 5:12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.

Do not swear

Do not swear – ‘Not all oaths are forbidden by this verse, only flippant, profane, or blasphemous ones. Oaths in the sense of solemn affirmations were enjoined in the law (Ex. 22:11) and were practiced by Christ (Matt. 26:63-64) and Paul (Rom. 1:9).’ (Ryrie)

See Mt 5:37 for a close parallel.

The Prayer of Faith, 13-20

James 5:13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

Let us pray

Don’t grumble, v9 or swear, v12 – pray.

When do you pray more – when in trouble, or when in joy?

The true child of God can sing praises in the most trying of circumstances, Acts 16:25. ‘But how many there are who, in the noontide of their greatest prosperity, forget to give thanks to the Giver of all good!’ (Ross)

What does this passage teach about prayer?  Can you testify to answered prayer?

James 5:14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

Elders of the church – Elders are mentioned in Acts 11:30, and again in Acts 14:23 as recognized leaders of the churches.

Oil – was recognised as having a medicinal value, Lk 10:34; and also as being symbolic of the presence of God, Psa 23:5.  After a thorough consideration of the alternatives, Moo concludes that this anointing with oil is probably ‘a physical action symbolizing consecration.’

For the practice of extreme unction – anointing those on the verge of death, not for healing but for forgiveness – appeal is made to this passage, but without justificaton.

There is one other reference in the NT to anointing with oil – Mk 6:13.

James 5:15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Confess your sins to each other – Motyer (BST) insists that the wording does not permit us to think that James is referring to the practice of declaring our sins to one or more neutral others.  He quotes Stott: ‘The principle which we have sought to establish is that sin must be confessed only to the person or persons who have been offended and from whom forgiveness is therefore desired. Confession is never to a third party, both because he has not been offended, and because he is not in a position to forgive the sin. This is the simple”] reason why auricular confession is a practice to be deplored. It is not an answer to say that auricular confession is not ‘to a priest’, but either to God through the priest or in the presence of the priest. Such representative confession is neither recognized nor recommended in Scripture. If the sin has been committed against God, it should be confessed to God secretly; if it has been committed against the church it should be confessed to the church publicly. Confessing such sins to a priest is not right, since it makes secret confession not secret through including another person and public confession not public through excluding the church.’ (Stott, Confess Your Sins)

Nor can the practice of secret confession to a priest be defended from this passage. As Luther remarks, ‘a strange confessor! His name is “One Another”!’

Pray for each other so that you may be healed – Cf. 3 Jn 2.  ‘While not denying that some in the church may have the gift of healing, James encourages all Christians, and especially those charged with pastoral oversight, to be active in prayer for healing.’ (Moo)

James 5:17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.

The great men and women of faith were not in a spiritual ‘super-league’. Elijah, like the disciples, Acts 14:15, was an ordinary man who became extraordinary under the power and guidance and molding of God.

James 5:18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

James 5:19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

I am my brother’s keeper

Verses 16-20 may be taken as a summary of the teaching of the epistle as a whole.

If one of you should wander from the truth – Some of his readers had indeed departed from the truth, and this was not just an occasional lapse, but something much more serious, cf Isa 9:16. Note, by the way, the striking emphasis placed upon ‘the truth’, as a synonym for ‘the faith’. The contradicts those who devalue the place of the head (doctrine), in favour of the hand (practice), or the heart (emotion).

Note the striking emphasis placed upon ‘the truth’, as a synonym for ‘the Christian faith’.  This contradicts those who devalue the place of the head (doctrine), in favour of the hand (practice) or the heart (emotion).

Someone should bring him back – The aim is not so much to condemn the backslider, but to restore him, cf Gal 6:1.

…will save him from death – The seriousness of the sinner’s situation is impressively indicated: they are in the realm of death and they are burdened with ‘a multitude of sins’. See Prov 10:12 (quoted in 1 Pet 4:8). The death which is in mind here is, of course, eternal death, although it should not be forgotten that grave physical consquences can sometimes result from wilful disobedience, Acts 5:1-11.

James has had many stern things to say in this epistle, but he ends where he began, with a message of strong encouragement.

‘I will not judge a person to be spiritually dead whom I have judged formerly to have had spiritual life, though I see him at present in a swoon as to all evidences of the spiritual life. And the reason why I will not judge so is this: because if you judge a person dead, you neglect him, you leave him. But if you judge him in a swoon, though never so dangerous, you use all means for the retrieving of his life. So ought we to do to one another and our own souls.’ (John Owen)