A Study in James 5
James 5:1-3 – 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.
In this final study of the book of James, we find that he sticks true with the rest of his book. James speaks out against something, tells the blessings and curses that could follow, and then ends with a proclamation to faith in God.
In the Old Testament, the Jewish culture was meant to be one of holiness, not commerce. Looking at the Mosaic Law would seem to indicate this to be the case. Just look at the example in Leviticus against taking interest on loans. This would have precluded any and all commerce. It is very difficult to make money when you can’t earn interest.
The Jewish historian, Josephus, is quoted as saying, “As for ourselves, we neither inhabit a maritime country, nor do we delight in merchandise, nor in such a mixture with other men as arises from it; but the cities we dwell in are remote from the sea, and having a fruitful country for our habitation, we take pains in cultivating that only.”
Eventually, as time went by, the Jews came to understand they needed commerce to survive and did so with only rabbinical oversight. Unfortunately, just like all other human beings, once money increases come in to play, then a system that separates the rich from the poor comes in and people begin to see a selfish and prideful mentality take hold.
As James was written to Jewish Christians, it may seem that the beginning of this chapter was written to rich Jewish Christians.
In verses 1-3, James serves a hearty rebuke against those who claim their independence from God through their wealth. James gets Old Testament prophetic when he talks about three different destructions of wealth: food spoiling, garments being moth-eaten, and gold corroding. Similar to Luke 18:22, James talks about the corruptible wealth bearing witness against them as they are storing up their treasures here on earth rather than in heaven.
James 5:4-6 – 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. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.
As he moves into verses 4-6, he condemns the sins of the rich. First he speaks out against withholding the wages of the workers. How many governments have beaten down their people by overtaxing them? How many bosses have withheld wages because the business was in trouble? How many bonuses and pay raises have been withheld because of some inane reason?
While Jesus’ ministry was never hurting for money and he had a few well-known rich people following Him (Zacchaeus, Joseph of Arimithea, and Barnabas to name a few), it is also well known, as we learn in 1 Timothy that riches are the reason behind countless sins.
Now James speaks a phrase that gets translated in many different ways across various translations. James says that the cries have reached the “Lord of Sabboth.” This is not to be confused to with Lord of the Sabbath. The idea behind this is that it is the Lord of Hosts or more aptly, the “Lord of armies.” Here, we see a reference to God the warrior. Our commander-in-chief ready to mobilize his angelic armies against this sinful act.
In verse 6 James leads into his next topic. Unfortunately, in this world, the poor are often without a lot of power. But James tells them that their cries are heard by God. In His time, God will right every wrong against the poor and beaten down. He leads into patience.
James 5:7-8 – Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
In verses 7-8 James likens the expectation of patience to farming. We are to wait until the Lord appears again. A farmer does not give up even when he doesn’t see immediate results. James talks about the early and latter rains. More aptly, these are the fall and spring rains. The fall rains soften the ground for the plows to go through and the spring rains were for bringing the crop to maturity.
This maturity shows in having an “established heart.” An established heart is rooted deep in the Word of God. James believed that God’s returning could happen at any time and fully prepared for it during his time. The only way to be prepared is to mature in the Spirit.
James 5:9 – Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!
Verse 9 talks to us about grumbling. When we have to be patient, sometimes that is very difficult. We end up complaining. A new bride waiting for her wedding day or a mother-to-be waiting for the birth of her child can take a toll on a person’s patience.
It is the same with waiting on the Lord. It is very easy for us to get angry or upset with one another, especially those whom we are supposed to love. Complaining, even during hardship, causes us to stand condemned. He points out that Jesus comes as the Judge. Not only the Judge of the world, but also to review the faithfulness of those who bear His namesake. We cannot allow out trials and hardships to reveal in us an unloving or uncaring spirit.
James 5:10-11 – My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord; that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
Moving into verses 10-11 James explains that the Old Testament prophets were examples to use when looking at hardship. Jeremiah, for example, was put in stocks, thrown in prison, hidden away in the dungeon, and yet he patiently persisted in his ministry. James shares the example of Job. In this patience, God will show his compassion and mercy.
James 5:12 – But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes,” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.
Verse 12 tells us to not take an oath. As a Christian our yes should simply be a yes. How often do we fail at that. That is, honestly, one of my biggest opportunities as a Christian. First century Jews often made a distinction against “binding” and “non-binding” oaths. Oaths that did not include the name of God were considered non-binding. Think of them as crossing your finger behind your back as you tell a fib.
He tells us to not swear any oaths. Making an oath, he feels, weakens the position of the person making the oath. It demonstrates that your character does not have enough weight to act as confirmation for your words. And if you lack this character trait, it will be shown at the judgment seat of Christ.
James 5:13-14 – Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
Finishing up not only the chapter, but the book, James ends with how Christians should pray for each other. As an elder of a church with attendance of about 800 weekly, I spend much of my week either on the phone or in person with people who are in need. These could be physical needs such as rent payments or food, or they could be more spiritual such as sicknesses or some grievous sin such as an affair or abuse. Prayer is a major part of the Christian’s life.
When a Christian is suffering, they need to pray.
When a Christian is joyful, they should praise God through prayer and worship.
When a Christian is sick, the elders should be called and the person should be prayed over.
The important thing to see here is that the ownership for prayer is on the part of the person who is suffering, cheerful or sick. Many times people do not ask for prayer because of a multitude of reasons, but James is clear, we should be asking for prayer.
James does speak about the elders anointing the sick with oil. Many times, in the first century church, anointing with oil was seen as medicinal. Looking at today, the anointing with oil could mean that we seek the best medical attention there is out there. It could also be more spiritual in that we anoint the person in the power of the Holy Spirit.
James 5:15-16 – And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
James speaks specifically of healing in verses 15 and 16. There has always been debate among Christian circles as to whether James is talking about a guaranteed physical healing when prayer is done. But taken in context, James is combining the healing with resurrection and forgiveness. To me, this sounds more of a spiritual healing than a physical one.
It is important to know that every prayer for healing is not answered how we would like. I believe James does make it clear by claiming that we need to pray in faith. Our focus should always be spiritual first, then physical. God healed the physical only after the spiritual faith was seen.
A lot of times Christians are scared to pray a prayer of faith because if a healing is not done then it would be as if God’s reputation would be tarnished. We need to remember that we serve a very big God. This same God is big enough to handle His own reputation. We simply need to follow His plan.
He speaks of confession. Confession is an important part of the Christian life as it unburdens us from the heavy weight of sin. When we look at healing, we need to be very cognizant of the fact that sickness, many times, is a direct result of sin that has not been dealt with. Paul speaks to this in 1 Corinthians 11:30.
The root form of the word “confess” means to “say the same thing.” So when we confess our sin, we are identifying it by its real name and admit that it is a sin. For the Christian who is listening to the confession, it is important to behave properly. We should immediately begin loving, intercessory prayer and not provide human “wisdom” or begin gossiping about it.
The praying should be done by someone who is “fervent” and “righteous.” James is clear that a person with those qualities will have effective prayer. If we go into our prayer with a lukewarm attitude and ask God to care for something that we, in essence, care little about, then our prayer will not be effective.
James 5:17-18 – Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
James shares, in verses 17 and 18, an example of a fervent and righteous man praying in Elijah. Elijah was a man, like us, and he prayed earnestly. James uses him as an example so we know we can become prayer warriors like him.
James 5:19-20 – Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
He ends the chapter, and the book, with the reason why he wrote the book in the first place, to bring back people who were wandering away from the truth. The word, “wander,” is a good one here. Most people do not intentionally walk away from that which they know is true. It happens over time and unintentionally.
James has a book that is filled with wisdom from God. His words are not only important for the first century Jewish Christians, but for those of us in the 21st century. I believe it important to go back and reread his words a couple of times a year because of the great information in them.