James 5 Bible study

Living Word Magazine

Chapter 5

 

The Love of Riches

 

5:1-3 Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you. Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure!

 

The chapter begins with a warning for the rich. When everything is weighed up, worldly wealth is of no value, since it does not endure beyond this life. James describes the wealth of the rich as being already rotted, their clothes as moth eaten and their gold and silver rusted through. James does not mean this literally, but rather he means that since these things will pass away it is as if they are already passing away. Their value does not compare with that of eternal things (Matt. 5:19-21). All we have to gain by coveting and hoarding worldly wealth is the judgement of the God we have neglected. The very money we love will burn us. When  men treasure up worldly wealth without thought of God they are actually treasuring up wrath for themselves. Far better to lay up treasure in heaven. It is not wealth itself that James denounces, but our attitude to it (Luke 6:24 and Luke 18:24). Christians are warned that those who lust after money will come to ruin (1 Tim. 6:9-10). If God has given us riches then he expects us to use them wisely, being good stewards of His money. When the Lord's work is crying out for money, let us not waste it. May I point out that in a similar way, since God's harvest field is crying out for workers, it is not right to waste our time doing what does not benefit his kingdom. Our time is better spent in doing what the Lord wants us to do. Do you remember in the parable, the hirer said, "Why have you been standing around here all day doing nothing?" There is a lot needing to be done and the Lord is looking for those who will volunteer to do it.

 

5:4-6 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.

 

The rich James is addressing did not obtain their wealth by fair means. They had made it by cheating others. The men who reaped their fields had either not been paid at all or were underpaid. We might wonder why God takes an interest in a man's wages. James says the Lord of Hosts - that is the maker of the universe and everything in it - has regard for the humble poor. He is concerned about people. These workers were poor men who depended on their wages to feed themselves and their families. They would have gone hungry because of the greed of the land owners. The cries of the hungry poor had reached God's ears. His law had been broken (Deut. 24:14-15, Lev. 19:13 and Prov. 3:27-28). Having obtained their wealth dishonestly, they did not use it wisely. They pampered themselves, living "softly" in luxury and self indulgence. Parties and living it up was in but their duty to God and to their fellow men, many of whom were starving to death, was out. But when a calf is being fattened up, it is only that it may be slaughtered for the feast. As the fattened calf is ready to be killed, so these who have lived in self indulgence are ripe to be punished. The rich are generally arrogant. In James day they dragged innocent men to court, possibly those who opposed their wrongdoing. They hated these people - who were certainly Christians - and had them killed. These martyrs for the Lord offered no fight, but surrendered themselves to God's will.

 

Steadfast in Suffering

 

5:7-9 So be patient, brothers and sisters, until the Lord's return. Think of how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the ground and is patient for it until it receives the early and late rains. You also be patient and strengthen your hearts, for the Lord's return is near. Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be judged. See, the judge stands before the gates!

 

James' letter was sent to those Christians who were undergoing persecution. Having given God's word of judgement about the rich oppressors he now turns to the oppressed believers. How should they cope with the present distress? James urges them to be patient. They are not to fight to defend themselves. Instead, they are to commit themselves to the Lord who will soon come and will put all things right for He is the judge of the whole earth. As an illustration of patience, James draws our attention to the farmer waiting for his crops to grow. It doesn't happen overnight. First he prepares the soil, then he plants or sows seed. Then he musty tend the plot and rely heavily on the rain to do its work, which is first of all to make the ground soft enough for ploughing and sowing (this is the early rain that falls in November). Then comes the latter rain (in May and June) which is essential in the period prior to harvesting to cause the crop to ripen before it is harvested. Without that rain the crop may wither. It is no use harvesting the grain too soon, it would not be ready. So this is an illustration of patience. We too must wait for the time, which James says is very near, and be established in the faith whilst we wait for the Lord to come.

Although Christians battle against sin and evil, they must not turn on each other. The words that James uses here mean, do not moan and groan about each other. Do not complain about what we do not like in each other. By judging others we are condemning ourselves, for perhaps in different ways, we are no better. In view of Christ's near return, let us remember that we will be judged as we have judged others (Matt. 7:1-2).

 

5:10-11 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord's name. Think of how we regard as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job's endurance and you have seen the Lord's purpose, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

 

The OT prophets encourage us, by their own example, to be patient and remain steadfast in the face of persecution and suffering. Job is the most well known example. All of us, as James says, have heard of the patience of Job. What does this word patience mean? It does not mean a servile submission to the problem itself, for in that sense Job was far from patient. But Job kept his faith and continued on in God in spite of his troubles and even though he didn't understand he trusted God. He could say, "though he slay me, yet will I trust him." In the end we know that the Lord blessed and restored to Job more than he had before. This was God's intention all along, to prove Job and give him a far greater insight and revelation into the things of God. Just as seedlings are strengthened as they push through the earth, so we are strengthened by trouble.

 

Don't Take Oaths

 

5:12 And above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath. But let your "Yes" be yes and your "No" be no, so that you may not fall into judgment.

 

James repeats the teaching of Jesus when he tells us not to take oaths (Matt 5:33-37). When we take an oath, we are offering something as a guarantee that our words are true. e.g.. if we swear by our head, then we are offering our head if we are not telling the truth. But since our lives are not in our hands they are not ours to give nor ours to swear by. Just as we are unable to change our hair colour, so we cannot give any guarantee to our words. Instead, we should simply use yes and no, so that what we say is exactly what we mean. Someone who constantly has to resort to taking oaths is obviously not trustworthy. When Jesus says let your yes be yes and your no no, he doesn't mean that we cannot answer "I don't know" or "We might be able to." But he does mean that we should carry through what we promise to do.

 

Prayer and Fellowship

 

5:13-15 Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you ill? He should summon the elders of the church, and they should pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick and the Lord will raise him up -- and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

 

If we are in trouble or afflicted we are to pray. If we are cheerful, we should express our thanks in songs of praise to God. If any of us are sick and suffering in our bodies the Lord has provided a way for our need to be met. We are to call the elders of the church. If we can't get to them they come to us. Then the elders pray over us, anointing us with oil in the name of the Lord. Believing prayer is offered which will be effective in restoring the health of the individual, for the Lord shall raise them up. That is, they will get well and be able to get out and about again. If the sickness is the result of God's chastening for some sin which the person has committed, they have the assurance here that by humbly calling upon the Lord in this way, they shall be forgiven as well.

 

5:16-18 So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain on the land for three years and six months! Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land sprouted with a harvest.

 

This verse ought to be labelled "Handle with Care." Unlike in RC churches, it is not the practise of the Christian Church to confess our sins to a priest in order to be forgiven. In the RC church, the priest hears confession and pronounces forgiveness, usually on condition that some penance is made. This is not what James is telling us to do. The Bible teaches us that confession is to be made to the Lord and not to man for our sins. When we confess to him we are cleansed and forgiven (1 John 1:9). There are occasions when public confession of our sin may do more harm than good. But when we do wrong to others we should admit our fault and in this way confess. When others are affected by our actions or sinful attitudes, it is only right that they should receive an apology as we seek their forgiveness. Praying together after a such a rift can restore the fellowship that was hindered or broken between us. The command to one is that forgiveness must be asked for, but remember that the command to the other is simply that if we do not forgive others then God will not forgive us. Prayer is powerful and effective when it is offered by those who are right with God. It is as if God takes hold of our prayers and uses them as the very instruments by which he will bring about His answer. Take Elijah, for example. He was a man like the rest of us. He had the same moods and attitudes, the same ups and downs, the same temptations and failings - but he nevertheless prayed. He prayed with all his heart and with a fervent passion. He really meant what he prayed. He prayed that it would not rain and it did not rain for 3.5 years. That's how powerful prayer can be when we are praying in God's will. Again he prayed, this time very persistently and earnestly until once again it rained and the ground produced food. Like Elijah, we may have to pray continually, but that prayer must eventually cause a break through and achieve the desired aim.

 

5:19-20 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, he should know that the one who turns a sinner back from his wandering path will save that person's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

 

Writing to Timothy, Paul records that the Holy Spirit says that in the last days many will depart from the faith. There are many who once knew the Lord but who have wandered from the way. They have turned their backs upon God. The result of this will be tragic, for it will end in death, that is eternal separation from God. Yet if another believer has the opportunity to point an erring backslider into the right way again, James tells us the wonderful fact. By returning to the Lord, the backslider is saved from everlasting death and will be fully restored to the fellowship of Christ, God blotting out all of the sins that they had committed whilst they were backslidden..

Further Reading Resources for you - James

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