James 5

1 There is some question as to whether James was speaking to wealthy believers or non-believers. Some have objected to the idea that he is speaking to believers because of the harshness of the language. However, the harshness is similar to how Paul deals with the sexual immorality of the Corinthians. Christians are not perfect people, but sins must still be addressed and corrected -- sometimes using harsh language. Sin is a serious matter with God, and it should likewise be dealt with in the Church. James obviously would have had an audience in the church since it is apparent from James 2:2 that wealthy people attended church meetings.

In a broader context, however, this pronouncement does not have to be exclusive to rich people within the church. Certainly, those who ignore God's commands completely are more apt to behave the way described here. This certainly fits in with the other prophetic pronouncements against sinners. The wealthy that have heard the word of God should certainly know better than to continue in their businesses with worldly thinking and actions.

The force of these words demonstrates the severity of the punishment for the dishonest rich. Judgement may occur during one's lifetime or on the final Day, but it is certain to happen. Some have suggested that this is a prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., but since the letter is addressed to the dispersed tribes of Israel (James 1:1), the broader application is more appropriate.

We often think of these kinds of passages as warnings to the rich, but we should be aware that even the poor could lust after money. These warnings are not about money or about the abundance or lack that someone has, but it focuses on the attitudes of the heart.

2 One way that was commonly used to measure wealth was by the amount of land one owned and what could be produced on it. The wording used here indicates that wealth rots like a bad crop, and is ultimately worthless no matter how much of it one has. The wealthy usually wore fine clothing, but these signs of wealth were likewise subject to destruction. This does not mean that money is bad, but one must be aware of its truly limited value. If one puts his hope in money rather than God, he will find that it will be of no eternal help to him.
3 Gold is valued partially because of its resistance to tarnish. In the end though, even the gold will be as worthless as rusted metal. The idea that wealth retains its value is a myth. One can not and should not put his hope in it. When God judges peoples' deeds, He will expose those who amassed a worthless "treasure," but nothing of eternal, spiritual value.
4 Some people became rich because they were unfair to their employees. They were hoarding money while his employees were suffering from lack of necessities. Taking advantage of poor employees may have been a common practice, and the rich may not have even considered that such things were wrong in God's eyes. Even in today's societies, laws and traditions protect the rich at the expense of the poor (to be fair, there are also laws that prevent excessive abuse).

The wealthy Christian is in a unique position to be an advocate for those who have no voice, and a source of hope until the poor person can learn to provide for his own needs. Instead of taking advantage of the poor, as is allowed by our culture, the wealthy should advance the poor, as is acceptable in God's eyes.

5 It was a common Jewish belief that one who was wealthy was approved of by God. This must have startled them. However, it is clear again that it is the attitude of the person, and not the wealth they have that will bring down God's condemnation. Their concerns were self-centered and sensual. They were not concerned about how God really saw their hearts or how they treated others. If such a person in a congregation did these things and yet claimed to be a Christian, it would be obvious to all that he was a hypocrite. Would we have the courage to confront him as James does here?
6 The rich person can oppress his employees, who may feel they have no choice to submit to his wishes. The rich person may also be able to use the legal system to get rid of those who he does not like. The withholding of wages might also be considered murder in the sense of depriving someone of their livelihood. These kinds of activity are reprehensible to God.
7 James abruptly changes his focus from the dishonest rich to the suffering of the Church in more general terms. The reference to Judgement Day in verse 5 and the suffering of the poor in verse 6 act as transitions.

The Church waits in anticipation for Jesus' return. On one hand, we want God to be free us from pain and suffering we experience in this world and on the other we want to see God's will accomplished. However, we need to wait patiently because we know God's timing is perfect (and no amount of pleading will hasten the time He has already appointed).

James gives three examples to illustrate what patience is like. A farmer plants seed and then works the land for a season to attain a harvest. In a similar way, God planted the seeds of righteousness in our hearts and we are to tend them during this lifetime to help them grow and flourish. We want to produce a good crop within ourselves, that God will "harvest" at the right time. We also want to help other believers produce a healthy crop, and we want others to come to know God so that He might have an abundant harvest among His people.

8 We can not discouraged when we feel that Jesus is taking "too long" to return. We need to be firmly founded in our faith -- He will return and reward us for our faithfulness. We also must remember that even when a believer dies, God will still reap the fruits of the Spirit from his life because God will raise him back from the dead on Judgement Day. Our years in this lifetime are relatively short, so we must always keep in mind that the Lord's Day for us is always at hand, whether we look at it in terms of our life spans or if Jesus does return during our lifetimes.
9 When someone is suffering, he may be tempted to grumble against those who are not being tried. Such grumbling shows that the person is impatient and focused on himself rather than God's will. God is always nearby and knows every word we say. One day we will all give an account for our words and actions. We do not want to be rebuked because of complaining lips. Rather, we want to please God by enduring patiently while we trust in Him.
10 James' second example of patience is the prophets of the Bible. They were rejected, threatened, imprisoned, and even killed for proclaiming God's word. Yet, by enduring all this, they pleased God. We, as Christians, should do likewise.
11 James' last example is Job. God allowed Satan to take away Job's possessions, family, and health. Job did not know why this was happening. Job endured patiently in almost every area. In the end, God revealed Himself to Job, corrected him, and rebuked his three friends. He also restored everything that Job had lost.

This is an earthly picture of how God rewards us for patiently enduring trials. We can rest assured that everything will work out for the best because everything is ultimately accountable to God. We might be tricked into thinking that God is not compassionate or merciful by allowing trials to happen to us, but such trials prove our faithfulness to the world. Trials also help us grow and trust God more. God often uses trials to shape us into the people He wants us to be. In the end, we are better people, and God's mercy and compassion become evident in the outcome.

12 James echoes the words of Jesus in Mat 5:33-37. In his final point on our speech, James urges us to be truthful at all times. We should not need to make an oath or invoke God's name to convince others that we are being truthful. Those who swear by God's name and then break their promise are guilty of breaking one of the Ten Commandments by using His name in vain (Exo 20:7). In addition, the world has little motivation to take God seriously when His followers break promises they have made in His name. We must be vigilant in our speech that we always honor God and encourage others to follow Him.
13 In verse 9, James speaks of the wrong approach to suffering, which is taking out your frustrations on others. Instead, the one who is suffering should turn to God. He has the ability to change circumstance and/or change the perspective of the suffering person.

Those who are cheerful should thank God for their blessings. Too often, we spend much of our time complaining about the bad things in life rather than rejoicing in the good. With this mindset, the one bad thing in someone's day can dominate his thinking more than the dozens of good things that might happen. If we can give the bad things over to God in prayer, we can then effectively praise Him for the good.

14 Those who are ill are to ask the church leaders to pray for them. This is not to be a distant, impersonal prayer on the part of the elders. They are to visit the sick person, pray over him, and help treat him physically -- all in the name of Jesus.

The "anointing" mentioned here is not a sacred anointing (as in Luke 4:18), but the common "rubbing on" of oil (as in Mat 6:17). Olive oil was commonly used for medicinal purposes, and the context of the phrase indicates that this meaning is intended here. Those who are sick should seek medical attention (Mat 9:12), but the Christian does so in reference to his faith in God, not the medication alone.

15 The prayer of faith here is contrasted to the prayer with wrong motives in James 4:3. These kinds of prayers please God.

The first promise that the sick will be saved. The context, further supported in the next verse, indicates that this means physical healing. Another example of this is given in Mark 6:13. How then can explain the fact that even faithful Christians will eventually get sick and die? The reality is that God does not intend us to recover from every illness (e.g., 2 Cor 12:7), but we are to pray faithfully to God and give Him glory despite the problems we encounter in this world.

The second promise is that the sick person will be raised up. This word is used to refer to someone physically getting up, but it also refers to resurrection from the dead (e.g., Mat 26:32). Thus, this verse may refer to the physical healing of the person now, or point to the future resurrection when all ailments will be healed (Rev 21:3-4).

The third promise concerns the forgiveness of sins. God sometimes punishes people who have sinned with sickness (Lev 26:14-16). Note, however, that sickness is not necessarily an indicator of personal sin (John 9:2-3). If there is sin involved with the ailment then confession and prayer will restore the person's relationship with God.

16 It is very important for a Christian to confess his sins to God (1 John 1:9). However, God also calls us to be a community of believers, and part of this is being accountable to one another. When we reveal our weaknesses to our brothers and sisters in Christ, we can trust that they will be watching out for us to correct us when we do something wrong and encourage us to do what is right. Our will to do what is right is often weak, but it can be strengthened with the help of others. An accountability partner can often reveal sins that the other person could not see in his own life. The main goal of accountability is to make us all aware of how we are to behave in order to have good relationships with God and other people. We are born spiritually dead, but God can heal us.

Prayer is vitally important in these areas because we must acknowledge that there are many things that God alone can change. We can raise the awareness of sin in someone's life, but only God can forgive him and change his heart to replace acceptable behavior for the sinful.

Some people get discouraged because prayers may take a long time to be answered. However, we can not give up praying because we know that God is faithful. It is a mystery how God can use our prayers to further His kingdom, but we can rest assured that He does.

17 James gives us the example of Elijah. He was a human being, just like each of us. His power did not come from within himself, but from God. He knew God's will, and boldly pronounced it (1 Ki 17:1).
18 Throughout history God has used people like Elijah to "give the signal" for Him to begin working. God prefers to work for and through His people when their hearts are inclined to follow His will. 1 Ki 18:41-42 is where Elijah prays for rain after the drought.
19 One of the primary goals of the church is to proclaim the good news so that people can be restored to God. However, even Christians will occasionally wander away from the truth. One of the purposes of accountability is to prevent us from wandering from God's will. However, even when that does not work, our accountability partner(s) should help bring us back into obedience to God.
20 We should want God to use our lives to bring people back to Him. If He can use us to bring a person to Him then we have helped in God's ministry to save lives. If He can use us to bring a wandering Christian back into His will then we have helped in God's ministry to forgive sins and restore people to Him. The overall lesson of James is that our faith works though our words and works to restore people to God.