Verse 1: “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.” James chapter 4 concluded with a lesson on accountability. Wealth often times allows men to become “above the law”. However, all will be dealt with by the Lord regardless of any social status or bank account a person might have. Brethren in this time period were suffering in poverty (Acts 11:27-30, Romans 15:25-26, and I Corinthians 16:1-3). The brethren James is addressing had a problem with allowing preference to be made for the wealthy who came in among them (James 2:2-7). So, it is fitting for James to now address the wealthy. James tells the rich that miseries will come upon them. Life is much more than what things which we posses (Luke 12:15). It is very difficult for those who trust in riches to be saved (Mark 10:23-24). These rich people addressed will get their reward (James 1:11).
Verses 2-3: “Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.” The riches of those addressed are corrupted [rotted]. These rich folks have not taken care of their garments. Their gold and silver is rusted and that is a statement of what will happen to them. Their belongings share the same fate as the rich people addressed have. The sentiments of James reflect what the Lord taught in Matthew 6:19-21. Wealth vanishes away, but those things spent for the betterment of the Kingdom provides us with a statement of our works. The treasure these individuals have gathered up is treasure that is corruptible.
Verse 4: “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.” These rich folks have not paid their laborers. The Bible condemns this (Leviticus 19:13 and I Timothy 5:18). The second part of this verse shows that the rich folks were overworking their laborers. The reference to the Lord of the sabaath shows that God respects man’s need for a time of rest.
Verses 5-6: “Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.” These rich individuals have had all they want on this earth. But, as noted in verse 4, they have done nothing towards building their spiritual lives. The parable of the Rich Fool teaches this lesson clearly (Luke 12:16-21). These rich folks were also judging the just. Many that have wealth also have power, and this is the obvious case here. In clear violation of God’s word (Leviticus 19:15), these individuals still feel as though they are “above the law”. The sadness is that the just were not even fighting against them. What a terrible people this is that James is addressing. The practice of the rich taking the just before the judgment seats was obviously a big problem (James 2:6).
Verses 7-8: “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” The brethren are now again addressed. In light of the obvious persecution from the rich they are urged to be patient, to endure. This is not the first time James has told them this (James 1:3-4). These brethren are to look forward to the coming of the Lord. That will be a day in which saints will be rewarded and the oppressors will be judged (II Peter 3:7-13). James uses a farmer to illustrate the need for patience here. The farmer sows his seed and has to wait for the rain to come. We must continue work and look for the Lord to come (I Corinthians 15:57-58). The Lord promised he would return, so we need to serve looking to that day. When we forget that day is coming and we begin to assume time is on our side, we fall backwards.
Verse 9: “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.” We must not murmur or groan against each other. Brethren need not to complain and be of this attitude towards each other. Jesus tells of those who had a beam [large piece of wood] in their own eye that was trying to take out the mote [small piece of wood] of another’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). It is at best hypocritical. If a brother needs to repent of something the Lord is at the door to open it for him (Revelation 3:20).
Verses 10-11: “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” The prophets were persecuted and often killed (Acts 7:52). They brought truth and people did not want to hear it. We, as well as the prophets, can rejoice when we are persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:10-12). Godly men and women ought to expect persecution (II Timothy 3:12). Then James uses Job as an example of how merciful the Lord can be. Job was faithful to the Lord even when Satan took most of his belongings and most of his family (Job chapters 1-2). In the end the Lord doubled what Job originally had because Job endured (Job 42:10-12). What we have here is nothing compared to our reward in Heaven!
Verse 12: “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.” Here James teaches almost exactly as the Lord did in Matthew 5:34-37. We cannot negate the name of the Lord or the things he has given by swearing by them. A Christian’s word is sufficient enough. A Christian knows the punishment for lying (Revelation 21:8).
Verse 13: “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” In times of suffering a Christian should turn to the Lord in prayer. God hears the prayers of the faithful (John 9:31) and the faithful can know that his prayer will be answered (Romans 8:28). Jesus illustrated the need to pray in times of suffering prior to His death on the cross (Matthew 26:36-44). On the other hand, if you are merry sing praises to the Lord. Paul and Silas prayed and then began to sing psalms to the Lord while in prison resulting in their being freed and the conversion of a jailor (Acts 16:22-34).
Verse 14: “Is any sick among you? 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:” James instructs that those who are sick should call for the elders who would use the spiritual gift of healing to help them (I Corinthians 12:9). Any time in which this subject is covered a teacher must make mention that these gifts were temporary (I Corinthians 13:8-10) and do not exist today.
Verse 15: "And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” The prayer of faith will work to help the sick and the power of confession in prayer will lead to one’s sins being forgiven (I John 1:9). As James wrote in chapter one we must pray with faith, not wavering, and we will have those things we pray for granted. Once again, we should note that God works through natural law, not miraculous law in this day. We should not pray ignorant prayers. Our Bible knowledge should help us to know what to, and what not to pray for.
Verse 16: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” When a brother sins against another he must make that right. One cannot properly worship God until those things are made right (Matthew 5:23-24). If a sin is committed and not corrected then the brother or sister who has been sinned against has the option of discipline (Matthew 18:15-17). Once a brother comes and confesses his fault, prayer will rectify the situation with God.
Verses 17-18: “Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.” Once again we have a lesson on the power of prayer. This lesson is taken from an Old Testament account (I Kings 17:1ff.). If we are faithful we can expect God to answer our prayers.
Verses 19-20: “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” Christians have a responsibility to each other to help if one is overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1-2). It is a responsibility that is often overlooked. How can we profess to love our brethren if we are willing to let them die in their sins? Once we have aided our brethren we have done a great thing to help take many sins away from the sight of God. This verse is a fitting passage to conclude this great Epistle. Will you heed to the inspired words of James?
James Chapter 5 Study Questions
1. What would come upon the rich addressed
in this chapter?
2. What did James mean when he said “your
riches are corrupted”?
3. What Parable would show that having this
earth’s pleasures does not mean that Heaven will be your home?
4. When James told these brethren to be patient
he used an illustration, what was the illustration?
5. Give a Bible example in which someone
showed joy through song.
6. Give a Bible example in which someone
prayed in time of suffering.
7. What would the elders do if someone called
upon them in a time of sickness?
8. If a brother sins against another brother
what should he do to remedy the situation?
9. Do we have a responsibility to our brethren
when they err?
2003 by Brian A. Yeager may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.