Riches and wealth is not really the problem but the attitude that many develop as a result of wealth. When we walk in this world with our wants and needs fulfilled by our means two problems arise for most. There is little satisfaction and the desire for more of the pleasures of this world grows stronger as we acquire more. Also we fail to realize our true need is not in this world but in the world to come. James has developed the idea of our need and complete dependence upon God. James now rebukes those who are most likely to live independently from God the wealthy.
Using language in the style of the Old Testament James tells the rich they should be mourning in consideration for their destiny. In that day there will be great miseries coming upon them and their riches will be revealed as corrupted, moth-eaten and corroded. Here James gives reference to three kinds of the destruction of wealth. Their stores of food will become corrupted and rot, garments are moth-eaten, and gold and silver are corroded. All the things of this world shall come to nothing. (Matthew 6:19-21) The treasures of this world will be a witness against the rich in the world to come. On the Day of Judgment it will be revealed that they have lived in arrogant independence that James had earlier condemned. In the last days they heaped up earthy treasures when they should have been storing up treasure in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Luke 18;22)
James makes note that many of those who gain their wealth do so at the expense of others. They have slighted the wages of the laborer in order to retain more of the wealth for themselves. They have shown no regard for the needs of the less fortunate. Jesus spoke of this in His parable in Luke about the rich man and Lazarus. (Luke 16:19-31) The rich have even condemned the poor and murdered them in order to solidify their positions of power.
Jesus did have some who were rich among His following such as Zaccheus, Joseph of Armithea, and Barnabas. We must note that the rich have significant obstacles in reaching the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 19;23-24) the pursuit of worldly wealth creates a motivation for every conceivable sin. (1 Timothy 6:10) James uses the word Sabaoth in his statement “Lord of the Sabaoth.” The translation in Hebrew is the idea of the term “Lord of Host.” (Compare Romans 9:29 with Isaiah 1:9) The Lord of Host means to us the Lord of Armies, especially heavenly or angelic armies. It describes God as the warrior, the commander-in-chief of all heavenly armies.
Often the less fortunate have less resource to find justice in this world. But God hears their cries and ultimately will right every wrong and answer for every injustice.
James has accused the rich of four things:
ü They are foolish in storing up so many riches (verses 1-3). Possessions that are not used spoil and do no good.
ü They were not honest in what they did (verse 4). They got their wealth by unfair actions and they cheated their workers.
ü They lived a life of luxury while other people were in need of their help (verse 5).
ü They were guilty of the crime of murder (verse 6).
In verses 2-3 there are three types of wealth for the rich:
ü They had riches, which could refer to all kinds of wealth. But the word also meant grain, oil and food. If they keep these too long in store, they will go bad. And then they will be of no use.
ü They had many clothes, which was one of the main types of wealth in the ancient world. The poorer people would have perhaps just one set of clothes. The rich would have many more clothes than they would ever wear. If they stored these clothes and did not use them, *moths would eat into them.
ü They had a lot of gold and silver that had become stained and dirty from lack of use. These precious metals have no real worth until the owners use them.
As James has rebuked and warned the rich of the coming judgment he now calls the Christians to patiently endure until the coming of the Lord, especially those who are suffering hardships. When a farmer’s crop does not come to harvest he does not give up but patiently waits. The farmer continues to work the field even when the crop cannot be seen. It is this example the Christian must follow to continue in their labors even when the harvest day seems far off. The picture James draws for the early and latter rain must be taken literally, as we can find no allegorical picture of an early and latter outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church. The Bible does explain that there will be a significant outpouring of the Holy Spirit in these last days (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:17-18); but this passage from James doesn’t seem to be relevant to that outpouring.
Until the soon return of Jesus we must have our hearts established, rooted in the teaching of His Word and His eternal resolution of all things. James speaks as if the Lord would come in his day. James is not in error in the since of his urgency. We should not think in a historical context, as sense the Ascension of Jesus He has been moving forward towards His return. Even so He has been moving parallel with time for over the past two thousand years and we should be ready for that moment of His return. We must not be as the foolish virgins. (Matthew 25:1-13)
We are warned against infighting amongst our Christian brothers and sisters. We must remember our calling is to serve God and not ourselves. Our first consideration is to seek His kingdom and glorify God. (Psalms 86:12 Matthew 6:33) If we are to be like minded in His purpose and plan, then we are to allow ourselves to be led by His Spirit. (Philippians 2:2) Christians should not grumble and complain towards one another but in all things take our concerns to Him in prayer. Even in the most difficult of times if we lash out in anger towards one another we will bring condemnation upon ourselves.
Jesus, the judge, stands at the door. He is coming soon, as He came once to redeem He shall come again to judge the world and the redeemed. (2 Corinthians 5:10) With this thought in mind we cannot let the trials and tribulations cause us to be unloving towards one another.
We are reminded, by James, of the prophets of the Old Testament who endured extreme hardships, yet they practiced patient endurance and kept their eyes fixed upon the goal. Jeremiah stands out as someone who endured mistreatment with patience. He was put in the stocks (Jeremiah 20:2), thrown into prison (Jeremiah 32:2), and lowered into a miry dungeon (Jeremiah 28:6), yet he persisted in his ministry.
James also reminds us of the patience of Job. Job who shows the necessity of a constant trust in God through times of hardship endured through the whole trial without turning away from God. Our God is compassionate and merciful and rewarded Job for his faith and trust in God. The trial of Job is a great encouragement for us to keep on keeping on. We must be patient and keep our eye fixed upon the hope that we have through Jesus that He will lead us to the land of the living. (Psalms 27:13-14)
At the time that James wrote this letter the Jews made a distinction between “binding oaths” and “non-binding oaths.” Oaths that did not include the name of God were considered non-binding, and to use such oaths was a way of “crossing your fingers” behind your back when telling a lie. It is these kinds of oaths that James condemns. It is not forbidden to swear oaths in the bible. The problem comes when we swear an oath with deceptive motives, oaths that are unwise, or in a flippant way. There are occasions that God Himself swore oaths. (Luke 1:73 Hebrews 3:11 Hebrews 6:13) On the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught us to make no oath at all but to either say “yes” or “no” and stand upon our promise. (Matthew 5:34-37) To swear or make an oath only displays the weakness of our word. It says to people that there is not enough weight in our character to backup our word. The lack of character that we have will be exposed on the judgment seat of Christ. This alone inspires us to be in preparation for that day and chose our words with good integrity.
Christians must endure times of suffering. If one is suffering, then he should take that to the Lord in prayer. If life is all that it should be then we should sing praises to God in thankfulness. If one is in bad health, then he should call for the elders of the Church to pray for their need of healing. The advice of James is clearly the same in the good times as the bad. We should share our times with our loving Heavenly Father. In fact the two commands would be well to reverse. In times of suffering we should sing praises to God and in times of happiness we should be in prayer. In times of need the initiative is clearly upon us. We should always be willing to ask for the prayers of others. James clearly puts the initiative on the person in need: let him call. The hesitancy of people to ask for or to seek prayer from the leadership of the church in such circumstances is a true mystery. Jesus said we have not because we do not ask. (Matthew 7:7)
James is not guaranteeing that the sick will be healed with the effectual prayer of the righteous. This passage in James verses 15-16 have been interpreted with the idea behind save the sick as not specifically being healing, and raise him up as being a reference to ultimate resurrection. The reference to sins being forgiven adding to the idea that James is considering a spiritual work and healing, not necessarily a physical healing. The context of this scriptural statement demands that James does not exclude physical healing as an answer to prayer, though he does seem to mean something broader than only a physical healing. We should always pray in faith for one another, expecting and believing that God will heal them, and accept the answer as a matter in God’s will. The truth is that all will be healed once we reach the Kingdom. The best approach in praying for the sick is to pray with humble confidence that they will be healed, unless God clearly and powerfully makes it clear that this is not His will. Having prayed, we simply leave the matter to God.
We are reminded by James that mutual confession and prayer does bring healing both physically and spiritually. This frees us from the heavy burden of unresolved sin and removes the hindrances to the work of the Holy Spirit. Confession to one another is to be done when appropriate and breaks to power of secret sin in our lives. Confession of our sin is always good but must be made with discretion. Sin should especially be confessed where physical healing is necessary. It is possible – though by no means always the case – that a person’s sickness is the direct result of some sin that has not been dealt with, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 11:30. The one who hears the confession should have the proper response: loving, intercessory prayer, and not human wisdom, gossiping, or “sharing” the need with others.
When praying for the suffering, the sick, or the sinner, James points to the effective nature of prayer – when it is fervent and offered by a righteous man. To often our prayers are lukewarm in attitude and we are asking God to care about something that we show little care for. Effective prayers must be fervent, not that we are trying to persuade a reluctant God, but that we must gain His favor and His heart by being fervent in the things that He is fervent for. The fervent prayer must be from a righteous person, someone who knows that their righteousness is grounded in the righteousness of Jesus. One whose walk with Jesus is consistent in the righteousness they have in Jesus.
James gives us the model of Elijah as an example of fervent prayer. Elijah prayed that God would withhold the rain and He did for three and a half years. Elijah prayed again that God would send the rains and God opened up the heavens and it rained. Elijah prayed for the rain to stop and to start because he sensed that it was in the heart of God to do so in response to the Israelite people. James says that Elijah was a man with a nature like ours which means that we can have effectual fervent prayers like Elijah.
James has discussed the topics of confession and sin and now reminds us that we must confront the sins of those who have turned away from the truth. The use of the word wander paints a good picture in this verse. Wander is not necessarily a deliberate action, wandering is more of something that just happens. Rather deliberately or by accident it is still something that places a person in great danger. If we love our fellow Christian enough to confront their sin and turn them away from their error, there is a blessing for us also. He has saved that soul from death and covered a multitude of sins.
James concludes with this because this is exactly what he has endeavored to do through this challenging letter – to confront those who have wandered from a living faith, endeavoring to save their souls from death, by demanding that they not only hear the word, but do it, because a living faith will have its proof.