James 5


“And now, you rich people, listen to me! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming upon you!” James 5:1

Warning To Rich Oppressors

We all know that we come into this world with nothing and we leave this world with nothing, no matter how rich we are. But we need to understand a very important point about this and that is God does not condemn the rich for being rich.

After all, some of the godliest people in the Bible were very rich. People like Job, Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon, Barnabas, and Philemon, Lydia just to mention a few. So God does not condemn the rich for being rich but Christ does speak of the difficulty of the rich being saved, Matthew 19:23-26.

Who is James addressing in this passage? Are they Christians? Are these rich Christians who had been guilty of oppressing their brethren?

First of all, all the way through the letter from James, he usually addresses the people he is speaking to as brethren or brothers but here James doesn’t do that and note also that there is no call to repentance mentioned either, there is only condemnation.

I believe that James is addressing rich unbelievers, after all, who had been oppressing the Christians? It was the rich unbelievers who were causing them all the problems, James 2:6.

And so this outburst of judgment upon them here appears to serve the purpose of comforting the brethren who were being oppressed by them. Later in this chapter, he tells Christians to be patient, until the Lord comes James 5:7.

As Christians, as a people who believe and trust in God, we need to let God deal with it because He will deal with it, but not on our timetable but His and not in our way but His.

And when we have those times when we’re just crying and we think that no one is watching us or no one hears us, God is watching us and He does hear us, James 5:4.

In other words, James is telling them that judgment is coming upon these rich oppressors but in the meantime, Christians need to be patient because God will deal with it, Revelation 6:10-11.

James says that all these rich oppressors have ahead of them is misery, so much misery that it will cause them to ‘weep and wail’. James says that these miseries which are to come are a certainty to come.

“Your riches have rotted away, and your clothes have been eaten by moths. Your gold and silver are covered with rust, and this rust will be a witness against you and will eat up your flesh like fire.” James 5:2-3

Notice that James speaks of these miseries as already occurring, he says, their riches are rotten, their clothes are moth-eaten, and their gold and silver are corroded. And he says that when this ‘corrosion’ of their riches occurs, it will serve as a witness against them and it will eat their flesh like fire.

Now did that time come for these rich oppressors? Well, the miseries spoken of here may have reference to what later occurred in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Because not long after James’ letter was written, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans.

And many of the rich Jews who had oppressed their Christian brethren literally ‘wept and howled’, because they had failed to realise that they had piled up riches.

This is so much like the man in the parable of the rich fool who thought he was laying up riches for their last days, Luke 12:16-21. Just like it did with the rich man in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31.

These rich oppressors didn’t realise that Jesus and James were both talking about the ‘last days’ of the Jewish economy when they were so busy storing up wealth.

“You have not paid any wages to those who work in your fields. Listen to their complaints! The cries of those who gather in your crops have reached the ears of God, the Lord Almighty. Your life here on earth has been full of luxury and pleasure. You have made yourselves fat for the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent people, and they do not resist you.” James 5:4-6

Why is God so angry at these rich people? Well simply put, it was because of how they got their wealth, it was through wicked means. These rich people were withholding wages from those who had worked for them. In other words, they hoarded their wealth for themselves.

James says that they spent it on themselves with pleasures and luxury and fattened themselves like cows for the slaughter. But they didn’t stop there, They used the power that comes with wealth to oppress ‘the innocent or just.’ In other words, the riches weren’t the problem, it was the way they got their riches.

The way they got their wealth and used it caused those who were oppressed to cry out, and the Lord heard their prayers. And so now, God who is just is about to bring judgment upon these rich oppressors, Deuteronomy 24:14-15.

It’s not riches that are wrong, but the desire to be rich that is wrought with many dangers, 1 Timothy 6:9-10.

So how do we go about receiving our wealth? John says if we spend all our wealth on ourselves and just ignore those less fortunate than ourselves then that is a sign of a lack of love for God in our lives, 1 John 3:17. Paul teaches the same thing, Ephesians 4:28 / 1 Timothy 6:17-19, and practised what he preached, Acts 20:34-35.

To help us deal with oppression James tells us not to resist. These guys were being treated badly and treated unjustly, especially by the rich, but James tells us that they did not resist.

I don’t know about you but this goes against everything which is inside of me, this goes against everything the world teaches about being oppressed.

But when we become a Christian, we’re not following the world’s ways anymore, we’re following the way of Christ and so, not only do our lives dramatically change, but our whole way of thinking is also drastically changed, Romans 12:19-21.

Human nature pushes us to react like the rest of the world would react by lashing out at what we think is ‘justifiable anger.’ Human wisdom pushes us to react like the rest of the world would react by ‘standing up for our rights’. But the Christian is called upon to react differently, we are advised not to react that way.

And the reason we don’t react that way is because of three things.

Patience In Suffering

“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord comes. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” James 5:7-9

1. An awareness that the Lord is coming to judge.

We know that the Lord is coming we’re more likely not to judge others because we know that the Lord will be the one doing the judging. We know that He is the one who will judge correctly, He is the one who knows all things and because He knows all things we should leave all things in His hands.

And if we know all things are in His hands, then we shouldn’t need to justify our anger, we shouldn’t need to stand up for our rights.

2. A willingness to let Him be our avenger, Luke 18:7-8.

I know and understand that this is not always easy to leave things in God’s hands and I know and understand that resisting the temptation to lash out and stand up for your rights is not always easy. But when we were called upon to follow Christ, we were called upon to imitate Christ and His example, 1 Peter 2:21-23.

3. Be patient.

Sometimes as Christians we want things sorted out as quickly as possible and on our timetable, but surely we should know by now that God doesn’t work according to our will and timetable, He works according to His will and His timetable.

James says if we want to start trusting God then stop the grumbling. We need to be on our guard against such times, because James tells us that if we complain against each other, then God will judge us.

‘Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.’ James 5:10-11

James gives us three examples to encourage us to be patient. The farmer, James 5:7, the prophets, James 5:10, and Job, James 5:11.

Now we understand the patience that a farmer needs for his crops, we understand the patience the prophets had in the Old Testament especially when no one would listen to them. But I want to focus our attention on the patience of Job for a moment.

1. He lost his wealth.

In rapid succession, three messengers came telling Job of the destruction of his property and servants by bands of robbers and by lightning.

2. He lost his family.

A fourth messenger came telling of the death of all of Job’s children. Seven sons and three daughters were crushed in a moment when the house fell.

3. He lost his health.

Job was smitten from head to foot with the most disgusting ulcers. He was constrained to sit down among the ashes and scrape himself with a potsherd.

4. He lost his friends.

His servants turned their backs on him. The children in the streets despised Job and mocked him. His friends told him that his sufferings were because of his wickedness. And his wife nagged him to curse God and die.

Now when we look at Job and his trials I’m sure we will agree that he was going through a horrific time. Even if we were to break his trials down separately they would be horrific, but when we view them collectively most of us would be overwhelmed just listening to him never mind actually going through them.

But notice that Job didn’t lash out, he didn’t stand up for his rights, instead, he did what James is trying to teach us all this morning, Job 1:20. Job learned that the Lord is very ‘compassionate and merciful’.

The farmers, the prophets and Job all teach us to place our trust in the Lord, that He will eventually reward us for our trust in Him. It’s through constant and careful study of God’s Word that our faith in God and His eventual justice is made stronger, 2 Peter 1:12.

Christians who struggle with patience are normally the grumblers, especially against one another. So not only have we not to complain against each other, but James also warns us not to swear.

“Above all, my friends, do not use an oath when you make a promise. Do not swear by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Say only “Yes” when you mean yes, and “No” when you mean no, and then you will not come under God’s judgment.” James 5:12

When times are tough and we’re going through difficult trials, it’s during those times more than any other that we’re tempted to swear. In other words, we’re more likely to make rash promises.

We need to be aware that any promise whether big or small made to God is a promise which God will hold you to, Ecclesiastes 5:1-2. We need to be careful about any oath we make, either to each other or to God.

James tells us that the best way of avoiding making oaths like this is to stop making oaths altogether, stand by your word and let your ‘yes’ be a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ be a ‘no’, Matthew 5:33-37.

The Prayer Of Faith

“Are any among you in trouble? They should pray. Are any among you happy? They should sing praises.” James 5:13

Finally, in times of oppression, Christians need to know that they have a powerful weapon in their weaponry, it’s called prayer.

One of the things which frustrate us as Christians when we’re going through trials is that we often tend to think that God is not listening to us. However, when the Christian prays, God hears! Luke 18:7-8.

Our prayers may not be answered right away, but God will take action when the time is ripe, and the oppressed will be avenged, Revelation 6:9-11.

We shouldn’t retaliate because of oppression but be kind, don’t complain or swear but pray. When we react this way to oppression we’re actually following the example of Christ, 1 Peter 2:23. When we react this way to oppression we’re actually following the example of the early disciples, 1 Peter 4:19.

James reminds us that it’s in times of suffering or trouble, we need to be praying and when he talks about suffering, he’s talking about any kind of suffering. Whether it be suffering due to sickness, bereavement, disappointment, persecutions, loss of health or property.

As Christians we know that it’s not all about suffering, there are far greater times of happiness. Happiness is the opposite of suffering and when we’re happy it’s usually because we’re free from trouble.

And it’s during those times of happiness that are we more likely to express our happiness in song. And as Christians, this is something we shouldn’t be ashamed to do whenever and wherever we feel the urge to just praise God in song.

When you read through the Psalms this is something which David did time and time again, Psalm 92:1-2. Singing praises to God actually has the power to make a good situation even better, Colossians 3:16.

Singing praises to God is just as important as praying to God and perhaps our prayers would be answered more often if we would just praise God more often.

“Are any among you sick? They should send for the church elders, who will pray for them and rub olive oil on them in the name of the Lord. This prayer made in faith will heal the sick; the Lord will restore them to health, and the sins they have committed will be forgiven.” James 5:14-15

James continues with the theme of prayer but this time he’s a bit more specific, he says, in times of sickness, pray.

Some believe that the anointing with oil was symbolic, representing the influences of the Holy Spirit, in other words, it was used for miraculous purposes. But we also see examples in the New Testament of ‘the anointing with oil’ being used for medicinal purposes, Luke 10:34.

Some believe that this passage is talking about miraculous healing where the elders were called because they possessed the gift of healing. But there’s a problem with that and the problem is in the assumption that every elder, in every church possessed the gift of healing.

First of all, we have no record anywhere in the New Testament that every elder in every single church possessed the gift of healing. And secondly, according to 1 Timothy 3:1-2 and Titus 1:5-9, there is no mention that elders required the gift of healing to be an elder. I believe that the elders were called because they were likely the most mature in a congregation.

“So then, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you will be healed. The prayer of a good person has a powerful effect. “Elijah was the same kind of person as we are. He prayed earnestly that there would be no rain, and no rain fell on the land for three and a half years. Once again he prayed, and the sky poured out its rain and the earth produced its crops.” James 5:16-18

James isn’t speaking about getting together in little groups to confess our sins to each other, the emphasis here is that when Christians are willing to confess their wrongs to one another will there be true relationships among those whom God seeks to bring together in Christ, Numbers 11:2 / Matthew 5:23-24 / Matthew 6:12-15.

The idea here is that when we confess our sins to each other, we then have the opportunity to pray together. There is healing power when we confess our sins to others, 1 John 1:7-9.

Those who are more mature, those who have grown up in the faith are the righteous, hence, why he uses Elijah as a man of great faith who prayed to God and God answered his prayer. God was answering Elijah’s prayer through natural means, 1 Kings 18:41-45.

What does all this mean for us today? Well first of all, in times of physical sickness, call for the elders or spiritual leaders of the church. I mean, who doesn’t want the prayers of the righteous working on our behalf.

And notice an important point in all this, we are to call for them, we’ve not to wait for them to call on us. And after we’ve made the call ask them to pray for us and when they pray for us in faith, in other words, trusting in the Lord’s power to heal, if it is His will.

And when they pray for us passionately, both know that these types of prayers are both powerful and effective. And when they come and visit with you they may decide that you need some medicine. In other words, they should help to make sure we’re getting the proper treatment for our illness.

Now those people, who do get sick, should also confess their sins if they have any. Remember James 5:15 makes it clear that sickness is not always the consequence of sin but James 5:16 and other Bible passages, 1 Corinthians 11:29-32, suggest that illnesses maybe God’s loving discipline for sin, in an effort to direct us back to Him.

But whatever the reason, sins need to be confessed and forgiveness sought if we hope to have God hear our prayers.

“My brothers, if one of you wanders away from the truth and somebody brings him back, you may be sure that whoever brings a sinner back from his wrong path will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins”. James 5:19-20

People who don’t pray regularly but focus on their suffering rather than praising God are more likely to fall away. Those who don’t call for help from other mature church members are more likely to fall away and it’s those types of saints that James has in mind in the next few verses.

But the emphasis seems to be more on the church’s responsibility to reconcile them back to truth, Galatians 6:1-2 / 1 Thessalonians 5:14. This is not so much for our benefit but for the benefit of the one who is wandering from the truth.

Anyone who wanders from truth is in danger of death and the reason they are in danger of death is because they have wandered away from the source of forgiveness, 1 John 1:6-7.

In other words, they have separated themselves from the blood of Christ to cleanse them of their sins. And it’s then that they are in danger of suffering the consequences of sin, which is death, Romans 6:23.

Those who wander from the truth need to know that ‘there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,’ the blood of Christ is no longer available for them while they remain like that, 2 Peter 2:20-22. Those who wander away from truth need to know that ‘the Lord will judge His people’ and for those who despise His mercy, they will face His righteous anger.

But how do we go about restoring straying saints?

1. We need saints who are spiritual.

Paul reminds us that those who are spiritually mature need to get involved with the restoration, Galatians 6:1. Those who possess a spirit of gentleness need to get involved with the restoration.

Those who are constantly examining themselves need to get involved in the restoration because they realise that they too can easily fall into the same fault.

2. We need saints who are willing to carry other’s burdens.

Paul reminds us that it is those who have a willingness to bear one another’s burdens that need to be involved with the restoration, Galatians 6:2. Because as we know, restoring saints takes a lot of time and a lot of energy.

3. We need saints who are humble.

Paul reminds us that our responsibility is not fulfilled by simply pointing out our brother or sister’s faults, but by being humble, Galatians 6:3 / 2 Timothy 2:24-26. We all know there is nothing worse than some arrogant saint trying to help you just by throwing Scripture in your face.

4. We need saints who understand God’s Word.

Those that are doing the restoring need also to have a reasonable knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, 2 Timothy 2:24. The restorer must be able to teach and apply God’s Word to the situation.

5. We need saints who are patient.

Those that are helping with the restoration need to be patient, 2 Timothy 2:24. The restorer needs to treat the wanderer with that same patience.

6. We need saints who know what real love is.

Those who are restorers need to be able to demonstrate their sincere love towards the wanderer. This includes when it comes to rebuking saints or simply when they are in repentance, Matthew 18:15-17.

The restoration of a wanderer brings about the covering of a multitude of sins. Sins are cleansed upon the condition that the sinning brother repents and returns to the obedient life, Psalm 32:1-2 / Romans 4:6-8 / 1 John 1:7-9 / Romans 11:14 / 1 Peter 4:8.

The work of restoring or correcting saints may be unpleasant at times, but it has the potential for great joy, Luke 15:7 / 3 John 4.