This is probably one of the most searching and piercing sections of the letter.
The denunciation of the first six verses fall unsparingly on the rich.
James takes on the role of a prophet of social justice.
1. He cries out against those who fail to use their wealth for the alleviation of human need.
2. Against those who become rich by exploiting their workers.
3. James also rebukes them for using their wealth for self-indulgence and luxurious living.
4. Then finally he pictures the rich as arrogant oppressors of the righteous.
v. 1 James reminds the rich that harvest-time is coming. “That which we sow we shall reap.” Gal 6:11-12
Those who live in wealthy profligacy and who exploit their employees, James says, they should begin now to weep and howl, for God’s judgment upon them will bring untold misery. Luke 16.
James mentions four cardinal sins of the rich in the next five verses.
v. 2-3 The sin of laying up treasure on earth.
The Bible never says that it is a sin to be rich.
James speaks of wealth as it was recognized in Bible times.
Riches – Garments – Gold – Silver
The hoarding of these things until they were spoiled is what James calls sin.
“Your richest goods are ruined” probably meant that their grains had become wormy and their oil rancid.
The point here is they had been hoarded to the point where they were spoiled.
They could have been used a one time to feed the hungry.
Apply the same principle to:
Garments – Silver – Gold
Garments hanging in the closet for so long were moth eaten.
Gold and silver were discolored because of not being used.
The sin was, that before the goods-garments were spoiled – gold – silver tarnished, they would have been used to feed the hungry – clothe the destitute – provide medicine for the sick – spread the Gospel.
The expression in v. 3 is interesting.
“And shall eat your flesh as it were fire.”
It means that their failures to use their riches for the good of others would cause them the keenest suffering and remorse.
The second sin was failure to pay proper wages. See v. 4
This is shocking; it was prevalent in James’ day, it is still with us.
Though the workers had worked well they evidently had been deprived of their wages.
Their masters turned a deaf ear to their cries for justice. James reminds those rich cheats that though they refuse to listen to the cries of desperation, they were heard by the Lord of Sabbaths, that is, the Lord of hosts.
The day of reckoning was coming.
The third sin was that of luxurious living. V. 5
James next denounces the sin of luxurious living. It is a sin to use affluence to indulge in selfish extravagance. This not only touches the rich but touches us too.
The fourth sin is inhumanity towards the righteous. V. 6
Some take this verse to mean that the Just or Righteous one is the Lord Jesus.
This interpretation does not fit the context.
The just or righteous one is the innocent man (Poor man)
James says He cannot resist you, so you have killed him … not directly perhaps, but by overworking and underpaying them.
Exhortation to patience. V. 7-12
In these verses James no turns to the believers, who were being oppressed, and encourages them to be patient. The motive for patience is the coming of the Lord.
It is used in the N. T. several times as an incentive to patient endurance.
James uses the farmer as an example of patience. V. 7
He does not reap the same day as he sows. There is a long period of waiting. First must come the early rain, causing the seeds to germinate. Then there must come the latter rain, toward the end of the season to bring the crop to maturity.
v. 8 In this verse, James exhorts his readers to be patient like the farmer. Also to be courageous. Strengthens your hearts. Because the wrongs of earth will be made right when the Lord returns.
v. 9 Don’t grumble
During times of distress it is not uncommon for the victims to turn against one another. Human nature is strange, sometimes under pressure we turn against those we love most. Hence the exhortation: “Murmur not one against another”; “lest you be judged”. In trying circumstances we should not let resentment – expressed or unexpressed – build up.
James says, “The Judge is standing before your heart’s door.”
He knows what we think. Soon we all will stand before Him at the Judgment Seat to give an account.
v. 10-11 The O.T. prophets are brought forth as examples of suffering and patience.
Notice the order. Suffering affliction – Patience.
Romans 5:3 Tribulations worketh Patience.
Trouble produces endurance.
Patience is explained in other parts of the N.T. as fortitude or stead fastness.
These O.T. prophets were persecuted unmercifully, yet they endured as seeing Him who was invisible. Heb 11:27.
These men were blessed of God because they endured. Heb 11
If we want to be blessed by God then we too must endure.
v. 11 Job is taken as an outstanding example of endurance and fortitude.
Few men in the world ever suffered so much loss in so short a time as Job.
Yet Job never turned from God, and even under added pressure would not curse Him.
In the end his endurance was rewarded. God revealed Himself as merciful and full of pity. See Job 42.
Consider the phrase, “the end of the Lord”. It means – the final issue or result which God brings to pass.
v. 12 This is an interesting verse
1. There are some who believe that the question here is that of cursing or profanity.
2. There are others who use this verse exclusively to forbid the practice of taking an oath in a court of law.
In the context neither of these conclusions fit, entirely.
The practice which is forbidden is the thoughtless use of the Lord’s name – or some other name – to attest the truthfulness of our speech.
The believers should not have to swear by anything in heaven or earth.
Those who know Him should be able to depend on the fact that his yes means yes and his no, no.
Having established what we believe to be the interpretation let us look at a few applications of the truth.
1. The passage could be applied to forbid such needless expressions as “for heaven’s sake – by Jove – gee – gosh – golly.
2. Profanity or cursing by a believer is unthinkable and a sin.
3. In a court of law when a believer is not known and the law of the land demands that we make an oath on the Bible, then it would be better to conform, “Last you fall into condemnation.” James perhaps was thinking of the third commandment. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain.”
The theme in the closing verses of this chapter is prayer (7 times).
Prayer is appropriate for every occasion.
James is encouraging his brethren in the use of prayer.
Is any among you afflicted? (suffering) Let him pray.
The context shows that many were in trouble, deep trouble.
The answers to this problem, says James, is to go to the Lord in prayer.
Conversely, he says, in times of rejoicing we should praise Him.
From this exhortation we learn that God wants to be brought into every changing mood of our lives.
Ideally, we should see God as the first course of all that comes to us in life.
In all of our circumstances we should see no hand but His.
v. 14-15 Sickness and prayer.
This is probably one of the most disputed portions of the N.T.
It brings us face to face with the place of healing in the life of the believers today.
Before looking at the verses in detail, let us review what the Bible teaches about sickness and healing. All sickness, in a general sense, is the result of sin in the world.
1. Also sickness can be as a direct of sin in a person’s life. 1 Cor 11:30
2. Not all sickness is the result of sin in a person’s life. Job is an example of this. Epaphroditos – Phil 2:30; Gaius – 3 John 2
3. Sometimes sickness is the result of satanic activity.
Job’s body was covered in boils – Job 2:7
Satan crippled the woman in Luke 13:10-17
She was unable to straighten herself up – Satan had bound her for 18 years.
Paul had a physical problem caused by Satan. He called it a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me. 2 Cor 12:7
That God can and does heal is a foregone conclusion.
It is also clear that God uses different means of healing.
1. He heals through a natural bodily process.
2. Sometimes He heals through medicines. Paul to Timothy – take a little wine, etc. – 1 Tim 5:23
3. Sometimes He heals through physicians and surgeons.
Jesus said that “the sick need a physician” – Matt 9:12
Paul spoke of Luke as “the beloved physician” – Col 4:14
These references recognize the need for doctors among Christians.
Then God heals miraculously
The Gospels contain many examples of this.
It would be incorrect to say that God generally heals in this way.
Neither would it be correct to say that He never does. There is nothing in the Word that would discourage us from believing that God can heal miraculously today.
There are also instances where apparently it was not God’s will to heal.
Paul left Trophimus sick at Miletum – 2 Tim 4:20
The Lord did not heal Paul of his thorn in the flesh. 2 Cor 12:7-10
If it were always God will to heal, some would never grow old or die.
Healing is not something anyone can demand from God.
Faith-healers say that if a person is not healed it is a lack of faith.
Paul – Trophimus – Gaius were not healed, and yet their faith was virile and active.
Now turn to vs. 14-15 and see if we can fit them into what the rest of Bible teaches about healing. Quote.
If these were the only verses in the Bible on healing, we would assume that a believer could be assured of healing from every sickness that comes into his life.
However we have seen that it is not always God’s will to heal.
Therefore we are forced to the conclusion that James is not talking of every kind of sickness – but rather a sickness which is the result of specific circumstances.
To me the key to understanding the passage is found in the words … “and any sins he may have committed will be forgiven.”
This man had committed some sins, maybe involving the testimony of the local church. He realizes that his sickness is the result of his sin. He repents and confesses his sin to God. Since his sin involved the public testimony of the assembly, he calls the elders and makes a full confession to them also.
They pray over him – anoint him with oil in the Name of the Lord. Their prayer of faith saves the sick man, and the Lord raises him up.
To me the passage teaches that it is a definite promise of the Lord, that where sickness is the direct result of sin, and where sin is confessed and forsaken in the manner described, the Lord will heal.
Some interpret the oil here as signifying the use of medicinal means, since oil was a form of medicine in James’ day. See Luke 10:34
Another view is that the ritual use of oil was meant. This idea is strengthened by the words “in the name of the Lord.” This means that the anointing was to be done by His authority and in obedience to His Word.
v. 16 “Confess your faults one to another”
At first glance this statement might give the impression that we are to tell other people about our secret sins.
This is not the thought. James is saying here, that if we have sinned against someone, we should confess our sin to that person as soon as possible.
Next we are urged to pray for each other’s healing.
Oftimes than we care to admit our illnesses may be cause by sin. Overeating-worry-anger-intemperance-jealousy-selfishness-pride-unforgiving spirit.
All sin should be confessed and forsaken promptly.
This is vital for our spiritual health and good for our physical well-being.
v. 16b-18 These verses show how Elijah prayed. Quote.
The incident is recorded in 1 Kings 17:1-10
Ahab was king – Through his wife Jezebel he became a worshipper of Baal – then he led the people into idolatry.
Ch 16:33 says, “He did move to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that went before him.”
The drought then that came upon them for 3 ½ years was the direct result of sin.
In Ch 18 Elijah had the notable contest with the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel.
When the people saw the power of God they turned back to Him.
Then Elijah prayed again and the 3 ½ years of drought ended. Notice that the sin of Ahah and the prayer of Elijah brought 3 ½ years of drought.
The forsaking and confession of sin by the nation plus the prayer of Elijah brought an end to the drought.
Elijah was no supernatural man – he was like us. He should inspire us to pray.
v. 19-20 Quote.
This verse describes a brother who has wandered away from the truth, in doctrine or in practice.
Another brother makes this a matter of fervent; believing prayer – then wins him back to fellowship with God and with his brothers and sisters in Christ.
The repercussions are that this brother has saved the erring brother from either a premature death or spiritual tragedy. Secondly he covers a multitude of sins.
They are forgiven and forgotten by God.