The Epistle of James
Acknowledging the Will of God (4:13-17)
God is sovereign and works all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11). Throughout the New Testament He has given an understanding of what might be called His general will for all His people. His specific will for the individual believer may be ascertained through the reading of His Holy Word, through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, through circumstances and through the peace of Christ which arbitrates in the heart (Col. 3:15).
The Christian is exhorted not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of his mind that he may know what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2). Notwithstanding the provision the Lord has made for His own, James, the Lord’s brother, has to rebuke his fellow-Christians for their ignoring of the complete submission to their Heavenly Father’s will. They ought to say, “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (4:15) , but many of them never do.
How easy it is to make plans. We prepare our schedule for tomorrow. We decide on a move to another city. In that new area we shall engage in merchandising, and there devise means for our success. How presumptuous we are! We forget the limitations of our own humanity. We act and think as if we were infinite when there are continuous evidences of our fragility all around us.
Not only do we not know what shall be on the morrow, we also fail to consider how brief and frail our life here really is; it is most uncertain. Death could very quickly end or radically change it. The return of our Lord could quickly end our stay here.
When King Hezekiah received the message from God, “Set thine house in order for thou shalt die, and not live” (Isa. 38:1), he became suddenly impressed by the brevity of human life on earth. The similes he employs suggest the temporary nature of human life. He likened it to a shelter built to protect the shepherd from the hot rays of the sun; the branches and leaves of which would soon dry, wither and blow away.
Hezekiah also likens life to a bolt of cloth which, when it is finished, and nothing more is to be added, it is cut off from the loom, severed from the speedy movements of the shuttle: it is fully and finally ended.
“What is your life?” asks James. He then answers his own question : “It is even as a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” God spoke words of warning to his ancient people, saying, “Thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life” (Deut. 28:66). How exceedingly true!
To every personal plan or purpose we ought to add this proviso, “If the Lord will.” The word “ought” which the translators have added to verse 15 in order to make it more readable actually expresses a duty; it intimates the rightness of adding this clause as a spiritual obligation. We must acknowledge that only if the Lord will we shall be able to work and to accomplish our own proposals. Life and its expenditure is wholly according to the divine will, and this whether we realize it or not.
Proud man boasts in the schemes he arranges. In his own estimation they are superior. He lauds himself in his designs and organizations, as well as in his successes. James has already affirmed: “God resiteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble” (4:6) .
Spurgeon said, “None have more pride than those who dream that they have none. You may labour against vainglory till you conceive that you are humble and the fond conceit of your humility will prove to be pride in full bloom.”
The last verse of chapter four in all probability is a summary of all that James has been saying. Christians are to live humbly and in the will of God. They are not to speak evil one of another. They are not to judge one another. Consequently, they must ever remember that he that knoweth to do good but fails to so do, commits sin.
Unconsecrated Wealth (5:1-6)
It is not wrong to be wealthy. To possess material riches is not sinful. There are numerous wealthy persons mentioned in a commendatory way in the New Testament.
The saying that our Lord, although He died as a felon, He was buried as a king, is true only because of the intervention of two apparently rich secret disciples, a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph (Matt. 27:57-60) and Nicodemus, the Dean of the Rabbis in Jerusalem (John 19:38-42).
Barnabas, the Son of Consolation in the early church, was rich. True, he should not have acquired so much material wealth for he was a Levite (Deut. 18:1; Jos. 13:14). Nevertheless, in the New Testament his wealth is not condemned; in fact, it became a blessing in the church.
Philemon, to whom Paul sent a personal letter, apparently was an extraordinary Christian with material possessions. The church in the city of Colosse met in his hospitable home. Paul’s address to Philemon is a lovely informal letter to a brother of some means who had a domestic and social problem. His slave had stolen from him and had run away. Such a problem would arise only where there was enough money to possess slaves. Again, the means possessed by Philemon are not condemned; much rather he is highly commended: “I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, hearing of thy love and faith which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; that the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” (Philm. 4-6).
The Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to “charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate” (1 Tim. 6:17-18). It has been frequently said, “It takes a steady hand to carry a full cup.”
James apparently has in mind those to whom the Apostle Paul wrote his forceful warning: “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:9-10). James certainly indicates some of the evils of riches.
Greed is a grave evil: “Ye have heaped treasures together for (in) the last days (5:3) . Covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5). The Lord detects when the heart has been diverted to other objects rather than to Himself. Such is fallen nature, it is never satisfied with what it possesses; it ever reaches out for more and more.
Fraud: In order to attain to more money, the heart becomes deceitful and dishonest. It takes what justly belongs to another. As Christians some fail to fulfil what might be expected from them by their employers.
The change in the preposition in verse three from “for” to “in,” needless to say, is important. “In the last days” reveals the increased struggle between capital and labor at the close of this dispensation of the grace of God. “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back, crieth.” How very sad, when a child of God becomes involved in such disputes.
Oppression: The acquiring of wealth sometimes does result in the assuming of certain arbitrary powers. Occasionally the rich become intolerant, harsh and domineering. Let all such remember, “The cries of them which have reaped (that is without adequate payment) are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.” Who is the Lord of Sabaoth? This precious lofty title is the only one of the titles of Jehovah that passes from the Old Testament into the New. It occurs also in Romans 9:29.
This title, unlike so many of the titles of Jehovah, does not appear in the Pentateuch. We do not find it until the days of David. He used it quite frequently in his Psalms. When David went down into the valley to meet Goliath, he said to the giant, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear and with a shield; but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts (the Lord of Sabaoth), the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou has defied” (1 Sam. 17:45). Here we have a key to the significance of this title. God is ever the defender of His people. He is Sovereign over all celestial hosts, as well as over all the redeemed, and is ever ready to defend those that trust in Him.
The rich who arrogate power to themselves, and therewith oppress the poor, need to remind themselves that the Lord of Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, hears and heeds the cry of distress arising from His own.
Luxury is a besetting sin among those with material possessions. They live in pleasure and affluence and frequently ignore the needs of some who are designated as “just” in their employment. These might even die from their lack of interest and support. The rich may gorge themselves and forget all others. All need to remember that the Lord of Sabaoth still lives.
Spurgeon might well be again quoted: “Oh, brethren, it is sickening work to think of your cushioned seats, your chants, your anthems, your choirs, your organs, your gowns, and your bands; I know not what besides, all made to be instruments of religious luxury, if not of pious dissipation, while we need far more to be stirred up and incited to holy ardor for the propagation of the truth as it is in Jesus.”