Modern Bible Commentary on James 5

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

Clearly, the Lord’s brother—James, is rebuking the rich who have boasted in their wealth. He is judging them for storing up their treasures here on the earth rather than in heaven. He is charging them with idolatry and sin. Consequently, he tells them to weep and wail for the coming judgment.

This coming judgment will testify against the rich. Their gold and silver will corrode—-they will become useless to save them from the wrath of God. James gets very expressive here, saying that their own belongings the rich have heaped upon themselves will consume them like fire. It’s as if the idol they continually served and trusted in became a traitor at the end. How sad it is to trust in wealth. It’s a false god.

Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

The apostle James continues to indict the affluent about how they take advantage of their workers. He tells them that the wages that should have been given to the workers mowing their fields are crying out for justice. Their frustration of injustice is being echoed across the land. Scripture states these unfair labor practices have reached the ears of the almighty God. The same is true today.

This scolding letter continues on. The writer expresses how the wealthy have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. The god they serve is their belly. The prosperous have fattened themselves for the day of judgment. He continues to indict them for an even more heinous crime—murder. As we can see from this passage, James is passionate about justice and abhors those who use their wealth and power to take advantage of the weak and powerless.

James states earlier in the epistle that a pure and undefiled religion is to visit the widows and orphans in distress because they need care and attention. Christianity teaches us to carry out this type of unconditional service towards others, and not to be greedy or corrupt. When believers help the outcast and feeble, they are imitating the pure attributes of God.

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. 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!

Patience is the key in this passage. The writer informs us to be forbearing until the Lord’s return. He uses the analogy of a farmer waiting for his land to yield valuable crop during the autumn and spring rains. Similarly, we ought to be long-suffering and prepared for when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. For we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ—so be prepared to give an account for every thought and deed done in the flesh.

Moreover, while we wait patiently, let us not be tempted to get frustrated or complain. Grumbling against one another will be of benefit to no one. If we fall into this trap, we will be judged. For the Judge is standing at the door; The Lord’s return is closer than we presume. He will come like a thief in the night. Thus, let’s be prepared as a bride adorned before her husband.

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 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.

Referring back to the prophets and the book of Job shows the continuity between the Old and the New Testaments. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is a cohesive narrative. This is an important concept because some theologians falsely teach the new testament is all that matters now—simply not true.

As James stated in the beginning of his letter, trials produce perseverance. When perseverance is fully mature, it leads to a deeper faith in the Lord. This type of perseverance is a reflection of the goodness and mercy of God. As this passage indicates: The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. He is not willing that anyone perish, but all to come to repentance and faith. Believe me, God has been very patient with His creation.

12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

This is an interesting verse and doesn’t seem to fit in with what James has been discussing. He was just talking about being faithful to God in the midst of suffering and will be concluding this chapter on the prayer of faith. So then, why does James discuss this idea of not swearing by heaven, earth, or anything else?

When James states that one should not swear, he is not talking about using filthy language. Nor is he writing about using the Lord’s name in vain. Instead, James is speaking about a practice that was common in this era—taking an oath to persuade someone that you were either telling the truth or making a promise.

James makes a big deal out of this—considering he proclaims, “Above all,” do not swear. All you need to say is a simple yes or no. Otherwise, the Lord may condemn you. These are wise words for us today. Heed to God’s word and do not promise an oath to someone because you may break it and therefore be condemned.

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

The community of faith is integral to our overall health. When we are emotionally in trouble, there are brothers and sisters in Christ who will pray for us. If we are feeling depressed, singing songs of praise can lift up our spirits. God can also do miraculous healing with physical illness. By calling on the elders of the church to pray and ask for an anointing from the Holy Spirit, people can overcome their infirmities. At the same time, it is wise to seek medical advice from a healthcare professional.

Moreover, the church is a place of restoration. If someone has sinned, they will be forgiven. The Bible tells us that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And finally, the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Praise be to God for His intervention in our lives.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

Without God, it would be impossible for rain to stop for three and a half years. However, because of Elijah’s commitment to serving the one who brings the rain, the Lord Almighty, He was able to prevent rain on land for this long. This miracle demonstrates that Elijah was not some supernatural being, but a human just like you and I—but in tune with a mighty God.

Elijah is an example of why we need heroes of the faith. It helps build confidence that if other humans that are like us can perform miracles, so can we. The key is to have a solid relationship with the Lord. And if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, we can move mountains. Do you believe this?

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

Finally, James concludes with the importance of rebuking a believer in love. When we warn someone who is being led astray by the deceitfulness of sin, and they are able to turn back to the Lord, their lives are spared. As the apostle simply stated that whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

As believers, we are called to pray, counsel, exhort, lead, and even rebuke in order to keep people on the narrow road that leads to life. It’s a loving and gracious act to speak up when a brother or sister is being tempted into sin. Let’s all continue to persevere, singing praises from this day forward and into eternity. Amen.

Commentary written by Chad A. Damitz (M.Div)

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