James has focused his entire letter on Christian maturity — both in our faithfulness to God and in our conduct toward others. It’s not enough to just call ourselves Christ followers; we must be continually striving to grow closer to Him in our behavior, our morality, and our internal attitudes. Now James concludes his letter, and he does so by talking about where we place our trust in this life. This is very much a continuation of the thoughts James shares in chapter 4.
I’m working from the Christian Standard Bible.
Verses 1 – 6: Do Not Trust Wealth
Come now, you rich people! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you. Your wealth is ruined and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your silver and gold are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You stored up treasure in the last days! Look! The pay that you withheld from the workers who reaped your fields cries out, and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived luxuriously on the land and have indulged yourselves. You have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned — you have murdered — the righteous man; he does not resist you.
James is exceedingly clear: you and I should not put our hope in our worldly possessions. He goes so far as to condemn those who amass their wealth at the expense of practicing mercy and justice. He uses prophetic language to get his point across.
- Their silver and gold corrodes, probably from stagnating in storage for too long rather than being used by those to whom they owe wages.
- The corroded silver and gold testify against and will consume them.
- Withheld pay cries out.
- The workers’ cries reach the ears of God.
James goes as far as to say that these wealthy individuals who seek ways to cheat their workers and withhold pay are guilty of murder. We live in a culture where such behavior is written off as “just doing business” or “looking after our shareholders.” This is not right. If we’re privileged enough where others rely on us for their livelihood, we should never engage in such practices. If we’re not in that position (as most of us will not be), we should never condone or justify this kind of greed. God believes it more important that we look after the needs of others than our luxuries.
Verses 7 – 12: Trust Instead In God
Therefore, brothers, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near. Brothers, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged. Look, the judge stands at the door!
Brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s name as an example of suffering and patience. See, we count as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and have seen the outcome from the Lord. The Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
Now above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. Your “yes” must be “yes,” and your “no” must be “no,” so that you won’t fall under judgment.
James contrasts the impatience and callousness that can come from trusting in our wealth with the patience and strength that comes with trusting in the Lord. He puts this patience in context of a farmer who has to keep a long-term view of their work, knowing that a lack of patience could result in a ruined crop. Our trust in God encourages us to be patient with Him as well as with one another.
Take people like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Job as examples of this kind of patience and trust. Their examples testify to us that our patient faith can endure anything through the Father. These people should be role models to us, not simply icons of faith. We should look at they way they endured their trials, at the ways they overcame discouragement and outright persecution, and resolve to do the same.
Then we get to the “above all” statement. This is the summation of everything James has written so far regarding our mature faith. Putting God’s word into action, showing generosity, overcoming prejudice, taming our tongues, growing in humility, and putting our trust where it belongs — all of this boils down to a very simple principle: be honest.
- If we are honest with our perspective about suffering, we will understand that pains of this life are temporary and look past them to God’s greater purpose for us.
- If we are honest with God’s word, then we will put it into practice when it demands change in our lives.
- If we are honest with the example Jesus has left us, then we will put others before self, discard prejudice and discrimination, and seek mercy before secular judgments.
- If we are honest with ourselves, we will be mindful of the ways we use our words, tempering our language even when incensed or frustrated.
- If we are honest about our place in Creation, we will be humble before God and put His will before our own.
- If we are honest in humility, then we will place our trust in the Creator rather than the perishable things He has created.
Verses 13 – 20: Trusting In Prayer
Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.
My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.
Finally, James sums up his book with an encouragement to pray. This is where we put our trust and patience into action. Do we trust in God? Then we will trust in the power of prayer. Here, the mature Christian finds peace and fulfillment. Here, we give everything over to God.
James ends with this: those who are mature in Christ, be ready to help restore those who have gone astray. With every point of maturity in this letter, the opposite can occur. We should always be willing to help each other along our journeys and restore one another when necessary. The mature Christian does not write off another Christian over secular differences or spiritual struggles. The mature Christian seeks to heal and restore.
Miscellaneous Thoughts and Conclusion
- You can’t read James 5 and come away with the thought that Jesus and His apostles would be OK when we shrug at someone struggling to make ends meet with their full-time job to say, “Then get a second job.”
- It’s interesting that James inserts a comment about complaining about one another in his section about being patient with God. My takeaway is that being patient with each other is part of being patient with God. “As you have done to the least of these…”
- James makes it clear that basic honesty is the ultimate litmus test for true Christianity. If we follow public figures who claim a Christian faith, but they can’t pass the test of basic honesty, we’re following the wrong people.
- We do find examples in other letters of withdrawing fellowship from those who have fallen away. In each of those cases, however, the withdrawn individual caused major damage to the local congregation involved. Withdrawal should never be a default course of action.
If the attribution is correct, James would have written this letter before the events of Acts 12. He would have been writing to Christians who had heard and received the gospel news and were now ready to put that gospel into action. Putting Christ on in baptism is just the beginning of our Christian journey. We should always let God’s word refine and perfect us. Let’s be honest with where we are in our assessments of where we are as followers of Christ, and let’s put James words into action, growing closer to our Savior day by day.