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Chapter 5


James Chapter Five
Commentary by Pastor Timothy H. Burdick

Verse 1. "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.”
Verse 2. "Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten.”
Verse 3. "Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!”
Verse 4. "Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabbath.”
Verse 5. "You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.”
Verse 6. "You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.”
Verse 7. "Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.”
Verse 8. "You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”
Verse 9. "Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”
Verse 10. "As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”
Verse 11. "We count those blessed who endured You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.”
Verse 12. "But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.”
Verse 13. "Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.”
Verse 14. "Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;”
Verse 15. "and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.”
Verse 16. "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
Verse 17. "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.”
Verse 18. "Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.”
Verse 19. "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back,”
Verse 20. "let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

In James 5:1, the author is giving a warning to rich people. He says, “weep and howl” because of the miseries that are coming upon you. The words “weep” and “howl,” seem to signify repentance, as they did in Chapter 4, where James said, “let your laughter be turned into mourning.” Again, I would say that there is nothing wrong with riches in themselves, They are a neutral commodity. It basically depends on a person’s heart. Jesus said about this, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” So when James talks about sorrows coming upon people with riches, he's talking about people who trust in or set their hearts upon riches. Like the foolish rich man in Luke 12:15-21, they have dismissed any thoughts of God. To find out more about this, read that section in Luke 12. James goes to say in verses 2 and 3, “Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire.” The most important thing to see here is that we are all accountable to God. The author stresses it again by essentially saying: What you have is actually going to testify against you. And the fact that James speaks of rottenness and moths, just says that something can be here today and gone tomorrow.

In Matthew 6:19 Jesus also uses “moths” as one of the destructive forces that can destroy earthly riches. James 5:4 tells us that the rich people he is writing about have gotten their money by exploiting others. I think God has a soft spot in his heart for people who have been taken advantage of. He says that the cries of the harvesters have reached His ears. Then James goes on, "You've lived in luxury and lavish feasting.” Verse 6 goes on to say, "You have condemned and murdered innocent men.” This could be figurative or it could be literal. Jesus said that if a person is angry with his brother without a cause, he is guilty of murder. In Verses 7-8, James tells us to be patient. Along with telling us that we should possess that quality, however, he gives us the example of the farmer and the rain. We should be patient, not just in general, but as far into the future as the coming of the Lord. It is drawing near. Even when it doesn't seem like it. James tells us that His coming is really not that far off.

Cross reference this with 2 Peter 3:8. Here we read, "forget not this one thing, beloved that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day." The Apostle Peter is quoting from the Psalmist (Moses) who says much the same thing in Psalm 90. I don't know if you ever struggle with patience like I do, but I think all of us have problems with it. Everything today is so “instant;” and for me instead of the farmer, since I don't live in an agricultural society, a better example that God can use to form patience in me is Dial-a-Ride for the disabled.

James goes on in verse 10 to say, brothers don't grumble against each other, the Judge is standing at the door. Here, we see the idea of accountability again. He is reminding us of this over and over, so that we will not take it too lightly that the fact is: we will ALL answer before our Maker. I really don't think we realize how destructive grumbling and complaining is. It is a sin, for God tells that our attitudes should always be of thanksgiving. The Scripture tells us that when we grumble and complain against each other, we are really doing it against God. Numbers 14:17 asks us, "How long shall I bear with this evil generation, that murmurs against Me, I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel which they murmur against Me.”

The writer now talks about perseverance. This a quality that we don't talk enough about, but it is taught all throughout Scripture. It means to stick to something until it is finished. In our case it would mean sticking to the journey that we are on with Christ. In Verse 10, James tells us that when we think of perseverance, all we have to do is consider the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah. It is important he says, to think about how they suffered. Blessed are those who have persevered, or we might say in this day and age, have “hung in there.” In today’s world, where we have so much at our fingertips, we think of happiness as something that we can get only when things are going our way.

But James is talking about an altogether different kind of happiness. To describe this happiness, think with me about the marriage relationship. For two people to experience ultimate happiness together, they must make a commitment. They must stick together through thick and thin, for better or for worse. In other words, they must endure. Do you have this quality? From what we said above, how can you develop this? I sometimes fall flat on my face because perseverance is a first cousin to patience, which is sorely lacking in this world.

This verse is important because we are reminded that that Lord is full of compassion. Do you ever feel like you have to do everything yourself? I think we all feel that way when we go through hard times. The truth is that the Lord is always with us and wants to help. 1 Peter 5:7, talks about “casting our cares on Him, because he cares for us.” How can we experience God’s concern and care in a new way? You may want to think about this question, especially if you are going through any kind of loss or grief in your life. Remember, so many times in the gospels we see that Jesus had compassion. It is the same today, you don't have to live the Christian life on your own; Jesus has compassion for you.

James talks about being a person of your word in 5:12. This is a quality that for the most part has been lost. I heard a speaker that said he went into a bank. His father lived in a time where he would have had to sign once, whereas this man had to sign four or more times. It is no longer a time when a man’s word is good. Are you a person of your word? How does being this kind of a person affect your relationship with Christ? Again, Jesus tells us to let our “yes be yes, and our no be no.” Cross reference all this with Matthew 5:34-37.

In James 5:13-15, the author breaks things down into three categories. The first of these is prayer. Initially, he asks if any one of us is in trouble. Then he says, “let him pray.” I believe that James is suggesting that God allows many things in our lives because He wants us to come to Him. Prayer is a lost art, at least the kind that James is talking about. He is not discussing a five second blessing as a form of prayer; rather he is talking about the tough quality of prayer that will hang in there when there seems to be little hope. We think that prayer is asking God for what I want, when first and foremost, prayer should be a tool to discern God’s will.

Finally, we must see “sin” for what it is. David asked God to “search” him, as recorded in Psalm 139:23. In the same way, we must do this. We must remember, however, that God says “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Let me go over this Scripture with you, because I think that many times it is misunderstood. First of all, we have the word “confess,” which contains the idea of repentance. This involves making a 365 degree turn from the sin you have confessed. It is not just saying a feeble, “I'm sorry,” and then going back to doing the same thing. Next, look at the two words, “faithful and just.” In other words, the minute we confess our sins, God is there as a loyal friend. The Book of Proverbs says that “a friend is one that sticks closer then a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Next God is just. He will deal with us according to our sin. While the world isn’t fair, God is.

The idea of God’s justice is comforting in an unfair world. Justice not only deserves a penalty for sin, for God has gone beyond that promise of justice by paying the penalty in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness, when I come to God and really mean it, is the sweetest concept in the Bible. If you come to God and mean it, but later find yourself in the same sin, don't hesitate to ask Him for forgiveness again.

Satan is called in the Word, the “accuser of the brethren.” This simply means that he likes to lie by telling us that we have gone too far for God to forgive us. That my friend, is impossible! The Bible is full of examples where men failed and had to ask for forgiveness again and again. Think of the life of King David for example. Satan wants you to feel like you are all washed up, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In contrast, James tells us in Verse 13, “if anyone is happy let him sing songs” (or praises). Paul talked about singing in your heart, and making melody to the Lord. Who is the happiest? It is a person who has his or her sins forgiven. We should have a song on our lips continually. Note that this does not mean we have to sing out loud. Some of us would not want to and other people would not want us to do it. It simply means as Paul said, that we should carry around this melody in our hearts. We’re finding out more and more about music therapy and the value of a merry heart, although the Bible has told us about this for centuries! The writer of Proverbs says that “a merry heart does good like a medicine.” This can be found in Proverbs 15:15.

Then, dealing with sickness, James gives us this word: "Is any of you sick, let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing with oil” (James 5:14). We are told that the prayer of faith will make the sick person well (Verse 15). The Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed any sins, they will be forgiven. You and I both know that God doesn't always choose to make a sick person well, and we can compare this statement in James with other passages in the Bible to can see that this promise is not for all of us, all of the time. What does this Scripture mean to you?

Secondly I understand the “raising up” that is being discussed as a spiritual fact. In Colossians 3:1, Paul makes it clear that we are already risen together with Christ. Thirdly, this Verse tells us that if the person has committed sins they will be forgiven. Since we all come before God individually, and He deals with us on that basis, James seems to be talking about the fact that the Holy God cannot and will not dwell in the presence of sin. David said that if the person regards sin in his heart, the Lord will not hear him. David goes on to say about this in Psalm 51:17, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart O God, Thou will not despise."

We are told in James 5:16 to “confess our faults one to another, and pray for each other that we might be healed." The New International Version (NIV) renders this word “sins” instead of “faults.” But to be forgiven by God, we don't confess our sins to anyone but Him. This verse has three parts in it. Have you ever felt good by just confessing a fault to a brother? Sometimes that feels like a huge load is lifted, and you’re not traveling alone - we all need to listen more. Notice the outward response of that person is not what is important. They “say” the most when they really LISTEN. Notice also, that James is talking about “faults” plural. Both of the people, the one who asks and the one who forgives, can honestly share in this.

In verse 16, James tells us to confess our faults to one another. He goes on to say that you are to PRAY that you might be healed. In the New International Version (NIV), the same verse renders the word used in the King James Version to be “sins.” The Bible teaches that we are to confess our sins to God. We confess our faults, our shortcomings and pray for each other in order that we might be strengthened. Most are familiar with 1 John1:9 in that context. But it bears repeating: “if we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is good to confess our faults to another person, but the forgiveness we really need comes from God. For a picture of this, think of the marriage relationship, where two can bear their inner-most thoughts and feelings to one another. The Bible talks about this kind of relationship in Ecclesiastes, when it says, "two are better then one, because they have a good reward for their labor.” Solomon goes on to say, “for if he falls, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

On the tail end of verse 16, James says the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Then he goes on, giving the example of the prophet Elijah; talking about how it didn't rain for three years after he prayed. Then James observes that Elijah prayed again and it did rain. I think it is important that we understand the kind of prayer that James mentions. What do the terms that he uses to describe prayer really mean? For prayer to be effectual or effective, we have to think of what James has already said in regards to our motives. Jeremiah said that “our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), and David asked God in Psalm 139:23 to search his heart to see if there was any wicked way in it. When we look at the example of Elijah we need to be careful that we don't get caught up in the sensational. I say this because the answer to Elijah’s prayer was so dramatic, that we might be tempted to say that God isn't moving if he doesn't answer us in the same way. The confession and the prayer are what is important for us; the result after those actions is up to God.

While God is a God of the supernatural, that doesn’t mean that He has to perform signs and wonders to fit OUR expectations. Prayer in and of itself is a miracle. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in the time of need.” When you think about the religious system in the Old Testament, it is a miracle that we can stand before God in the way that we enjoy today.

Enjoying this freedom brings to us the confidence, fervency and persistence in prayer that James is talking about. Jesus had this to say: "ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you" (Matthew 7:7). Most of us tend to ask God for something once, and if we don't get it, we behave like spoiled children and stop knocking, seeking and asking. Jesus was describing the same kind of fervency in prayer that James is talking about. I can say that because the Greek here is talking about a continual cry to God. James 5:19-20 tells us that when one person wanders away and another finds him, that person has saved him from death and a multitude of sins. The Bible says that we all have sinned and these sins lead to spiritual death. I believe that James is summing up everything he has said in this Book, by letting us know important personal evangelism is. I don't think James wants to lose sight of the fact that our lives have to match our words. It is his way of telling us again in conclusion what he has said throughout this whole epistle (letter).

Notes and Quotes
My outline of James Chapter 5 is as follows: Verses1-3 are a discussion about riches. Verses 4-7 speak about exploitation and selfishness. Verses 7-11 are about patience; 5-11 describes human behavior, and 5:12 urges us to speak the truth. Verses 13-18 describe our attitude in prayer, and 19-20 discuss the believer’s relationship to evangelism.

Concerning the overall epistle, Norma Becker says, "The letter was written to exhort the early believers to Christian maturity and holiness of life. It also holds very true today. James told his readers to achieve spiritual maturity through a confident stand, compassionate service, careful speech, contrite submission, and concerned sharing. He dealt with every area of a Christian’s life, including what he is, what he does, what he says, what he feels, and what he has in this world." James shows how Christian conduct, conversation and lifestyle should work together.

Timothy H. Burdick, Associate Pastor
Friday Study Ministries
PO Box  92131
Long Beach, CA
90809-2131 USA

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