A. Warning to the wicked rich (Verses 1-6)
1. James here addresses the wicked rich
a. A man is not condemned because he is rich. There is no sin in riches itself.
(1) There are children of God who are rich. Christ allows for this when He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” He added, “with men this is impossible but with God all things are possible.” Find examples of rich men both in Bible times and in history who were children of God.
(2) They are however rare and exceptional. Scripture lays great stress on the poverty of the people of God in contrast to the worldly rich. Find examples.
b. These rich are distinctly pointed out as wicked.
(1) Verse 3 tells us that their gold will witness against them.
(2) Verse 4 indicates that they accumulated their riches in an evil manner, they stole.
(3) Verse 5 — they used their possessions in an evil way.
2. Consider what these wicked rich have done
a. They have accumulated great wealth
(1) described in this text: riches (vs. 2) this includes all material things which may be described as cash (gold and silver) and investments (property, homes, etc.). The Jewish businessman was outstanding if he had a sizable bag of gold coins and beautiful clothes. Both are mentioned here.
(2) They even built up a nest egg for retirement (see verse 3, “Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days”).
(3) Questions to consider here: How would you define poverty and wealth? Do you think an honest and zealous Christian would ever accumulate great wealth? Is it sinful to have beautiful clothing, investments, retirement programs, etc. if in acquiring these things we cannot pay for the needs of the church, the education of our children, our society dues, and things like that?
b. They cheated their employees and thus gained wealth wrongfully
(1) Notice verse 4 tells us they had a harvest, a good crop
(2) Yet these rich did not pay the laborers good wages, they kept back part by fraud (see chapter 2:6)
(3) They condemned and killed the just, Verse 6
(4) Does this sound familiar in our day with labor strife? Does this text support the cause of organized labor? Consider that these poor workers did not rebel against their employers, they cried to God! (Vs. 4, 6) God is the judge not man. Consider how this principle must be applied to modern day labor movements.
(5) God condemns exploitation by employer, Deut. 24:14, 1.5, Lev. 19:17, Mal. 3:5.
(6) God demands the employee to submit to employer, I Peter 2:18-20
c. They filled their fixes with pleasure
(1) Verse 5 indicates they reveled in the sins of gluttony, drunkenness, and exorbitant spending
(2) In this way they squandered and wasted the God-given gifts not using them to His glory, but only to self-satisfaction and pleasure
3. Predicted judgment for these wicked rich
a. James warns them already in verse 1, “Go to now, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.”
(1) Apparent here that they face the God of judgment. This is the only basis for the fear of judgment by the wicked. God is righteous, there will be no mercy on the judgment seat. Even the righteousness of God’s people will be made manifest in the way of strictest justice.
(2) In the deepest sense this refers to the final judgment of the world at the return of Christ. (Lord of Sabbaoth — of Hosts)
(a) There is a judgment upon the wicked rich throughout their whole life. Consider how this is true, give examples from history and people you know.
(b) The fulness of the wrath of God upon them is reserved till they are cast into outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth.
b. The reaction of the wicked to this judgment
(1) A loud voice of misery, “weep and howl.”
(2) Conscious suffering, Luke 16:24-26.
(3) Questions: Why is there a hell for the wicked rich? Prove from Scripture that this is true. Is this a spiritual state or a physical place?
c. The wicked lose their possessions
(1) Idea is that in this life they are “gods,” but in the end they all perish.
(2) Concrete pictures in our text: food becomes rotten, garments become moth eaten, gold and silver rusty.
(3) What is the significance of this?
(a) This speaks clearly of the illusion the wicked have of earthly things. They pass away and deteriorate.
(b) Especially in gold rusting, idea is expressed that there is no real gold, for real gold doesn’t rust; they imagine it to be something pure which in reality it isn’t.
(c) Thus in the end their main possessions and purpose of life will fall away; no wonder they weep and howl.
d. Even these things testify against them in judgment.
(1) Their wrong use will occasion their being judged as guilty, being worthy of hell fire.
(2) Also the cries of those defrauded will testify against them.
(3) All our works enter into judgment, also the use of our money and material things. Apart from Christ this is a dreadful thought.
e. These wicked will experience conscious torture in hell
(1) Verse 3, “the rust shall eat your flesh as it were fire.” This means it serves as the basis for guilty decree and thus subject to God’s fire of just wrath.
(2) They are described in verse 5 as having “nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter.” As cattle fattened for the kill, so the wicked rich, glory in their riches, filling their hearts for sin, making themselves worthy of greater judgment. This proves no common grace-favor of God in earthly riches.
(3) Well may we consider how we acquire and use our money lest we be found guilty.
B. The suffering believer exhorted to be patient (verses 7-11)
1. For what? The Coming of the Lord
a. The faithful church was suffering
(1) Under rich oppressors and all that this entailed.
(2) Natural reaction — try to escape from it.
b. James tells them, be patient!
(1) Receive this suffering as from the Lord.
(2) Bear it in the strength that God gives.
(3) Rejoice in it, knowing that the purpose that God has is good, viz. the strengthening of our faith.
(4) Persist in the faith and praise God.
c. The goal — the coming of the Lord
(1) This is our Christian hope. We long for this, God has promised this, and we are assured it draws nigh (vs. 8).
(2) The reason for this being the object of our patience.
(a) Not simply because this will be the day for the destruction of our enemy, though this is true.
(b) Nor in the simple fact that our sufferings will cease in this day, though this is true!
(c) Rather, this will be the day in which we will be able to praise God without distraction and with unmixed zeal and affection.
(3) Question: How can the hope of heaven become a selfish escape if not properly understood?
2. A Comparison: “like the husbandman” vs. 7.
a. A farmer must be patient
(1) His work: prepare soil, sows seed, cultivates, etc.
(2) He has no control over destructive forces: disease, drought or flood, amount of production.
(3) He works patiently, diligently he does all he can and is required to do as a good husbandman. He seeks the early rain (the rain in the fall which prepared the soil) and the latter rain (spring rains that nourished the seeds and tender plants). The outcome is entirely God’s and he must wait for that.
(4) This must be learned, for even farmers are not very patient in themselves, this too is of God.
b. So we must be patient waiting for the day of Christ
(1) We must not grow dissatisfied with what we have (whether that be possessions or place of work, or health).
(2) We must be steadfast in our calling in serving God and praising Him, trusting Him to finish His perfect work.
(3) Then we are happy in any circumstance (vs. 11).
3. Examples of impatience
a. Grumbling (vs. 9)
(1) This is a natural outgrowth when we undergo troubles. We become dissatisfied with what we have and envious of others (Matt. 7:1).
(2) Timely warning, the “judge standeth before the door. This makes clear that all our works and attitudes will enter into judgment.
(3) Question: How can James say, “lest ye be condemned,” is there a possibility of this happening to God’s elect?
b. Swearing rashly and falsely (verse 12)
(1) Nature of swearing: Many Jews had the bad habit of having to substantiate everything they said with calling God or heaven or something of the earth to witness to the truth.
(2) This was especially true to those who were poor or owned little of the earth’s wealth, their word didn’t seem to mean much for they had no position, so they swore a great deal.
(3) This is basically true of all swearing: Man tries to add strength to his feeble word by calling God or the creatures of God to witness.
(4) This is considered the worse sin, see L.D. 36, 37 Heid. Cat. Why is this true?
4. Examples of patience
a. The prophets (verse 10)
(1) As a group, the prophets had a trying life; they had to bring the Word to a stiff-necked and gainsaying people. For this they were harassed and mocked and often became despondent in the task. See 1 Kings 19:4ff and Psalm 73.
(2) Yet the very characteristic of a prophet was patience. As a mouthpiece of the longsuffering God, he was to bring the word faithfully, persisting in his word. This the prophets did under the qualifying grace of the Holy Spirit.
b. Job (verse 11)
(1) In all the history of the people of God, Job outshines as the example of patience in affliction. Why?
(2) Notice the point James makes, God over-ruled the devil in his dealing with Job. Satan intended to break Job’s faith through affliction, taking away his earthly possessions, bringing evil counsel through his friends. Yet God directed it all to a favorable end, Job was strengthened in his faith and received possessions and children besides. “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matt. 6:33.
C. How we are to deal with the sick and afflicted (verses 13-20)
1. Exhorted to pray for one another (verses 13-18)
a. This must be connected with the preceding. The reason for sickness and affliction lies in their suffering for Christ’s sake. They are oppressed. This leads to all kinds of afflictions: poverty, disease, loneliness, being chased about, etc. Yet, on the foreground here is spiritual disease, that of being discouraged, despondency, bitter grief, rebellion, compromise, etc. The Apostle James is obviously concerned about their spiritual health.
b. Exhorted to pray (verse 13)
(1) Idea of prayer: communion with God, lifting up the soul above the present conditions, seeking guidance to walk in patience. It is expression of thanks for past favors and seeking future blessings. God is the only One that can give these. He gives them to us in Jesus Christ.
(2) We are to pray individually: the child of Cod prays within his own heart. There is a real need to pray alone, not in the company of others. Give reasons.
(3) There is a need to seek the prayers of others: (verse 14-16)
(a) Call the elders: this is one aspect of their official work (see Mk. 6:13). Sometimes we are so spiritually weak, we cannot even pray. The anointing with oil was a common practice in treating the sick. Here it is used figuratively as a picture of seeking the oil of the Holy Spirit given to us through prayer. Note: part of the prayer is a confession of sin (verse 16) mutually seeking forgiveness through prayer.
(b) The healing power of effectual prayer: Before the throne of grace, doubts are covered by the promises of God, tears arc comforted by the mercy of God, fears are quieted by the power of God, and weaknesses are overcome by the grace of God. Thus prayer is effectual and fervent, it brings spiritual healing. All this is rooted in the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. God uses this means to this end. Thus James exhorts us to make use of it.
(4) Elijah the example of fervent prayer: (verses 17 and 18 )
(a) This was part of the O. T. typology, signs and wonders that physically demonstrated spiritual truths (the power of God to save).
(b) Does not mean that we can expect such physical changes through prayer, here they must be applied to spiritual changes. What physically occurred in the O.T. through prayer, now truly takes place spiritually through prayer.
c. Singing of Psalms (verse 13)
(1) In contrast to the afflicted who are urged to pray, here James speaks a word to those who are “merry” or free from trouble.
(2) They are to “sing Psalms.” That means, they are to express their joy, personally in their own lives and also in their contact with others. Singing is an expression of the joyful heart.
d. Questions: How can we be selfish in our praying and singing? Is there any proof here for faith healing? Why do the Roman Catholic refer to this section as proof for “extreme unction”? How about “confess your faults one to another,” is that proof for making confessions to the priest? What ways can young people heed the exhortation in these verses?
2. Help each other with spiritual advice (verses 19, 20)
a. These words emphasize the need to follow Matt. 18:15-20
(1) This is basic to our walking in love with one another.
(2) Only in this way can we confess our faults to one another (vs. 16)
(3) With such confession a sinner is converted from the error of his way.
b. The significance
(1) A soul is saved from death and a multitude of sins is hidden.
(2) This is in the way of the forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ.
(3) How can James say, “he which converted the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul.” Can we convert a sinner?
c. In what ways do we fall short in heeding this counsel and how can we correct this?