Bible Commentaries
James 5

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

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Verses 1-6

The Abusive Rich Will Be Judged

James had a message for the oppressive rich. He asked for their close attention, as in 4:13, by saying "Come now." This time he is speaking to the rich. His message seems to be directed to some rich outside the church, especially since verse 7 is directed to brethren. Of course, Christians must also beware of the dangers attached to riches throughout scripture ( Isa_5:8 ; Pro_11:28 ; Amo_3:10 ; 1Ti_6:8-10 ; 1Ti_6:17-19 ). Vine says the word "weep" "is used of any loud expression of grief, especially in mourning for the dead." "Howl" describes crying aloud. It would appear the mourning enjoined is for their own loss ( Jam_5:1 ).

The money and garments of those oppressive rich were going to waste. As shall be seen, this was from their being ill-gotten and hoarded up without any plan for their good use. That tarnished appearance would stand as a witness against the greed of those addressed and cause them to be condemned. James says they had actually stored up a large treasure to bringGod's full wrath down upon them in the last day ( Jam_5:2-3 ). Paul gave a similar warning in Rom_2:5 . "But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God."

The practice of refusing to pay the poor laborers even the meager wages they had been promised is condemned in the Old Testament ( Lev_19:13 ; Jer_22:13 ; Mal_3:5 ). The wages held back and hoarded cried, like the blood of Abel, for judgment against those who withheld them. The cries of those cheated were also heard by the Lord of hosts ( Jam_5:4 ).

This may be a reminder that God has the power to take vengeance in such cases and will use it. "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord....Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" ( Rom_12:19-21 ).

The rich lived the high life and indulged themselves in fulfilling of all their wants. Their stuffing themselves with pleasure was much like a hog being fattened for slaughter ( Jam_5:5 ). The Just, or Righteous, One James says they murdered is Christ ( Act_3:14 ; Act_7:52 ; Act_22:14 ; 1Jn_2:1 ). It was these self-indulgent rich who crucified Jesus. Yet, our Lord submitted to them without resistance ( Jam_5:6 ; Isa_53:7 ; 1Pe_2:21-23 ).

Verses 7-9

Christians Need To Be Patient

James urges the brethren to patiently endure just as the Lord did ( Jam_5:7 ; Mat_5:38-48 ). At the coming of the Lord, James urged his readers to remember, all will be rewarded according to their deeds ( Joh_5:28-29 ). This should cause us to patiently endure what others do to us because the Lord will reward them. Also, it should cause us to patiently remain in service because the Lord will reward us.

The Christian's patience should be like that of the farmer in Israel who waited for the early rain to help the seed germinate and the latter rain to help it gain fullness before the harvest. Impatience will not speed the harvest, nor the coming of the Lord ( Mar_4:28-29 ). So, James encourages them to stabilize their hearts and firmly set them to await the coming of the Lord. The Christian, knowing Christ's teachings on his second coming, should always think of the Lord's return as imminent ( Jam_5:8 ; Mat_24:36-44 ; Mat_25:13 ).

With the great external pressure of persecution, it would have been natural to vent some frustration by grumbling and blaming others for their problems. James warned his Christian readers against such because blaming another would lead to condemnation. Instead, he told them to always be prepared for the judge's return by picturing Jesus at the door ready to enter. They would not want to be guilty of wrongful, or harsh judgment, knowing the judge was ready to come any time ( Jam_5:9 ).

Verses 10-12

Those Who Endure Are Blessed

The prophets suffered for God. The Greek word for "suffering" which James uses in reference to the prophets is one which designates external pressure ( Mat_23:34 ; Luk_11:47 ; Act_7:52 ). Those spokesmen for God left an example of bearing up under such and remaining true to the Lord. Their example should encourage Christ's followers to like patience ( Jam_5:10 ; Heb_11:32-38 ). They were not just happy because of favorable external circumstances. Those men of faith were happy because of a disposition of heart, or from the inside out. To be able to bear up under such trials because of wicked people, the men of faith had to remember the end of a wicked life ( Psa_73:1-18 ; 2Th_1:7-9 ), as well as the goal of the faith in life ( Heb_11:13-16 ). Job is James' last example of one who patiently bore suffering. We are able to see the reward of that patience because we know the whole story ( Job_42:10-17 ). While we do not know the whole story in our own lives, we can be assured that the end will work out for our good ( Jam_5:11 ; Rom_8:28 ; Rom_8:31-39 ).

As James' readers awaited the Lord's coming, he urged them to be especially careful to avoid oaths. The Lord, in the sermon on the mount, delivered an injunction against oath taking used to add force to a statement which was made to impress men. Such oath taking may have been used to cause others to believe a lie. Jesus particularly warned the scribes and Pharisees about this practice ( Mat_5:33-37 ; Mat_23:16-22 ). This would not seem to prohibit solemn oaths involved in law, religion or contracts ( Heb_6:13 ; Heb_7:21 ; Mat_26:63-64 ; Rom_1:9 ; 2Co_1:23 ; Gal_1:20 ; Php_1:8 ). Christians should be known for doing exactly what they say they will do, thus being ever ready to receive a blessing from the Lord ( Jam_5:12 ).

Verses 13-15

Responses to Various Situations

What should a Christian do when physical and mental problems bear down upon him and depression sets in? James says pray, not just once, but repeatedly. On the other hand, if we are joyful and full of good spirits we ought to let it be known through songs of praise. A Christian ought to be as ready to thank God for the good as he is to plead with him to relieve the bad ( Jam_5:13 ).

James also urged the sick to call for the elders so they might pray for them and anoint them with oil. Oil was used symbolically in the appointment of kings and prophets ( 1Sa_10:1 ; 1Sa_9:1-27 ; 1Sa_16:13 ). It was also used for medicinal purposes ( Isa_1:6 ; Luk_10:34 ). Still another usage is found in the working of miracles ( Mar_6:13 ).

Is the healing James speaks of miraculous or providential (through medicine)? Let us suggest that, during the age of miracles, it could have been either. Now, of course, it could only be providential. In either case, the prayer of faith would have to be understood as a prayer which is in accord with the Lord's will ( 1Jn_5:14-15 ). If the sick needed to repent, they could likewise have their sins forgiven by repenting and asking the elders to pray about that while present ( Jam_5:14-15 ; 1Jn_1:9 ). Several cases of illness can be found in the New Testament ( Php_2:25-30 ; 1Ti_5:23 ; 2Ti_4:20 ; 2Co_12:7-9 ). It is interesting to note the power of healing was not even used by an inspired apostle under all circumstances.

Verses 16-18

Examples of Prayers of the Faithful

James encouraged those in the first century church to keep on confessing their sins to one another and to keep on praying one for another. A similar concept is found in 1Jn_1:7 where the apostle of love urged his readers to keep on walking in the light so they could have the continual cleansing of the Lord's blood. Note that no one is set above another in the church. All are enjoined to confess to one another. All should desire the healing power of God's and the brethren's forgiveness ( Mat_5:23-24 ). When one who does the Lord's will petitions him, God promises such a prayer has much power ( Jam_5:16 ).

Elijah was used by James as an example of a man, with the same weaknesses and desires as other men, who had his prayer answered. The story comes from 1Ki_17:18-24 . Jesus referred to it in Luk_4:25 . First, under God's direction, he prayed it would not rain. God closed up the heavens for three and a half years. Then, he prayed again. Elijah truly was fervent in prayer, as he prayed seven times before the rain came at the end of this great drought. When it did rain, the earth began to produce again ( Jam_5:17-18 ).

Verses 19-20

Restoring the Erring

It is obvious James believed one could err from the truth. Yet, how can one wander from something in which he has not been? So, Christians can fall from grace (See also Gal_5:2-4 ; 2Ti_2:16-18 ). To turn a man back is to cause him to change course. By causing him to change course, we can save his soul from death. This would not be physical death, as all men are appointed to die once ( Heb_9:27 ), but the second death described by John in Rev_20:13-15 . By causing him to seek forgiveness, his brethren are assured by James God will hide his sins so they will be seen, or remembered, no more ( Jam_5:19-20 ).

Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on James 5". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". 2014.