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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann
James 5

 

 

Verses 1-6

Various Admonitions in View of the Nearness of the Judgment.

Exhortation to the rich:

v. 1. Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

v. 2. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.

v. 3. Your gold and silver is cankered, and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

v. 4. Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.

v. 5. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter.

v. 6. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

To the remarks which the author has written concerning the rich in the first part of his letter he now adds an exhortation in which he calls upon them directly to consider their ways: Come now, you rich men, weep with lamentation over your calamities which are impending. He wants the rich people to take notice, to stop for a moment in their mad scramble for wealth. For even a superficial consideration of their actual position will take all self-satisfaction and pretended happiness out of their heart and mouth, and cause them, instead, to weep bitterly, unto howling, over the miseries and calamities which are drawing near them. It is a prophetic warning of great energy. See Luk_6:24.

The reason why the rich people, those that put their trust in the wealth of this world, will be reduced to a state of pitiful lamentation, is given by the apostle: Your wealth is rotting, and your garments are becoming moth-eaten. Men in that condition believe that their money, their riches, are secure against every contingency, for which reason they also place their full trust in that which their hands have heaped up. But it is in fact decaying, putrefying; their confidence is resting upon a rotten foundation. And their rich and costly clothes and garments, which they have gathered from all the countries of the earth, are becoming moth-eaten. Such is that in which they find their delight, transient, perishable, without lasting value, yea, more, valueless in the sight of God. See Mat_6:19-20. The same is said in the next sentence: Your gold and silver is rusted, and their rust will be a testimony against you and shall consume your flesh like fire; you have heaped up treasure in these last days. The apostle uses strong figurative language. All the money upon which they that will be rich are relying with such complete abandon is covered with filth; it belongs to the perishable goods of this world, all of which will eventually return to the dust and be consumed at the end. This dust or filth or rust will testify against them that they have put their trust in such decaying matter. Instead of satisfying the soul forever, the time will come when this dust and rubbish for which men sold their immortal souls will prove a torment to them, eating into their bodies with the everlasting fire of hell. For the charge stands against them that they heaped up riches for themselves in these last days of the world. They were not satisfied with the blessing which the Lord places upon honest work, with the necessaries of life, but believed themselves under the obligation of storing up, of gathering together, wealth, never resting, never satisfied.

The sacred writer now shows in what manner this heaping up of riches was largely done: Behold, the hire of the laborers that have harvested your fields, of which you have defrauded them, is crying out, and the cries of the harvesters have come to the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. It is the ancient controversy between capital and labor which is here touched upon. The rich men hired the laborers for the purpose of harvesting the rich fields of grain which they should have looked upon as the blessing of the Lord. But after the workmen had performed their labor in storing the rich gifts of God's goodness, which incidentally brought new riches to the owners, the latter calmly ignored the fact that the wages were to be paid. It is the same complaint which has arisen thousands of times since, the wealthy owners of farms and factories withholding from the men that work for them the wages due them, while they themselves pocket a disproportionate gain, thus defrauding both their workmen and the public. If only capitalists and laborers both would but heed the warning that it is God who in such cases hears the crying of even the senseless creature, and that the moaning of those that are wronged comes to His ears! He is the Lord of Sabaoth, the King of the heavenly multitudes, the almighty God, the righteous Judge.

There is another accusation that must be brought: You have reveled on the earth and lived a life of dissipation; you have fattened your hearts as in the day of slaughter. That is one of the chief temptations connected with wealth, one of the reasons why the curse of God often attends its acquisition, namely, that people use their wealth for the purpose of leading a life of pleasure, of enjoying this life to the full, of living deliciously and voluptuously, in dissipation and wantonness, in self-indulgence of every form. This is very fittingly expressed when the apostle says that they are fattening their hearts as in the time when slaughtering is done, for then they could eat and drink their fill, forget every form of temperate living, and make their belly their God, Php_3:19. To carry out their aims, those that seek to be rich will not hesitate to use any measures that will bring them the money which they crave: You have condemned, you have killed the righteous, and he does not resist you. This illustrates the depths of depravity to which a person will be driven when once the lust for wealth has taken hold of his heart. There may be a righteous person standing in the way, as in the case of Naboth. But it seems that this fact merely inflames the desire of the covetous all the more. There are thousands of ways in which laws may be evaded or constructed to suit the ends of the wealthy, SO long as they are willing to pay a proportionate sum of money for the legal advice they want. Often enough sentence is passed upon him that is really in the right, and examples are not missing where the righteous person was put out of the way for the sake of a few paltry dollars. Being righteous, such a person will bear the ill-treatment, often in silence, realizing the uselessness of resisting the wrong. The entire description vividly paints conditions as they obtain also today, and in the very midst of the so-called Christian communities.


Verses 7-11

Admonition to patience:

v. 7. Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it until he receive the early and latter rain.

v. 8. Be ye also patient, stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

v. 9. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned; behold, the Judge standeth before the door.

v. 10. Take, my brethren, the prophets who have spoken in the name of the Lord for an example of suffering affliction and of patience.

v. 11. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy.

Probably the thought of the uncomplaining patience of the righteous under the ill treatment of the wealthy caused the apostle to add this paragraph concerning the patience which the believers should show at all times: Be patient, then, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Patient, uncomplaining endurance should characterize the Christians at all times. For it is only for a short while that they are obliged to suffer. One fact always is held before their eyes, namely, that their Lord is coming, that He will surely return in glory. Yet a little while, and He that is coming will come, and will not tarry, Heb_10:37.

The apostle refers to the example of the farmer: See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the land, having patience with regard to it until he receives the early and the late rains. If there is anyone whose labor necessitates a great deal of enduring patience, it is the man that depends upon the soil for a living. He realizes how fully mankind is dependent upon the Lord for food. He puts his seed into the land which he has prepared, patiently biding his time in order that he may receive his reward in the form of a plentiful harvest. In Palestine he knew that his success rested upon the timely falling of the former or autumnal rains, which, after the hot summer months, brought the land into a condition where it could be cultivated, and of the latter or spring rains, in April, which aided the crop in maturing. So all his labor was a matter of patient waiting.

This example the Christians should follow. Have patience also you; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Patient endurance should be the keynote in the lives of the Christians. Times innumerable their hearts are on the verge of growing faint and of giving up the apparently unequal struggle. But with help from above they find themselves able again and again to strengthen and confirm their hearts. For that thought upholds them, that the coming of the Lord to Judgment is near, that His return means everlasting bliss for them. There is only a short time of waiting, and then the harvest will be gathered with joy ineffable.

Meanwhile they should heed what the apostle tells them: Murmur not against one another, brethren, lest you be judged; behold, the Judge stands at the doors. The apparent delay of the Lord in returning according to His promise has caused many people to give way to impatience, to make invidious comparisons between their own lot and that of others, and to begrudge the greater happiness of others. A behavior of this kind, being altogether out of harmony with the Word of the Lord and with the disposition which He expects in them that are His own, will call forth His condemnation upon the guilty ones. For those that by patient continuance in well-doing wait for His coming, salvation is near, but for those that are full of envy toward others and spend their time in nursing their supposed grievances it is the Judge, the righteous Judge, that is coming. He is even now standing at the door, and His entrance to Judgment is only a matter of a short time, controlled largely by the fact of His merciful love for the fallen whom He is striving to gain for eternal salvation.

There are also examples of the saints of old which may well encourage and strengthen the believers: As an example of the suffering of evil and of patience, my brethren, take the prophets that spoke in the name of the Lord. See Heb_11:1-40. Most of the prophets of old, although they were engaged in preaching in the name of the Lord, in bringing to their countrymen the wonderful message of the coming Messiah, yet were subjected to many kinds of persecution; they were obliged to bear evil in many forms. They may, therefore, well serve as examples of patience and endurance which we should always keep before the eyes of our mind. If the Lord gave them strength to endure the manifold afflictions which came upon them to the end, He will be at our side also with His comfort and with His power.

And there is another point that deserves mention: Behold, blessed we consider sufferers that did endure. Of the patience of Job you have heard, and the end of the Lord you know, that very compassionate is the Lord and full of pity. Job was a favorite example of patience among the Jews of all times, as he is today. Christians should remember that we commonly, and rightly, ascribe blessedness, the happiness of salvation, to those that endured to the end. See Mat_5:11. With the story of Job-the readers of this letter were familiar; they knew the end and purpose of the Lord with regard to this patient sufferer. It was just in his history that one point became so emphatically apparent, namely, that the Lord is so very compassionate with regard to them that are His own, that His heart yearns in pity and mercy for His children. Thus there is both comfort and strength in this allusion for the Christians of all times.


Verses 12-15

The improper and the proper use of God's name:

v. 12. But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath; but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay, lest ye fall into condemnation.

v. 13. Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray, Is any merry? Let him sing psalms.

v. 14. Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;

v. 15. and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

The apostle introduces a new paragraph, couched, in part, in the words of the Lord's own instruction: But above all, my brethren, do not swear, neither by heaven, nor by earth, nor by using any other oath. Let your "yes" be simply "yes," and your "no" simply "no," lest you fall into condemnation. See Mat_5:34. Like the admonitions of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, these words are intended to do away with the frivolous use of the oath, which is certainly as prevalent now as it ever was in the history of the world, and which certainly is crying to heaven. Unless the command of the government or the welfare of their neighbor or the glory of God demand an asseveration in the nature of an oath, a simple assurance of fact or a simple denial on the part of the Christians should be sufficient. The person that continually is ready with an oath causes those that hear him to feel doubts as to his veracity and to discredit even those statements which are made under oath: It is just like proving too much and thus not proving anything. And God condemns such swearing in no uncertain terms.

As to the general behavior of the Christians, the apostle says: Is anyone among you suffering evil? Let him pray. Is anyone in good spirits? Let him sing hymns of praise. Instead of denouncing and cursing those that afflict us and make us suffer evil, it behooves us as Christians to lay our matter into the hands of our heavenly Father for adjustment and for judgment, asking Him, at the same time, for the patience which is necessary to endure the evil. If, on the other hand, any one is in good spirits and feeling happy over some manifestation of God's goodness or mercy, the best way of showing his appreciation is to sing praises to His holy name in hymns of thankfulness. We should think of the Lord not only when we are in trouble, but also in the days when we are enjoying His blessings.

Another instruction concerns the Christian's behavior in case of sickness: Is anyone sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the congregation, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick one; and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sin, it shall be forgiven him. Note that the apostle does not expect the elders or presbyters to know of the sickness of a parishioner by themselves, but only by being informed of that fact at the instance of the sick person. Provision is here made for the spiritual treatment of a Christian whom the Lord has laid on a bed of sickness. In a case of this kind the elders were to be summoned to the bedside for the purpose of administering pastoral comfort. This was done by prayer, accompanied with the anointing of the sick person with oil, which was a common Jewish usage. If all this was done in the proper manner, and the sick person showed himself repentant and eager for the comfort of the Gospel, then there would be no doubt as to the efficacy of the prayer made at his bedside. Not only would the prayer of faith on the part of this little assembled house congregation be heard by God in granting to the repentant sinner forgiveness of all his sins, but God would also restore him, spiritually at all events, and bodily according to His good pleasure. Note: Of this unction as a sacrament we find no word in Scriptures. The anointing of which James speaks in this passage, See Mar_6:13, was an extraordinary means used in the early Church for the miraculous healing of bodily ailments. This anointing was not done in preparing the sick person for a blessed death, but for the purpose of healing; the forgiveness of sins is not ascribed to the oil, but to the prayer of faith.


Verses 16-20

Admonition to forgiveness and loving intercession:

v. 16. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another that ye may be healed. The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

v. 17. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

v. 18. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

v. 19. Brethren, if any one of you do err from the truth and one convert him,

v. 20. let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

The forgiveness of sins mentioned at the close of the last paragraph now causes the apostle to add a general admonition: Confess, then, your sins toward one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed. There is not a word here concerning the exclusive right of elders or priests to forgive sins, the statement, on the contrary, being very general. All Christians, in their daily intercourse with one another, have abundant occasion to practice the love which is here spoken of. If anyone has harmed his brother by word or deed, he should frankly seek the forgiveness of the person wronged. At the same time intercessory prayer is urged; for the efficacy of such prayer, especially in cases of spiritual need, is so strongly established in Scriptures that its neglect is a matter of deep regret at the present time.

This point is emphasized with great force by the writer: A great power has the prayer of a righteous man in its efficacy: Elijah was a man of like passions with us, and he prayed a prayer that it should not rain, and it did not rain on the earth three years and six months; and he prayed again, and the heaven yielded rain, and the earth blossomed forth (and produced) her fruit. The apostle urges the believers to-be more instant in prayer, first, by a general statement of fact. If the prayer of the righteous is made with full trust in its efficacy, and therefore brought to the Throne of Grace with all energy, then it has a power beyond the experience of the average Christian in our days. This the apostle proceeds to show from the example of Elijah. Although this prophet of the Lord was a man with the same mental make-up, with the same inclinations and passions which we find in ourselves, yet his first prayer closed the heavens for a total of three years and six months, 1Ki_17:1; Luk_4:25, while his subsequent prayer opened the heavens that had been closed for so long a time, causing a great rain to come down, 1Ki_18:42, and restoring the soil to such a condition that it could bring forth plants to blossom and to yield fruit. Only few men have learned this lesson of the need and the power of earnest prayer, among them Martin Luther; but the example is still there and urges emulation.

In concluding, the apostle speaks of a special deed of kindness which should be practiced by all Christians, and with far greater liberality than is done at the present time: My brethren, if any one among you should err from the truth, and one should convert him, let him know that he who converts a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins. It will happen, time and again, and in spite of all vigilance, that some brother or sister will stray from the accepted truth, from the Word of Salvation. The world is full of temptations, and our own nature is only too weak in resisting evil. If this is the case, however, and one of the other brethren or sisters undertakes to bring back the erring one to the right path, then the thought should encourage such a one during the entire transaction that his action will, by the grace of God, result in saving a soul from death, from spiritual and eternal death. In that event, also, all the sins that were committed by the erring brother will be covered over and forgotten for the sake of the salvation of Christ which was won for just such sinners. Surely this consideration should make all Christians willing not only to exert the utmost vigilance over their own conduct, but to watch also with the brother and sister that may be inclined to stumble and fall. Above all, such charity and patience should rule in the Christian congregation as has its example in the love of the Savior.

Summary

The apostle addresses various admonitions to his readers in view of the nearness of Judgment Day, warning the rich to have the proper regard for the rights of their employees, urging all to show patient endurance in afflictions, distinguishing between the improper and the proper use of God's name, and admonishing all Christians to practice forgiveness and loving intercession.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on James 5:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/james-5.html. 1921-23.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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