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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
James 5

 

 

Verses 1-20

Verses 1 to 6 are addressed to rich men, and no doubt specially to those who make some claim of having the knowledge of God. They are bidden to weep and howl for the miseries that will take them, in contrast to their present living in luxury. How transient and empty are earthly richest God sees them as corrupted, decaying, and quickly at an end; and the garments of wealth as moth-eaten, not won from use, but from hanging, disused, in a closet.

The language here is sharp and scathing. When he speaks of gold and silver being cankered and rusted, it is of course the spiritual side of things of which he speaks: wealth is stored up with no concern for its proper use in relief of the needs of others, similar to the case of the wicked servant, who laid up the pound his master had entrusted to him, instead of making use of it. Such treasure, heaped together would be a witness against the wealthy in the last days of reckoning. And it would be as a consuming fire to their fleshly indulgence.

Verse 4 charges them with the oppression of laborers also, those whose work increases the riches of the employer, but are not given proper wages. God hears the cry of such. At their expense, the rich live in pleasure, indulging every selfish desire, nourishing not their spiritual life, but the lusts of their own hearts. It is like Nabal, satiated and drunken, at the time his sheep were shorn. 1 Samuel 25:36. Others suffer and are killed, while the rich indulge in every luxury. And the just, as sheep led to the slaughter, do not resist.

The world is well-nigh full of such abuse. Let the Christian have no part in such guilt. If one is rich in this world's goods, let him be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to share what he has, with the genuine intention of pleasing God by the use of his abundance. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Yet beginning with verse 7 we see the proper attitude of the believer in regard to these evils. If he is oppressed, he is not to fight or make what he considers righteous demands. He is to be patient. For how long? Until the coming of the Lord! This is the only real hope of the child of God. It is vain to hope that men will willingly cease from oppression unless they are truly brought to God. But a Christian may learn to bear oppression in proportion as he rejoices in hope of the glory of God.

The farmer expects no crop until the seed has time to sprout and gradually grows and God designs this long waiting time as a picture of the long patience He has in dealing with us, so as to bring forth eventually the fruit that He seeks. And we too are to have the same patient character. It is God who sends the rain, whether early or latter, at the time of proper need, to bring it fruition the work of His grace. We cannot either hasten or delay it, so it is our wisdom to act in both faith and patience. It is this that leads to a true stablishing of the heart in sound, dependable characters and we are exhorted to this, for the coming of the Lord has drawn near.

But not only was there danger of retaliating against the oppression of the rich; there is that also of brethren nourishing a spirit of complaint against one another. But this is taking the place of judge, and the only true Judge stands ready to judge all that is wrongs and we may find that, because of our judging, we are exposed to judgment ourselves. This is not eternal judgment, of course, but that here and now.

We need patience in every direction, and in verse 10 are referred to prophets in the past, who have spoken in the Name of the Lord. Almost none of them was without persecution and affliction, and the patience with which they bore it is certainly an example for us.

Real happiness is not found in having everything favorable, but in enduring tribulation patiently. And the patience of Job to commended to us as an example. This was not primarily suffering from men, but from circumstances of adversity, though men added to it, some who despised him simply because he was down, others (his friends) who accused him unjustly. Job's patience at first was more commendable than later on, when he bitterly complained; yet he did endure until God showed to him what was "the end of the Lord," that is, the object the Lord had in mind in allowing all his affliction. The end proved that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy. So it will prove in every cases

"But above all things, my brethren swear not." It may seem strange that this negative is stressed above all others; but this is a vital New Testament teaching in contrast to the Old Testament. The dispensation of law proves man to be sinful and untrustworthy. Tested under a system where oaths and vows were allowed, he proved himself without strength to perform. The Lord Jesus therefore in Matthew 5:33-37 solemnly forbid these things. Actually only God has a right to swear by heaven or by earths or by anything else, for He made them. Let me therefore remember to keep the creature place in confessed weakness: for to add the emphasis of an oath to our words is actually a mark of unseemly prides and places us in danger of falling into present judgment.

Now we have simple advice as regards the circumstances of daily life. If there is the trial of affliction, let one pray. This itself is a source of comfort and relief, for God's presence is realized where there is simple, unaffected prayer. Does one's heart overflow with rejoicing? Then to sing Psalms is a precious outlet for this.

If in sickness, one here is told to call for the elders of the assembly, that they may pray over him, and anoint him with oil in the Name of the Lord. We must remember of course that this epistle was written to Israelites at the introduction of the present dispensation of grace, when elders had been appointed in each assembly by the apostles. (Cf.Acts 14:23) After the church was established, there was no provision for the continuance of this appointing of elders, so that there are none definitely marked out as such today. Of course there is no doubt that there are still men who have the characteristics that make them elders in reality, though not as appointed to such office. As to the anointing with oil, Israelites would attach special significance to this, as in the case of the cleansed leper. Leviticus 14:16-18.

It seems very clear therefore that these instructions in the book of James were intended specifically for Jewish believers in the early church, for they could not possibly be a pattern for saints to follow down through the history of the church until now. On the other hand, John is the last of all the writers of Scripture, and he also gives Instruction as regards prayer for the sick, with assurance of the Lord hearing, so long as we ask according to His will. And in this case, he says nothing at all of calling for the elders, or of anointing one with oil. And of course he writes to all believers, the entire family of Gods so that we may fully take this for the day in which we lives and count much upon God in dependent, believing prayer.

Though these early Jewish believers were, in the case of sickness, instructed to call for the elders of the assembly, who would both pray over them and anoint them with oil in the Name of the Lord, yet let us observe that it is the prayer of faith, not the anointing, that saves the sick. This salvation of course is the delivering of one from his sickness. If his sickness was the result of having committed sins, this would be forgiven. John however (1 John 5:1-21 :l2-15) stipulates that if one had "sinned unto death," no recovery could be therefore it would not be faith to pray for his recovery. No doubt in every case some spiritual discernment would be required as to whether we could pray in faith; for this would no doubt involve not only the sin committed, but the circumstances and the motives connected with this.

Therefore it is becoming for saints to confess their offenses to one another, as matters requiring prayerful help; and while the healing here may be primarily that of recovery from illness, yet spiritual recovery is certainly just as needful. And in both directions "the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." What an incentive to a walk of practical righteousness, end also to unceasing, earnest prayer!

The example of Elias (Elijah) is a striking one. His nature was no different than ours (indeed he proved himself subject to discouragement and complaining): yet in faith he prayed earnestly that it might not rain. This is certainly a most unusual prayer (prayer for rain is generally more understandable); but he discerned the evil state of his nation to be such as required drastic measures, and there is no doubt that it was God who directed him in his prayer, and then restrained the rain for three and a half years.

And Elijah waited all this time before praying that the rain might fall again. Yet we must not think that the power was simply in his prayer. Rather, his prayer was subject to the Word of God, in which the power actually liest as Elijah himself declares, "I have done all these things at Thy word." (1 Kings 18:36) Dependent prayer will both lead to understanding the Word of God, and desiring that God's will should be carried out. Notice too the long wait before the prayer resulted in blessing "the earth brought forth her fruit." True prayer is not impatient, but can calmly wait upon God.

Now the epistle ends as practically as it begins. While games has given urgent exhortation as to our obeying the truth of God, yet now he faces the fact that saints do not always take such exhortation to heart. If this is the case, however, and one wanders from the truth, there is good work that another can do. By means of the truth itself, one may help in the recovery of another. This principle applies whether the wanderer has never been saved in the first place, or whether he is a believer. If by grace we are able to convert (or turn around) a sinner from the error of his way, this both saves a soul from death, and hides a multitude of sins, He is speaking herd of physical death, just as in Ezekiel l8:4: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." The term "soul" is used for the person, rather than the entity within him, also called "soul." Compare also 1 Peter 3:20. Indulging in sin may lead one to a premature grave, as 1 John 5:1-21 :l6 shows us. Also, when one sin is indulged, it is practically bound to lead to what is worse, "a multitude of sins." The Lord give His saints diligence to engage wholeheartedly in this good work of both caring for souls, and covering sins. As though not to take away the force of this, nothing is added by way even of a closing sentence.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on James 5:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/james-5.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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