Summary: In light of Christ’s imminent return, James gives a word of warning to the rich, a word of comfort to the hurting, and a reminder to talk like a believer.
LIVING THE REAL LIFE:
CULTIVATING A FAITH THAT WORKS
IN LIGHT OF HIS COMING
Open your Bible to James chapter 5. Of course, this is the last chapter of the book of James; and the normative way that the New Testament writers ended their letters was to tie up some loose ends - some more so than others - so that often times there are a lot of seemingly random thoughts at the close of a book. This is particularly true of this early Christian letter. There is, however, a hint of similarity in the subject matter of vv.1-12. So that is the portion of Scripture we will look at today.
James, as we have heard many times throughout our study, is concerned with genuine faith. He deals with practical issues that reveal our true colors, one way or the other. We have seen encouraging words intended to strengthen the faithful; and hard, poignant rebukes intended to wake up the pretenders. In our passage today we will see both of these things. In fact, we will see these things to the extreme, so to speak. The rebuke we are about to read is not for the fainthearted. And equally as moving, the comforting word we will see should encourage any believer in Jesus Christ enduring any set of circumstances. The common thread that ties them together is the return of Jesus Christ - that future point in history when the resurrected and glorified Christ will physically return to earth to set up the eternal state. Now, there is no sophisticated eschatological treatise here. There is no systematic explanation of all the details that relate to that glorious end time. There is simply a statement of the reality of Christ’s return and an explanation of how that ought to compel us to live in certain ways. Christ’s return will bring judgment for some, relief to others, and eternal closure to all. So there are some principles that need to be heard and adhered to. Let’s take a look at the text, then. James 5:1-12 says:
1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
The first thing we see here is a very harsh rebuke in vv.1-6. It is a word of warning for the rich: judgment is coming.
A WORD OF WARNING FOR THE RICH: JUDGMENT IS COMING (VV.1-6)
James writes: Come now, you rich…
This, of course, is not the first time James has addressed the wealthy. In chapter 1 he told the rich believers in the churches to glory in their humiliation; that is, to rejoice in their trials because they keep them grounded and keep them from thinking that their riches profit them in any sort of lasting way. The rich, like everyone else, will fade away; and their money is helpless to prevent this. In chapter 2 he rebukes his readers for showing favoritism to the wealthy who attended their assembly. He reminds them that as a general principle, it is the poor and lowly in this world whom God has chosen to inherit eternal riches. In chapter 4 he reprimands those businessmen who were so consumed with profit that they left God out of their plans. Here in chapter 5 he builds on that theme. “Come now you rich…come now those of you who have refused to acknowledge God’s supremacy in your lives and have made profit your god - let me tell you what your fate is.”