Summary: James 5 has a lot to say about the rich and the proper response to abuse by those who are powerful. His wise words are clear and firm, making the path of faith obvious. He pulls no punches.
Prosperity, Patience and Prayer: this is the outline for James 5.
1. Prosperity: 5:1-6 This is a prophetic oracle against the rich oppressors.
Wow! Does that page in your Bible smell a bit like smoke? Here James steps into prophetic mode and writes with an imprecatory imagination of doom and gloom on the object of his words, which in this case falls on the materially wealthy. James doesn’t have a lot of positive things to say about rich people in this letter. There’s a reason for that. It appears that the rich he speaks of are causing lots of pain and grief to those Christians there who are poor. James refers to rich folks in at least three sections 1:9-11, 2:2-7, and lastly 5:1-6. That’s about 15% of the entire letter. His instruction and prophecy about the rich are very strong language against their abuse of power and position. On the other hand, James 2:5-7 he reminds us that God chose those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love Him. God loves everybody, but He seems to have a special place in His heart for the poor, the widow and orphan. This hits the health and wealth gospel people who preach that if you have faith in God He will make you wealthy and healthy and enjoy the riches of this world right between the eyes. Here Jesus, Paul and James agree completely. Luke 6:24-26, 1 Cor. 1:26-31.
What’s behind such strong warnings to the materially wealthy? Let’s just admit it. Nearly everybody wants it. But wealth does strange things to us and others who see us. It is very easy to love money or the things money can buy, but that love is the root of all kinds of evil. It gives us the illusion of power and success. Worldly wealth, more often than not, negatively influences a relationship with God. On the other hand, it is also true that poverty can have a negative impact as well. But it is a rare thing to find someone in pursuit of poverty or loving poverty.
Proverbs 30:7-9 says:
7 “Two things I ask of you, O Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.
As a Christian we can have the courage to pray to God, “Lord don’t give me too much or too little, but give me what you know is best. Teach me to trust in your provision.”
2. Patience: 5:7-11 This is what you practice while you wait on God’s judgment.
James gives the proper response to those living under the oppression of the rich: patience and trust in the Lord. Looking at the farmer, the prophets and Job as examples, James supports his point about patience.
This reminds us of his opening instructions in 1: 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
We are not called to be idle while we patiently wait, we must be careful not to grumble or swear while we wait on God’s judgment too. Keep in mind that God is the Judge and He is near. God is full of mercy and compassion and will work things out for our good. Patience is not about sitting and doing nothing. While we are patiently waiting on God to judge, we have a job to do. We have a faith to share and spread. We have a fellowship to grow with and care for and be involved in. God has called us to missions not cushions. God has given us important responsibilities of service and works of faith.
Instead of grumbling let us be grateful. Instead of judging let us practice justice. Let us follow in the footsteps of those who practice patience – the farmer, the prophets, Job, and most of all, Jesus.