James, Part 5

Simon Legree

Simon Legree

King Solomon, who knew a thing or two about wealth, wrote this:

The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it.  (Proverbs 10:22  NIV)

We know this is true because it was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and since we believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture, that verse not only conveys God’s thoughts on the matter, but also the words He would have used had He written personally.  John Milton wrote something about wealth, too.  What he wrote isn’t inspired, but it’s noteworthy:

There is nothing that makes men rich and strong but that which they carry inside of them.  Wealth is of the  heart, not of the hand.

Riches may be a blessing of the Lord, but wealth without the Lord’s blessing is always accompanied by trouble in the form of jealousy, misery, oppression, theft, murder, abuse, and even fear.  A believer may start out with love for God and neighbor, but that love can become love for wealth and money when that believer takes his eyes off God and begins to pursue the things of the world.  When possessing wealth and money becomes more important that possessing God, a believer becomes a friend of the world and an enemy of God.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  (1 Timothy 6:10  NIV)  

Pursue justice

Wealthy church members need not be offended because James 5:1 – 6 is directed at wealth unbelievers; Christians are not the targets of James’ admonitions.  That comes later on the chapter.

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.  (James 5:1  NIV)

Wealthy people, by the way, are never condemned anywhere in the Bible simply because they are wealthy.  Rather, God always warns against the temptations to which the wealthy are especially prone.  Wealth without God’s blessing, as noted previously, causes problems.  That’s why even the Apocrypha says this:

Lose your money to a brother and a friend, and let it not rust hidden beneath a stone.  (Sirach 29:10)  

James has in mind unbelievers who are in the habit of  hoarding their riches.  Here’s a good example of the power and influence of the Word of God.  It’s teachings are for everybody, believer or not.  James will deal with wealthy believer in a few verses, but here’s his warning to the non-Christian –

Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  (James 4:2, 3  NIV)

Unsaved people already live lives that are empty, unsatisfied, and often full of misery and fear, but wealth that is hoarded piles on even more problems.  Wealth takes many forms, but James teaches all forms of wealth, if hoarded, will rot, will get eaten up, and corrode over time.  His more famous half-brother taught the same thing, a few years earlier –

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:19 – 21  NIV)

Nothing in this world is permanent, as much as we may wish otherwise.  When wealth is not used for positive things, like helping other people, it testifies against the person who possesses it.  In other words, that wealth will most certainly harm the possessor, or at the very least, that hoarded wealth won’t do the poor schlub any good at all.

Christians shouldn’t live like that; ungodly people do, but Christians shouldn’t.  Our attitude toward wealth and earthly possessions should be based on the notion that not a single possession is permanent; they are all like the waves of the sea – they come and go.  How foolish is it to build your destiny on the instability and impermanence of earthly riches?  Instead, believers ought to receive God’s blessings with gratitude but then use them wisely, for the glory of God and the benefit of others.  Why is this benevolence and philanthropy so important?  It’s because when we take note of the needs of others and do what we can to help them out, we are reflecting God’s generosity toward us.

But remember, James is addressing unbelievers, and pretty despicable ones at that.  They were guilty of treating other people very shabbily.

Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  (James 6:4  NIV)

James is addressing certain wealthy people, not all of them.  These verses shouldn’t be read with a universal application.  Not all wealthy people and business owners are like this; most of them are not.  God always hears the cries of the oppressed.  He heard the Israelites in Egypt and when any person or people are oppressed or caused to suffer anywhere in the world, God hears them.  He is the great equalizer.  The wealthy who hoard their wealth thus causing others to suffer will themselves be the recipients of suffering caused their attitude toward what they possess.  That’s the Biblical “law of reciprocity” at work.  A person reaps what they sow.  A lot of people are familiar with that so-called law even if they don’t know it’s in the Bible.  But here it is in its full context –

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  (Galatians 6:7 – 10  NIV)

It’s pretty clear.  When God blesses people, they are to bless others.  This is especially true of Christians.

The last beef James has against these wealthy unbelievers relates to something he wrote back in chapter 2 –

Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  (James 2:6  NIV)

And here James fleshes out what he wrote above –

You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.  (James 5:6  NIV)

It’s not Jesus James is referring to, although you might find some Bible scholars who think that.  Apparently James is addressing a particular incident that happened.  Some wealthy unbelievers had literally dragged at least one innocent righteous man into court and had him executed for no reason.

Rarely does a New Testament writer turn his attention to anybody outside the church, but here James is fullbore accusing these men of a crime.

Be patient

Knowing what we know now, we can easily understand why James encouraged his readers earlier on in his letter.  They were facing persecution – all kinds of persecution including that from these wealthy unbelievers.  The persecution was bad enough, but it seemed to the Christians that these non-Christians were prospering in spite of what they were doing.  That’s a seeming inequity believers in God have long wondered about.

For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.  (Psalm 73:3, 4  NIV)

Believers need to be careful what thoughts they allow to remain in their heads!  If you’re not careful and you dwell on the unfairness of it all, you’ll slip into sin.  Patience is what’s needed.

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.  (James 5:7  NIV)

This sounds like a cliché, but it really is the very best way to approach the situation of persecution and suffering, and for two very good reasons.  First, when the Lord returns in glory, the ungodly will be judged.  They will finally get theirs and all their wealth and prestige will be for nothing.  And second, when the Lord returns believers will be completely vindicated in every way.

If we truly believe this, then our attitude should reflect it.

Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!  (James 5:9  NIV)

More good advice from James!   We ought to be careful what attitudes we harbor because those attitudes will dictate our actions.  The Lord who is returning is also the Judge.  That should govern what we think and how we behave.  Lee Strobel comments –

Acrid bitterness inevitably seeps into the lives of people who harbor grudges and suppress anger, and bitterness is always a poison.  It keeps your pain alive instead of letting you deal with it and get beyond it.  Bitterness sentences you to relive the hurt over and over.

Respect the Lord’s Name!

All of a sudden, James takes a sharp turn:

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.  (James 5:12  NIV)

A lot of Christians like to take this verse and apply it globally.  That is, some see this as a complete prohibition of all oath-taking.  That’s not what James is getting at here.  “Above all” is a phrase the NIV uses to tie the admonition of verse 12 to what he’s been dealing with.  In spite of all the persecution, Christians need to be patient because the Lord is coming back and He will make everything right.  Christians should take care to treat all people, rich or poor, equitably.  Christians should keep it simple:  just say “yes” or “no” and stop misusing the Lord’s good Name.  The Christian should be honest in his attitudes, honest in his actions, and honest in his speech.  Using the Lord’s Name to buttress questionable attitudes must never happen.  D.A. Carson made a shrewd observation –

No oath is necessary for the truthful person.

Learn to depend on God

Here’s more good advice for these persecuted Christians who were trying to gain the favor of the wealthy people who were persecuting them:  Depend of God!  Instead of wasting time and effort currying the favor of people harming them; instead of misusing God’s name, these Christians needed to learn how to depend on God through praying properly.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.  Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  (James 5:13  NIV)

Don’t complain, don’t grumble, don’t seek to mollify those mean, nasty rich  people!  Pray about it!  Turn to God and depend on Him.  And if you’re happily living without persecution for the moment, thank God for it.  In other words, God should always be first on the mind of believers no matter what the circumstance.

Included in circumstances one should depend on God is sickness.  James gives Christians the template for dealing with that circumstance –

Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.  (James 5:14  NIV)

That’s more good advice from James, an elder himself.  If a Christian is sick, he should call for guys like himself – elders from the church – to come and pray for them and anoint them with oil.  By adding the phrase, “in the name of the Lord,” James is simply saying that both acts need to be done in faith believing that God’s will concerning the sick person will be done.

A word about the word “anoint.”  The Greek word James used, aleipsantes, is not – NOT –  sacramental or sacred anointing, but rather a word that simply means to “smear.”  James is not advising a religious use of oil here.  For example, when we want to fix a leaky door, we don’t “anoint” the hinge with oil, we “oil” it.  That’s what James is getting at.  In the first century of the Church, oil was used by sick people like sick people today use aspirin.  If you were sick during James’ day, you would apply some oil to your hurting body.  Today we take two aspirins and call the doctor in the morning.  What James is getting at here is powerful common sense.  When you are sick (in any age), trust God and call your pastor or an elder to come and pray for you.  But take an aspirin, too. Do both things trusting the Lord will bring about His will for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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