Do you know who the wealthiest man in the world is? A man named Carlos Helu was the top of the list at 69 billion. He is the owner of a Mexican telecom company. Second in line is Bill Gates at 61 billion. Third is Warren Buffet with 44 billion. We've heard a lot about Steve Jobs since he passed away. Where do you think he is on the list? Steve Jobs is 42nd on the list with a measly 8.2 billion dollars.
The admonition from James isn't just because men like these had money. It's the attitude that came with the money. The bible doesn't speak out against the rich but against the hazards that come from being rich. These few rich men had taken what God had blessed them with and used it as they saw fit. In James time, these 'rich' used their wealth in a way that didn't glorify God. Their money was their god and they wanted more and more. We picture these guys as diamond Jim, lighting fat cigars with 100-dollar bills and cash falling out of his pockets as he walks. They thought their riches gave them a premier place in the kingdom of God. James is making it clear. The place reserved for them in the back; in the cheap seats behind the servants.
To hoard these earthly possessions is another way of dancing around what we perceive as a gray zone. It's having one foot in the world and holding to the worldly stuff and the other foot in the kingdom of God and claiming a citizenship there. There is no gray zone. If you trust in your riches you are bringing misery on yourself.
James used some Old Testament language, calling for them to weep and howl. But he's using the old language in a prophetic tense. There's a time coming their way, and if they understood it, they would weep and howl. This won't be a little disappointment on how things turn out, this will be deep mourning and gut-wrenching sorrow. Weeping and howling come when words won't do. A day is coming when these people will find out that all they hoarded and saved and collected will come to nothing. The food they hoarded will be corrupted. The expensive garments that marked them as people of wealth will be moth-eaten. The gold and silver rings and jewelry will all be corroded.
The rich had laid up treasure as if they would live forever. They were living as if Jesus would never come back. When this life was over, they would find out how worthless all the earthly possession really were. And they would discover that they missed the blessing of using what God had given them to bless and help others.
James said there is a time coming when all the treasure you stored up will be rotted, moth eaten and corroded and it will testify against you. Can you imagine diamond Jim standing before the throne of God and giving an account for what he was trusted with. The pile of money he hoarded would testify against him. It could have been used to store up treasure in heaven.
James said, the corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. Gold and silver won't corrode. And it was probably unimaginable to the rich that their gold and silver could be brought to nothing. Yet, look at our economy, how quickly the value of these things can change. Value is relevant and ever changing, ever shifting.
James declares that these are the last days. We should be living our life as if Jesus could come back any time because he may. If you knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow you wouldn't be hoarding money today. You wouldn't stop to buy a lottery ticket. When James said, you have heaped up treasure in the last days, he meant this as an indictment against these men. He's saying, you are one breath from heaven and you're using it to chase after more money.
Again, this isn't a judgment on how much money they had but the attitude they had towards it. As you continue on, you'll see how James knew they were out of balance toward money.
These men even failed to pay the wages owed to the workers. Why? Because they could get away with it. They were rich and powerful and could defraud the little man. Who could stop them? Who would listen to these poor who complained against them? James said these men cried out at the injustice to the God of all justice and He heard. It is a matter of record with God that they acquired their wealth by robbing from the working man; stealing his wages. In those days you didn't work to pay for you cell phone and internet and car and house and trip to the movies to pay $20 for a bucket of popcorn. If their wages were robbed it was likely someone in that family didn't eat. Maybe none of them ate.
The cries of these men reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoath. This is one of the names for God that shows up in the Old Testament. He is the Lord of Sabaoth. Sabaoth means Host. The Lord of Host; the God of all angelic beings. This great angelic army is at God's beckon call.
The rich thought their money gave them power. We see that same thing in our day, don't we. We see filthy rich CEO's run a corporation into the ground and then pocket a bonus taken from the 401k's of the working men. James says to these rich men weep and howl because your power will disappoint you. It's unimpressive. You want to see power? You want to be impressed? Look to the God of Host. It is there you will see real power.
After these men robbed their workers of their wages, they then took the money and lived their lives in pleasure and luxury. The words translated to pleasure and luxury both imply this self-indulgent pursuit of self pleasure. While the workers went without basic needs they earned, these men fattened themselves on the stolen wages.
Remember we said previously there was a heart problem. The source of the problem in that church was the sinful nature, the worldly wisdom and the pride of men to be the Lord of their own life. These men had retained lordship of their life. James said in verse 5 "they fattened their heart" with the things that were important to them and not with the love of the Lord. Their heart wasn't submitted to God and His will for their life. They condemned and murdered the just. The rich felt justified in their actions because all they did was important to them. They had established their own needs and happiness was above all else. And what were these little peasants going to do about it, they couldn't resist them in any way.
These men were ate up with greed. 1 Timothy 6:10 says: 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. Paul wasn't talking to the same men but it sounds like. Paul and James are talking about men in general. That same attitude could be found in any of us if we allowed it.
In this case the lovers of money were the rich but that's not always the case. The love of money can be found in people of all manner of poverty and wealth. You don't have to have money to love it, do you? Don't make the mistake of thinking this doesn't apply to you. Don't think you can't commit this sin.
James switches from talking to the rich; the men who were persecuting others within the church, to now talking to the poor; to those brethren who were persecuted.
To the oppressed, to those who had their wages stolen by the rich and were suffering at the hands of those who worshiped money, James said be patient. I can imagine how some were disappointed with that exhortation, and maybe are even today. They long for something more profound, justice or retribution. Be patient? James isn't just saying hold on and wait it out, it's bound to get better. James isn't saying, be patient as in "Just suck it up" and take it. There is much more than that. He's offering them the simple truth of the Lord. What more could we want or pursue? This Truth is for every saint in this fallen world.
James looks to the farmer who waits. We can see the depth of this hope we are to have in this analogy. The farmer can't rush the crops but He can cultivate the soil. He can prepare it to receive the early rains that go with planting. And the farmer, by faith plants seeds that he knows will soon bring the harvest at the latter rain. After the rains he waits for the harvest. Everything comes in its season.
If you feel beat up by this world and you feel like others are getting by just fine with their ungodly ways, be patient. But that patience isn't sitting on your hands waiting for God to come back while you do nothing. This place is going to be uncomfortable for us because we just don't belong here any longer. But there is work to do today to ensure there is a good harvest tomorrow. We are to be about the Fathers work. To the oppressed, depressed, downtrodden, hurting; to those who had their wages stolen, to anyone who has felt pain in this world and this life, this is encouragement and hope. A better day is coming. That's been promised. Until then, submit to Him and do the work in the life he has given you. Picture this as working, walking, moving, but keeping eyes on Jesus Christ.
To the rich who were trusting in their riches. This came as a warning, as it does today. It's a dire warning. The saints of God are to establish their hearts because the coming of the Lord is at hand. James said the hearts of the rich weren't established in the Lord. Their hearts were fattened by their greed and the love of money, not at all prepared for the Lord. You might picture these men reclining in a pile of money living the good life. Their wealth and riches were built up by defrauding men and hoarding and collecting. And they needed more. What will the Lord think when He returns? They are likened to beasts, fattened up for the slaughter to come. They think they've stored up wealth to get them through any difficulty in life. Instead, they've stored up wrath (Romans 2:5).
It's easy for any of us to think we got a raw deal. Any of us can look at some circumstance in our life and declare our self a victim and judge our self worthy of something better. When things go wrong or don't happen on our schedule, we tend to shift the blame to others.
James said, a day is coming and it's not far off. The Lord is coming and he will judge. He is at the door, watching. He'll sort out all the injustices of the world. There is a very real sense of urgency in this. Again, it's encouraging to the oppressed and warning to the oppressor.
Patience in the face of life; in the face of suffering is difficult. James said for these men to look to the prophets as examples of those who suffered but were patient. He also said to look at Job and learn what perseverance is. And I think this is fascinating that James uses Job as an example for these folks. Because Job was a man of much wealth and it was taken from him. But he wasn't in love with money. Job's love for God didn't change when his situation changed. When Job lost it all, he worshiped God and said:
"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord."
If these lovers of money considered Job it would be convicting to them. The outcome of Job's life is the reward of perseverance in the Lord. The most valuable thing in his life was the Lord. He sought Him first, everything else was added. In a similar way, the prophets are an example. It seems very similar to calling on them as a great cloud of witnesses as the writer of Hebrews had done.
For the persecuted and the suffering, it may seem the Lord and his ways are very far off. We can know God is right there, working in those very circumstances, even though we don't understand. In the end, we'll see His compassion and mercy.
From the beginning of this letter, James has been consistent in preaching to the brethren about what comes out of their mouth. Here he is agreeing with and preaching the words of Jesus. We can see these same words in Matthew 5:33. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. The rich men said, "Yes" I will pay you wages for work." Yet, their word was no good. Their yes didn't mean yes.
After going back on your word a few times you will then have to begin to vow and swear to get people to believe you. This was a common practice that even Jesus addressed. Whether you are rich or poor you are to be good to your word. What does it say about the integrity of our words when we have to swear by heaven or earth?
We claim an eternal bonding and service to the Lord. Our words are to have integrity. And sometimes that means saying less. It's better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.
Please note, people in a healthy church are going to suffer. For those who are suffering, James doesn't say be patient and wait, things will get better eventually. No, those who are suffering are to take the initiative. We are to bring our suffering to the Lord in prayer. This is a mark of that patients we're talking about. This is establishing your heart in Christ Jesus. This is what we do. If we're suffering, we take it to the Lord, He's my source of hope and help; of peace and comfort.
And if anyone is cheerful, let him sing Psalms. This is again, taking it to the Lord. When we are cheerful and not suffering, we are to take the initiative to take that to the Lord. Again, this is establishing our hearts in Him. It's a mark of spiritual maturity. We don't get short sighted and forget about God when we are on the mountaintop. We are to have our hearts established to sing His praise when we are cheerful. Our walk with the Lord is one of highs and lows. In the lows of suffering we bring it to the Lord. In the highs when we are on the mountaintop, we need to bring those to the Lord also; giving Him thanks
The cool part about being in fellowship with other believers is that they are making their way through the highs and lows also. And we aren't all in the lows at the same time. When one is low, others just came out of that season and are there to encourage you and run alongside you. Paul used the word agon when talking about the course we run. This is the setting and circumstances of our life. It is where the agonies of life play out; where we war spiritually. It is the place of sweat and toil and suffering; making our way to as a foreigner through a foreign land on our way home.
We all make our way on the agon set before us. We are people of prayer and praise. Together, as a church family bearing each others burdens, the season of suffering is dulled. Together we can sing praise even when we are suffering.
This should be happening in a healthy church. Why is it we are shy about bringing the elders together to pray over you if you are sick? This should be established in our churches as something we do. If anyone is sick, let him call the elders. The sick person is to take the initiative in calling the elders. I believe this is part of the act of faith. Calling on the elders when you are sick is the spiritually mature thing to do. I think sometimes we hold back because others are more sick or hurting and I don't want to be embarrassed. You should seek out the elders, have them pray over you and anoint you with oil.
Anointing with oil is looked at three different ways.
- First, in those days oil was considered medicinal. Anointing with oil might be rubbing oil into some affected area of pain.
- The second view is the anointing of oil in a ceremonial fashion; representative of the Holy Spirit.
- The third is a metaphorical anointing; meaning this metaphorical oil is representative of the care and prayer the elders would give the suffering person. In this case there wouldn't be any real oil used. There's no reason to believe this is what James meant.
The same word anointed is used in the gospels when Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with a pound of spikenard. It was real spikenard. It wasn't metaphorical and not medicinal at all. The anointing with spikenard was an act of love and admiration. The word 'anoint' shows up first in the Old Testament when Abraham built an altar to the Lord at Bethel. And he anointed the altar with oil. It was symbolic and ceremonial; done at the direction of God. There are many examples where the anointing is done ceremonially and symbolically. The oil is a ceremonial anointing that is done in conjunction with the prayer of faith. Whatever healing takes place comes from the Lord alone.
Among the spiritually mature we are not just to offer prayers, but we are to offer prayers of faith. This is the prayer offered knowing that God can heal and expecting God to heal. James says the prayer of faith will save them and the Lord will raise them up. Some believe this means they will receive their salvation and be raised up in the resurrection. The problem with that is the prayer is coming from the elders. The elders can't pray for you and save you. The prayer of salvation must come from the sinner.
We need to understand this for what it says. The prayer will save the sick and the Lord will raise him up. This may be a physical healing, it may be a spiritual healing, it may be saving a person from suffering. It may be a work of the Lord that doesn't make sense to us. It may be delayed or it may be immediate. We can think of many times we've prayed when we were sick and the Lord didn't heal us. Our attitude here is to establish our heart in the Lord. He says bring the prayer to Him in faith; faith is being sure of what we can't see. I'm sure the Lord hears my prayers in faith and I'll leave the response to Him. What if He doesn't answer? Won't that harm the name of the Lord? What if unbelievers make fun of us? Flip that around though. What if He wants to? What if He wants you to just trust Him? We can all tell stories of God answering prayers and healing folks. Our job is to ask and seek him and expect Him. The Lord says offer the prayer and He'll take care of His reputation. He's done quite well at it for some time now, all without us.
At the end of verse 15 James adds, that if the sick person has committed any sins they'll be forgiven. This is a reference to the person who is sick from sin. Not all sickness is caused by sin, but some is. James describes the person who is being disciplined by God.
To confess your trespass is to name that sin for what it is. If you verbalize it you can no longer fool yourself. Speaking your sin aloud before God and man will humble a person. Remember, James is a firm believer that words have meaning and power. James essentially said, I can see your faith by what comes out of your mouth. In this case the confession of our sin to another and praying for one another will bring healing but it's also a testimony to what God has done in our life. It says, I've been purchased by the blood of Christ and my pride is no longer ruling my life. I'm willing to humble myself to another and confess that I've done them wrong.
Here are the guidelines of confession. First, confess your sin to God. Then confess your sin to the one, or those against who have been affected by sin. Private sin calls for private confession. Public sin calls for public confession. We don't have to stand up in front of the church and air our dirty laundry to everyone. That could be as harmful as the sin. With the guideline there must be discernment. If confession causes damage, pain and suffering to another, wisdom is called for. Prayer thought it and seek Godly counsel.
Remember the division in this early church. We can imagine the rich man who didn't pay the wages to his hired hand confessing that sin to that person and them praying together. That would be real healing of a division. Imagine the poor in the congregation that was suffering. And he looked at the rich man and he was bitter toward him and coveted his wealth. This sin only needed to be confessed to the Lord. And the Lord would heal the bitterness and bring contentment.
This call for confession may very well be the Lord chastening the rich man for loving his money. It may be that these men were not even supporting the church or giving to help their brothers in any way. The rich man needed to confess this sin only to God in prayer. It would be wrong for this rich man to stand up in the fellowship and say, I confess I never gave before; but now I give lots of money...
Whether we are confessing a sin to a brother we are close to or to someone we've wronged or just laying it out before the Lord, the affect is the same. It is an unburdening of the soul. Sin is a heavy burden. It brings shame and harms our relationship with Jesus. When we lay down a sin, one that's already been paid for on the cross, we experience spiritual healing.
We need to pray. We need to pray for effect, fervently. Again, this is to pray for purpose of God meeting a need or healing a person physically and expecting God to do it. Not because we demand it or because our prayers were convincing, but, because in prayer, we come to our creator as a person in right standing. It is our desire to be like-minded with Him. If we are righteous because of our standing in Christ the things we are fervent about will be the same things God is fervent about.
The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. The prayer that is not offered avails nothing. The prayer that is not offered on the righteousness of Christ, avails nothing.
1 John 1:9.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We can see what kind of affect this would have on a fellowship if everyone were about that business. We can be a humbled group of saints, repentant, and unified in prayer. This falls under that heading of patient perseverance. The spiritually mature have their heads bowed in prayer.
Elijah was a man just like us. He had a nature just like ours. James holds him up as an example of one that prayed fervently and for effect. When Elijah prayed amazing things happened. When Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him Elijah prayed and the rain ceased. A single prayer and there was a drought in the land for 3 1/2 years.
Then, in 1 King 18 Elijah challenges the priest of Baal. When the priests of Baal failed Elijah built an altar to the Lord and prepared the burnt offering. He prayed to the Lord one time and the fire came down and burnt the sacrifice.
Right after that Elijah prayed for rain to bring the drought to an end. He sent his servant to look for rain clouds, there was nothing. Elijah prayed and the servant was sent to look 7 times before a cloud appeared. And then the rain came. The prayer was answered and the drought ceased. In this case Elijah prayed 7 times. Do you suppose his prayer wasn't as good, not as fervent or effective? Or do we off the pray and trust God in the response? Wasn't Elijah's prayer answered according to God's will and in God's perfect time?
Elijah wasn't special. He just spent much time in the presence of God. He sought no glory for himself or any selfish outcome. Elijah sought the Lord and the Lord's will. He prayed earnestly verse 17 says. Clearly his prayers were effective and fervent. We can be men and women of powerful prayer like Elijah. This isn't an offer as if it were some accessory to the Christian life. It is commanded that prayer be a large part of our life. Prayer is a staple of the spiritually mature. This is something we do.
Prayer is spending time in the presence of God. It is seeking His will; it's getting our marching orders; it's offering Him our petitions and prayers. It's not just sharing our life and time with Him. But it's giving our life and time to Him.
Just like we pray for the afflicted and the sick, we are also to pray for the person who wanders from the Truth. This wandering is a slow process of growing away from the Lord. No one accidentally slides into the truth. But every one of us is susceptible in sliding away. This isn't a call for us to run around looking for each others sins.....(turn or burn you filthy sinner). But it is call for us to have the maturity to recognize those who have strayed from the truth and try to turn them back. This is another sign of patience perseverance. It's maturity.
When the mature seek a one on one conversation with a person who has wandered away it's done in love and humility with the sole purpose of bringing the brother or sister back from sin. "Brother, I'm worried about you. I see sin in your life. It's going to destroy you. Jesus can and will forgive it. But you need to turn away from it and turn to Jesus."
This is a person in fellowship looking out for someone else. When someone is going through a tough time each of us are called to move. We are called speak carefully. Honor God with our words.
You may be saving that person from sickness or death from a sin, you don't know. James said when we turn someone back it could save a life and cover a multitude of sins. When you lead someone back to Jesus and from sin, those sins are covered. And all the sin that would have occurred is avoided. And both are blessed by the move of the Lord through prayer.
That wraps up the book of James. This book spoke to us of living out our faith even in difficult settings of life. We must guard our mouth; be doers of the word; be people of prayer with integrity. Faith without works is dead. Dead faith is useless. Our faith is to be alive and well, thriving and flourishing, yet patient as we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord.
©2012 Doug Ford
©2019 Revised & updated