1Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.
2Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten.
3Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!
4Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
5You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
6You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.
James sets out to rebuke the sins of the rich. There is nothing wrong with being rich. Their sin was in how they took advantage of the poor and in how they boasted in their riches. James tells them to reap and wail because they are about to lose all that they have worked so hard for. In one moment, it will all be lost as they meet Christ who will judge them not on how rich they were but on the state of their hearts. The clothes that they enjoyed and boasted in will rot and their currency will rust. All that is material will decay and come to nothing. How the material possessions were used will themselves be an indictment to these people. They had withheld pay to those to whom it was due, and God has seen and heard of the injustice. They lived a life of luxury and wanton pleasure, indulging their every fantasy, lust, and desire, thinking of no one but themselves. They are like sheep ready for the slaughter as God is coming to judge them. They condemned and even killed righteous men. They didn’t provoke them or fight with them, but they killed them just because they could. These are evil people who were corrupted by wealth and power, and God will bring them into judgment for their evil ways and deeds.
7Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.
8You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
We are to be patient until the Lord does come and render judgment and justice. The wicked will not get away with their wickedness so there is no reason for us to blame God for being unfair. God is patient in that He is giving us opportunity to witness to the wicked, but He will pour out His wrath upon those who do not receive His Son in repentance and in faith. Just as a farmer tills the soil, plants the seed, waits as the early and late rains water it, and then harvests it, so too we must continue laboring and being holy in our behavior, knowing that one day we will reap what we have sown. We must be patient and steadfast, for we do not know what seeds God will cause to sprout and grow. We must just be patient and faithful in doing the work of the Lord and sowing seeds of righteousness. Christ will come and render to each His due, and His coming will be soon. In light of that fact, we must be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Ephesians 6:10), being patient and continuing to labor for the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).
9Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.
In light of Christ’s imminent coming, we must not complain against one another but rather love one another and spur one another on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). If we complain, argue, and fight with one another, then we will be judged for our unfaithfulness and lose our reward before the judgment seat of Christ.
10As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
11We count those blessed who endured You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.
The prophets in the Old Testament provide a great illustration of patience. They spoke the Word of God faithfully their entire lives, despite the fact that God had told them up front that the people to whom they prophesy will not listen to them. In fact, they persecuted them, yet the prophets continued to say what God told them to say and follow Him in obedience. In light of their example, so we too ought to be patient in living faithfully before the Lord. Those who endured in the Old Testament like the prophets and like Job despite their suffering are counted blessed. We can be assured that whether or not we see the mercy of God on this side of the grave (as Job did) or on the other side (as many of the prophets did), that we will indeed receive it. God is gracious and compassionate, and He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). In light of this, we have incentive to persevere in righteousness and obedience.
12But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.
James reminds us what Christ said by reiterating the truth that we are not to swear by anything but to let our yes be yes and our no be no. If we were to swear by anything, we would be judged for profaning it if we did not keep the oath. Besides, we shouldn’t have to swear or make promises. People should be able to take us at our word. There are times for covenants and agreements, but they are no good whatsoever if the person making the agreement cannot be trusted. That we can take one another at our word regardless of whether or not we swear by something is what counts. There is no place for oaths in the Christian life.
13Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.
When we suffer, we are to pray for strength and endurance. We need God’s grace to see us through so that we are preserved from Satanic attack and temptation. We are extra vulnerable when we are weakened from suffering. We need to pray to ask God to see us through, not to give us answers as to why we are suffering. We must call to Him for sustenance. After all, He promises to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with us (Psalm 23:4). If God has blessed us with happy times, we are to give Him the thanks and credit that He is due. There is a time for laughter and a time for mourning. In the good times, we need to exalt the name of God especially so that we don’t fall into pride. Even in suffering we should exalt God in praise.
14Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;
15and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.
16Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
These three verses must be taken as a package deal. The Greek word for sick means to be “without strength, feeble, powerless, sick.” Thus, based upon the definition of the word, it could mean that the person is physically ill or spiritually not where he needs to be. I tend to believe that this passage is relating to spiritual healing because of the unconditional promise of God in verse 15 to heal the sick person as long as the prayer is in faith. Yet God doesn’t always choose to heal physically. But we know His will is always to bring about spiritual growth and repentance. Nonetheless, God does heal physically, and we should approach him in faith. We will not do any harm by anointing the person’s head with oil, but we will do harm if we do not approach God in faith. We must actively and in faith pray for those who are sick, believing that God does raise the sick. We must also pray for those who are struggling spiritually, as God delights in giving them strength. In either case, it is the person who is “sick” who is to be the one initiating the prayer. Practically, the elders may not know about the sickness, so it requires the one who is sick to notify them. Such initiation also demonstrates faith on the part of the one who is sick. Many times we are down and out and do not want to inconvenience the elders to pray for us. Yet such is the call of an elder, and they must not act as if prayer is an inconvenience.
As far as the anointing, this at the very least means that spiritually they ask the Holy Spirit to minister to the person as they lay their hands upon him. However, there is no reason not to take this literally as a command of God to put oil on the person’s head as a symbol of the spiritual reality and as an act of faith. Just as Samuel anointed David in by pouring oil on his head, so too this signifies the work and ministry of the Spirit coming upon the person. It is an outward symbolic act of a spiritual reality that happens because of faith. Not just any prayer but the prayer offered in faith will restore the person who is sick. The Lord will raise him up. The word for “raise” could mean either to “awaken” as from a spiritual apathy or to cause to “rise up as from a seat or a bed.” The point is that when the prayer that is offered in faith is finished, God will restore the person and enable them to be strengthened either physically or spiritually or both. We know it is God’s will to spiritually get a person back on track who takes the step of faith to draw near to God. We also know that God can and does supernaturally heal physically. We need to come to Him asking His will but also praying boldly believing Him for healing. If the person has outstanding sin and the Spirit leads them to confess, God will forgive him.
In light of these truths we are to pray for one another and confess our sins to one another so that we may be healed. In other words, the implication is that some are sick either spiritually or physically or both because of unconfessed sin. They may have wronged a brother and not dealt with it. They may have sinned against God and not confessed it. They may have participated in the Lord’s Supper with outstanding sin (1 Corinthians 11:30). Thus, we must confess our sins if we wish to experience healing. Secondly, we must pray for one another. When a person asks us to pray for them, specifically in this case when the person asks for the elders to pray for him, we need to do it and do it in faith. We are not wasting time, for the effective (believing) prayer of a righteous (no unconfessed sin) man accomplishes much. God works through the prayers of his saints. He delights in hearing our requests that are according to His will and made in faith. We ought to believe that our prayer does indeed accomplish much. We are to be aware however that if our prayers are not in faith or from a righteous heart that God may not answer.
17Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.
18Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
James then gives the example of Elijah. We think of Elijah as being a sort of faith superhero. Yet James reminds us that he was but a man who had faith. He prayed earnestly (which may be what separated his prayer from much of ours) that it wouldn’t rain (as God has led him to pray), and it didn’t rain for three and a half years. Upon his praying again, it rained and the famine ended. In other words, God loved Elijah so much as to honor his prayers, even though they affected the course of an entire nation. God listened to one man because he prayed in faith, according to the will of God and from a righteous heart. We can be encouraged by Elijah’s example to pray because God does listen and answer prayers.
19My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back,
20let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Some say that a believer will never fall away. The reality is that they will never lose their salvation, but they can make a willful decision to grieve the Spirit and indulge their flesh even if it kills them (1 Timothy 1:19-20). We are all vulnerable to this. If a person does indeed turn from God and gets misled either because they have been deceived or because of a willful rebellion and then they turn back to Christ, the one who encouraged him to repent will save the person’s soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. This is not to say that their spirit is saved from hell, for if they were of the truth before, they are still of the truth even if they are living in error in the present time. James is using soul in the same way that he used it in 1:21. He used it there in terms of receiving the word implanted which can save the soul. The soul had already been saved, but it is being made into a shape that is characteristic of one which has been saved. It speaks of sanctification. Thus, I believe that upon bringing a Christian who has fallen away back to Christ that a person preserves their state of sanctification from being totally wrecked and thus losing their reward. Such a repentance will indeed allow God to forgive them of all their sins and allow them to press on into further sanctification and the earning of eternal rewards. The key word in this passage is the word “stray” which means that a person was led away from the truth to sin. Thus, they were originally of the truth. A stray animal is an animal that had a home but is now lost and wandering about. This is in contrast to 1 John 2:18-20 which says, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” For comparison purposes, the key phrase is “they went out.” This implies that they forsook the place where they were in the church and went to their home, which had never been in the church. They went out because they were never of us. This is different from James because those James is referring to go, like the prodigal son, away from their home to where they are not supposed to be. Those John is referring to don’t get tricked into sin; they merely go to where they have always been. They just make their sinfulness and pagan allegiances official, boldly denying Christ as the Son of God, something those who stray usually do not do. Thus, I believe James is referring to pulling a believer from their own destructive behavior. A believer can get so deceived that it does take another to go to them and bail them out of their own destructive thoughts and habits. They are destroying their soul, mind, heart, personality, and being. Their spirit will still go to heaven, but they are killing all that could be used to glorify God on this side of the grave. When such a person saves another from this course and they repent, they have been saved from vast unfaithfulness, leading others astray and suffering a serious loss of eternal rewards.