As we look at James 5:1-11, we need to be aware that James is still expounding upon his teaching from 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you.” In 4:11-17, he pointed out the arrogances of speaking evil against another (vv. 11-12) and of presuming to make plans apart from the Lord’s will (vv. 13-17). In 5:1-6, James confronts the arrogance of trusting in earthly riches.
James opens the section by calling on the rich to “weep and howl” for the miseries that are coming upon them in the judgment of the Lord. Similar language can be found in the prophets of the Old Testament. That which has won them prestige, power, and privilege before other people will prove to be wretched – rotted, moth-eaten, and corroded – before the throne of God. Their love for and trust in money will be the key witness/evidence against them as their earthly treasure, “laid up… in the last days,” will show their arrogance before the Lord Almighty (v. 3). James is calling upon them to repentantly acknowledge the destructive end to which their dependence on wealth and possessions leads before it is too late.
This kind of arrogance would be bad enough if its consequences only affected the offender. But, in order to amass more and more riches, the arrogant person often times stoops to harming and oppressing others for his own gain. His happiness, his comfort, his ease, his prestige, his privilege, and his power are of more value than the good of those with whom he does business or those who work for him. He withholds wages from his workers, perhaps paying them late or paying them less than what was just, all the while growing his own wealth. He treats others like commodities rather than as people created in the image of God. They are a means to his selfish ends. He does this with what appears to be no personal consequence. He gets richer while his workers suffer. Perhaps he even uses “legal” means to condemn and murder the righteous person (a business competitor?) who does not resist him (v. 6). Justice seems thwarted. But, James warns, he is like a cow in the field gorging himself on grain, blissfully growing fatter and fatter, all the while being prepared for slaughter on his last day. So too, the unrepentant rich person, who arrogantly, and unrepentantly, gorges his heart on worldly treasures.
Over and against the temptations of wealth, or oppression at the hands of the rich, James calls the Church to be patient until the coming of the Lord (v. 7). Like the farmer who waits on both the early and the late rains in order to bring his crop to full harvest, so too does the Christian and the Church wait upon the Day of the Lord. Such patience is a gift from God. It is exhibited by the humble servant of the Lord who trusts that in Christ all things are working towards the culminating manifestation of His glory and our redemptive good. Humble patience like this requires great strength. To follow Christ in this way means we must establish our hearts (v. 8) in light of His promised return, rather than fattening them on earthly gain. Such strength enables us to refrain from grumbling against one another, as we are prone to do when frustrated by the injustices we receive or witness others receiving. In humility we resist infighting as brothers and sisters in Christ because we know that the Judge stands at the door, ready to exact His perfect justice.
The person who lives arrogantly might think he is entitled to avoid pain and suffering. God and the world owe him that. James disagrees. He gives two examples of men who remained humbly steadfast in the face of suffering. His first example was the prophets of old who did the Lord’s will by proclaiming the Word of His Truth to apostate Israel and Judah. Men like Elijah, Elisha, and Jeremiah were faithful to speak what needed to be said and they were met with opposition and scorn from the people rather than gratitude and adulation. Their faithful service did not translate into earthly blessing. Job, James’ second example of steadfastness, was a righteous man and the Lord allowed him to be stripped of nearly every earthly blessing but his life. He ultimately remained humble and faithful (though not perfectly) to the Lord, waiting patiently for the compassion and mercy of God to be shown.
We may be facing all manner of trials which require patience, strength, and steadfastness. We could take the “easy” way of arrogance and pursue present comfort and selfish gain, or we could humbly wait upon the Lord to meet our every need in His extravagant compassion and mercy. In Christ, He has given us the gift of eternal life. That life is one that requires humble self-sacrifice and patient faith. But it is also one that brings heavenly joy and delight.
Discuss and Pray – James 5:1-11
1. Do you consider yourself to be rich? Why or why not?
2. How do you seek to steward (make, spend, save, etc.) the earthly treasures that the Lord has entrusted to you for His glory and the good of others? How do you guard against the temptation to love or trust in money? 3. How is the absence of patience usually a sign of the presence of pride?
4. How can renewing your understanding of and focus on the coming of the Lord help grow in you patience, strength, and steadfastness?