It’s Judgment Day for rich folks
- 5:1 Hey, you rich people. The clock is ticking. Misery is coming. Now’s the time to scream and cry.
- 5:2 Can you see it yet? Your cash has rotted. Your clothes are holey, eaten by moths.
- 5:3 Your gold and silver are crusted in tarnish. Corrosion of that wealth will testify against you. In the end, it will destroy your life as completely as a fire. You hoarded your treasure just in time for Judgment Day.1
- 5:4 You cheated the harvesters who cut your fields. You never did pay them the salary you owed. Well, I’m here to tell you their cries have reached all the way to the “Leader of Heaven’s Armies.”2
- 5:5 You’ve thrown yourself a party on earth. It’s been all about you, as you wallowed in luxury and did whatever you wanted. You are so bloated with sin that you’re like an animal that has been fattened for slaughter.
- 5:6 You attack innocent, helpless people. They don’t even resist you, but you kill them.
Stay patient, the Lord’s coming soon
- 5:7 Dear friends, patiently wait for the Lord to come. Farmers have to wait to harvest their crops from the earth. They wait for the rain that comes early in the season, followed by later rains as well.
- 5:8 You have to be patient, too. Stay strong. The Lord is coming soon.
- 5:9 Dear family, don’t complain about each other. If you do, you’re going to get condemned for it. And I want you to know that the judge3 is standing right here at the door.
- 5:10 If you need an example of patience, models you can follow, consider the prophets who delivered messages from the Lord.
- 5:11 No doubt about it, we have a lot of respect for those who held onto their faith in times of suffering. You’ve heard the story of Job.4 You know how he persevered. And you know what the Lord did about it.5 Just remember that the Lord is full of kindness and mercy.
Don’t swear an oath
- 5:12 Most of all, dear family, don’t swear an oath when you’re talking to each other.6 Don’t swear by heaven, earth, or anything else. Say “yes” when you mean yes. Say “no” when you mean no. If you say more than that, you might get criticized for not doing what you swore you would do.
Prayer changes things
- 5:13 Are any of you suffering? Pray about it. Are any of you happy? Celebrate and sing about it.
- 5:14 Do you have any sick people there? If so, ask the church leaders to pray over them and to anoint them with oil. Do this in the name of the Lord, invoking the Lord’s authority.
- 5:15 When you pray for people who are sick, have faith. A prayer like that will restore their health. The Lord will make them well.7 If they’ve sinned, he’ll forgive them, too.
- 5:16 Be transparent with each other by admitting your sins and taking responsibility for them. Pray for each other so you can be healed. There is incredible power in the persistent prayer of a person devoted to God.
- 5:17 Elijah was a human, just like us. He prayed fervently for the rain to stop, and the rain stopped. The ground didn’t taste a drop of rain for the next 3½ years.8
- 5:18 When he prayed again, the heavens opened up and drenched the earth in rain. People were able to harvest their crops again.
- 5:19 Dear family, I want you to know what happens when you bring back into the faith anyone who has strayed from the truth they’ve been taught.
- 5:20 When you bring back a sinful stray who was in the process of making a big mistake, you have saved that person’s soul from death. Their sins are forgiven. And there was a lot to forgive.
“Judgment Day” is more literally the “last days.” Bible experts debate whether or not James thought that the day of judgment was imminent. Many Bible experts say James writes as though he believes that the last days have already started (see 5:8). Some other New Testament writers seemed to teach that as well, Peter, for example, in his sermon in Acts 2:17.
“Leader of Heaven’s Armies” is more literally “Lord of Sabaōth,” which is a military title for God. It sometimes translated as “Lord of Heaven’s Armies,” or “Lord All-Powerful.”
James doesn’t say who the judge is. Some Bible experts say he is referring to Jesus.
A firestorm killed his sheep and shepherds. Raiders stole his remaining herds of donkeys, oxen, and camels. A windstorm blew down the house that held all 10 of his children. And boils erupted all over his body. All that remained was his wife, who told him he should curse God and die. Some wife. The story is in the first two chapters of the Old Testament book of Job.
The Lord healed Job and gave him more children and larger herds than before.
Bible experts struggled to explain why James considered it such a big deal to swear an oath. Some say James was probably not talking about official oaths that people had to take during a trial or in other official proceedings. One speculation is that oaths were something people used because they weren’t always truthful. So when they wanted to make sure people believed they were telling the truth in a particular instance, they swore an oath. Christians, on the other hand, should be people who are always honest. They shouldn’t need to swear an oath. And that’s the truth.
There’s wiggle room for tweaking the meaning of this verse. James might not have been talking about physical healing, some scholars say. The Greek word behind the phrase “restore their health” is sōzō. It can mean: save, protect, heal. And the Greek word behind “make them well” is egeirō. It means to rise or to get up. So, if James was saying the sick will be saved and will rise, it’s possible, some argue, he was talking about spiritual salvation and rising again, or about being carried up to heaven. Not everyone recovers from sickness. Everyone eventually dies. James knew this, so he may have been talking about the ultimate healing, which refers to resurrection from the dead. Others say that interpretation sounds oblique, and way too subtle to come from this hard-charging James. He was talking about praying for sick people. And, in that context some say, he was talking about God coming to their rescue—more likely to heal them than to encourage them as they die by promising eternal life.
1 Kings 17:1-7; 18:1, 45.
What do you think James means when he says the money of the rich people has rotted, their clothes are full of holes, and their “gold and silver are crusted in tarnish” (5:3)? That wasn’t the case then and it’s not the case now.
Like many writers throughout the entire stretch when the Bible was written, over more than a millennium, James picks on rich people. If you remember some of the criticisms Bible writers have had about the rich, what are they?
Rich people in Bible times and today are often criticized as being cheap when it comes to paying their workers, buying products, or doing anything else that would drain their assets. “You never did pay them the salary you owed” (5:4). Why do you think they treat people like that?
James said if we pray for people they will get well. “When you pray for people who are sick, have faith. A prayer like that will restore their health. The Lord will make them well” (5:15). Do you think James meant that literally, perhaps because he believed he was in the end times and that Jesus was coming back any moment? Or do you think he meant that in the spiritual sense, with the ultimate healing being eternal life?
LIFE APPLICATION. If anyone exploits us, whether they are rich or not, many people are inclined to fight back. James says nothing about fighting back. He follows up his attack on rich people by telling the believers to wait patiently for the Lord and pray. “Stay strong. The Lord is coming soon” (5:8). Many people reading the Bible would call attention to the fact that James was wrong, the Lord did not come back soon. If James was wrong about that, do you think he could have been wrong when he implied that people should not fight back against the rich but should pray and be patient? Or do you think prayer and patience is a better strategy?
LIFE APPLICATION. James told Christians not to take an oath. “Don’t swear by heaven, earth, or anything else” (5:12). Jesus had said the same, “I’m telling you not to make vows” (Matthew 5:34). What do you think we’re supposed to do with that? For example, what do we do when the bailiff says, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?”