Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.
(a) You rich. We tend to think of the rich as other people, wealthier than us. But if you’re reading this on a Kindle or device, or if you bought this book with a credit card, then by global standards you are rich indeed. It is not a sin to be rich. There were many rich people in the Bible (e.g., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Boaz, Job, Joseph of Arimathea, David, Hezekiah, etc.).
In context, the rich are powerful elites who exploit their workers (Jas. 5:4), mistreat the poor (Jas. 2:6), drag people into court (Jas. 2:6), and destroy those who get in their way (Jas. 4:2, 5:6). Their gods are wealth and power, which is why they will weep and howl when their idols come crashing down.
(b) Weeping and howl. The rich will weep when they realize they have squandered their lives running after rusty trinkets and fleeting pleasures. When they realize their gods have fallen and all is lost, they will howl.
(c) Miseries which are coming upon you. The mother of all crashes is coming. When the Lord returns, everything they hold dear – their status, power and possessions – will be worthless.
Those who view wealth and power as their source of identity and security need a wake-up call and here James provides one. So does Paul: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God…” (1 Tim 6:17). And so does Jesus: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev 3:17).
Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten.
Riches have rotted. Worldly wealth does not last. In view of this we should aspire to “be rich in good works, generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18).
Your 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!
(a) Rusted. Since it has no eternal value, worldly wealth is an unreliable source of treasure (Matt. 6:19).
(b) A witness against you. Just as our tongues reveal what is in our hearts, our wallets reveal our priorities.
When the rich fool died, all he had to show for his life was a bunch of empty barns (Luke 12:18–21). They stood like monuments to his disregard for the things of God. Unbelief, like faith, is revealed by what we do. We can invest in this world and lose all, or we can invest in God’s kingdom where neither moth nor rust destroys.
(c) Consume your flesh like fire. Those who run after worldly wealth are accumulating fuel for the fire and storing up wrath for themselves (Rom. 2:5).
God has nothing against garments and gold, but if we think that life consists of clothing and jewellery we don’t know what real life is. We need to think bigger. We need to be rich toward God and store up heavenly treasure (see entry for Matt. 6:20).
(d) The last days are the present church age that will conclude when Christ returns; see entry for Heb. 1:2.
(e) You have stored up your treasure but it is the wrong sort of treasure. You have stored up the kind that rusts and is eaten by moths.
Behold, 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.
(a) The pay of the laborers. The rich got wealthy by exploiting their workers. They underpaid their staff, overcharged their tenants, and robbed their suppliers. They are thieves and slavers.
(b) Cries out. The injustice of their fraud has not gone unnoticed.
(c) Sabaoth means armies or heavenly hosts (see entry for Rom. 9:29). Their thievery and exploitation has come to the attention of the Lord of Hosts, the God of War, and he will avenge (Heb. 10:30).
You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
(a) Wanton pleasure. You are winners in the eyes of the world indulging yourself with every kind of luxury.
(b) Fattened your hearts. Like a Christmas goose the rich have fattened themselves for the chopping block.
You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.
(a) Put to death. The rich and powerful are ruthless. They remove rivals and destroy whoever gets in their way (Jas. 4:2).
(b) The righteous man who does not resist is the one without the resources to defend himself against powerful bullies. Because he can’t lawyer up he loses everything.
The righteous man could also be a reference to Jesus, the Righteous One. As Peter told the Jews, “You disowned the Righteous One and put to death the Prince of life” (see Act 3:14–15). Knowing that his letter would be read by religious Jews in synagogues (see entry for Jas. 1:1), James repeats Peter’s rebuke.
A third interpretation is that James is writing about himself. He is the righteous man about to be murdered. If so, his words were prophetic. According to accounts recorded by Eusebius the church historian, the religious Jews of Jerusalem hounded James and demanded that he publicly renounce his faith in Christ. When James proclaimed that Jesus was Lord and the Son of God, the angry Jews threw him off the pinnacle of the temple. When the fall didn’t kill him, they finished him off by stoning him.
James was surnamed the Just or the Righteous. In accounts of his death it is not James who is stoned but James the Just. “The Scribes and Pharisees placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and threw down the just man… and struck the just man on the head,” wrote Hegesippus. In this way the words of James the righteous man were fulfilled in his own death.
Therefore 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.
(a) Be patient. Be longsuffering. This injustice won’t last forever. One day the rich and powerful will get their comeuppance.
When faced with injustice, the temptation is to take matters into our own hands and fight with the weapons of this world. But James exhorts us to be patient and wait for the justice of the Lord.
(b) The coming of the Lord; see next verse.
(c) The farmer waits. Be patient like a farmer waiting for a harvest to grow.
(d) Early and late rains. Farmers in Israel relied on autumn and spring rains to germinate seed and bring crops to maturity (Deu. 11:14, Jer. 3:3, 5:24, Joel 2:23).
You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
(a) Be patient. In his eschatological parables Jesus told stories of masters, noblemen, and bridegrooms being gone “a long time” (Matt. 24:48, 25:5, 25:19). Since Jesus has been gone a long time, he exhorts us to “be like servants waiting for their master” (Luke 12:36). The need to wait is echoed by the epistle writers. “Wait eagerly for our adoption as sons” (Rom 8:23); “We hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Rom 8:25); “We eagerly await a Savior” (Php. 3:20); “Be patient brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits…” (Jas. 5:7); “Wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 1:21).
Jesus and every New Testament writer spoke of the need to wait patiently and eagerly for the Lord’s return. We are to be watchful and ready, but we are not to put life on hold. Plant trees and raise families, and do whatever God put you on this earth to do. Invest, build, dig deep and go long. Let your light shine so others may praise your Father in heaven.
(b) Strengthen your hearts. Be encouraged and have hope. Jesus is coming!
(c) Coming. The original word (parousia) is an oriental word used to describe the royal visit of a king, or emperor. When Jesus returns to earth in physical form he will come as the King of kings. See entry for Matt. 24:37.
(d) The coming of the Lord. When the Lord comes he’ll right every wrong and heal every hurt. He will demolish the corrupt government of Herod and end the religion of the Pharisees. He will put an end to injustice and oppression and wipe away every tear. There will be no more mourning or death and we shall be with the Lord forever (see Rev. 21:3–4).
Further reading: “Six awesome things that will happen when Christ returns”
(e) The Lord is near. Every day brings us one day closer to his return (see next verse).
Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.
(a) Do not complain. Don’t pick fights you can’t win.
If gratitude is the language of faith and hope, complaining is the language of unbelief and despair. It’s not a language believers speak. We may have good reasons to complain, especially if we are being mistreated, but the best remedy is to bring our concerns to the Lord (1 Pet. 5:7).
(b) Yourselves may not be judged or condemned. Since there is no condemnation to those in Christ (Rom. 8:1), this is not talking about the Lord’s judgment, but the judgment or condemnation of the rich and powerful. If you have been mistreated or exploited (see Jas. 5:4, 6), complaining about it probably won’t do any good. The world is unfair and the rich hold all the cards.
The original word for judged is sometimes translated as sue (e.g., Matt. 5:40). Make a fuss and these turkeys will hit you with lawsuits and drag you before the magistrate (Jas. 2:6). They’ll bleed you dry. It’s not fair, but take heart. The Judge of all judges is standing at the door.
(c) The Judge. God is the Judge of all (Heb. 12:23).
(d) Right at the door. Jesus is coming!
We cannot say that Jesus’ return is imminent – it might be; it might not – because nobody other than the Father knows when he will come (Matt. 24:36). But we can be confident that he will come quickly, as soon as his Father gives the word (see entry for Rev. 22:20).
Further reading: “Is Jesus returning soon?”
As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
(a) An example. Learn from the Old Testament prophets who spoke for the Lord and patiently endured the persecution they got for doing so. Elijah was hounded by armies (2 Kgs. 1:9¬–14). Daniel spent a night among the lions (Dan. 6:16–23). Jeremiah was mocked and thrown in a well (Jer. 20:7, 38:6–9).
(b) Brethren; see entry for Jas. 1:16.
(c) The name of the Lord; see entry for Jas. 5:14.
We 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.
(a) We count those blessed who endured. We regard as heroes those who finished well. Everyone is a monument to the grace of God.
(b) Endured. The original word (hupomeno) is related to a word that means abide or dwell (meno). We endure by abiding in Christ and holding fast to his Name (Rev. 2:13). Those who have found their rest in Christ are blessed because they cannot be unsettled by the trials and sufferings of life.
The wrong way to read this is to think you must past the tenacity test to earn God’s acceptance. You have to bear the unbearable and never get depressed and never complain. You have to wear a smile on your dial and walk in victory every day until you die. Contrast this with the candid admission of the Apostle Paul: “We were crushed beyond our ability to endure, and we were so completely overwhelmed that we despaired of life” (2 Cor. 1:8). If there was an enduring test, Paul would have failed. There is no test. There’s just Jesus Christ who endured, rose from the dead, and who will raise you up (Jas. 5:15). The key to enduring is not to endure or try to endure or give us your best impression of enduring; it’s learning to rely on the Lord and receive his grace.
(c) You have heard of the endurance of Job. Job lost his home, his family, and his health. Job did not come through his trial because he was made of the right stuff. In fact, Job’s trials brought out bitterness, self-pity and suicidal inclinations. Far from being patient, Job blamed God for his suffering and wished himself dead (see entry for Jas. 1:19).
(d) The Lord’s dealings. Job came through his ordeal because of God’s mercy and compassion.
Job’s story encourages all who are going through hard times, but it would be a mistake to think that Job was blessed because of anything he said or did. Job was superstitious and self-righteous (Job 13:23, 32:1), and he is not listed among the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. But the good news is that God has compassion for imperfect people who aren’t giants of faith. While Job was speaking negative words over himself, the God who sees all things from the perspective of eternity was calling him blameless and upright (Job. 1:8). God literally rewrote the story of Job’s miserable life and the ending was far better than anything Job could have imagined.
Further reading: “Job’s grace encounter”
(e) Full of compassion and is merciful. To be merciful is to be compassionate, so this could be read as “abounding in compassion” or “abundantly merciful.” Because of his great love (Eph. 2:4), God abounds in mercy toward us (Eph. 2:4, 1 Pet. 1:3). Just as God is rich in grace (Jas. 4:6), he is rich in mercy. He feels our pain and moves heaven and earth to help us.
See the entry for “Mercy”
But 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.
(a) Above all. Oath taking was a big deal to the Jews. Indeed, their religion rested on the promises they made to God at the foot of Mt. Sinai (see Ex. 19:8); promises which they failed to keep.
Our religious flesh loves to make promises. “I swear, Lord, if you do this for me, I’ll do that for you.” Such a mindset glorifies the flesh and insults the Spirit of grace. God doesn’t do deals and our promises aren’t worth spit. “Above all” means it is the highest priority that we abandon the old habit of making promises and become a people who rely on God’s promises to us (Jer. 32:40). Indeed, trusting God’s word is the essence of walking by faith.
Further reading: “The ‘I wills’ of God”
(b) Do not swear… with any other oath. Speak plainly and with integrity.
If we go to court we may be asked to put our hand on a Bible and swear to tell the truth. This is not about that. James is repeating something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:34–36). Making audacious promises is the sin of pride (Matt. 5:37). Since you don’t know what the future holds, you cannot guarantee what you are promising. Peter swore that he would never deny the Lord but when the pressure came he denied him three times.
(c) By heaven or by earth; see Matt. 5:34–35.
(d) Your yes is to be yes. Liars like to boast, “I am telling the truth,” but people of integrity don’t need to embellish their words.
(e) So that you may not fall under judgment. Instead of making promises you may break, speak with integrity. Be honest, not hypocritical, and no one will be able to condemn you as a liar.
Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.
(a) Suffering. Experiencing hardship or ill treatment.
(b) Pray. Unbelief complains, but faith prays. Praying lifts our eyes off our hurts and onto our Healer.
(c) Sing praises. Just as prayer is a proper response to pain, praise is a proper way to express pleasure. Grace is a license to sing.
Is 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;
(a) Anyone. God’s will is to heal all, but religion says God’s will is to heal some. Maybe. “He won’t heal you if there’s sin in your life or if you haven’t been to church.” Religion puts price tags on your healing – you must confess and clean yourself up – but compassion comes free. Jesus healed all kinds of people, even sinners, even dead people, to show there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor.
(b) Sick. The context and use of this word in the Gospel accounts shows that it is referring to physical and mental sickness and not sin or “spiritual” sickness (e.g., Mark 6:56, Luke 4:40). God saves sinners and heals the sick.
(c) The elders. An elder or overseer is responsible for leading the church. They fulfil this role by setting a good example, teaching, and praying for the sick (Tit. 1:9, 1 Pet. 5:1, 3).
(d) They are to pray. Any believer can pray for the sick (Matt. 10:8), but the elders will usually have more experience. They can show younger believers how to pray with faith.
(e) The church. The original word (ekklesia) almost always means church or a body of believers (see entry for Matt. 16:18).
James is talking about churches, not Jewish assemblies or synagogues (see Jas. 2:2), and this is a critical distinction to make when discussing elders. The elders of a synagogue were old Jewish men raised in the traditions of the law, while the elders of a church are mature believers. If you asked the former to pray for you, they might dispense old covenant medicine. “Your sickness is punishment for some transgression” (Lev. 26:14–16, Ps. 119:67). You won’t get healed hearing that. When you are sick, call on the elders of the church. If they are people of faith they will not condemn you or lead you on a sin-hunt. They will simply say, “Let’s pray.”
(f) Anointing him with oil. There is nothing inherently special about putting a little oil on the head of the sick person. It’s the prayer of faith that receives the healing (see next verse). So why use oil? As a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s healing power, the oil is useful for activating our faith.
(g) The name of the Lord. To pray in the name of the Lord is to lift up the Name that is above all names (Php. 2:9–11). Cancer, depression, and Covid have names, but the name of the Lord is above all those names. When we pray, we command those illnesses to bow to the powerful name of the Lord.
and 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.
(a) The prayer offered in faith. Jesus often said, “Your faith has made you whole” (Matt. 9:22). It is the grace of God that brings healing, but grace comes by faith (Eph. 2:8). Our faith doesn’t manufacture the healing or compel God to heal us. Rather, faith is the means by which we access the abundant provision of God’s grace.
Faith is agreeing with God. It is saying yes to the Lord who heals. To pray with faith is to pray with the confidence that our compassionate Father hears and answers our prayers (1 John 5:14–15).
Further reading: “What is the prayer of faith?”
(b) The Lord will. There are no ifs, buts, and maybes in the prayer of faith. There’s no “if it be thy will.” Healing is thy will. We can get so hung up over God’s part that we forget to do our part which is to pray with faith believing the Lord will raise them up.
(c) Raise him up. When Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was lying in bed sick with fever, the Lord raised her up (Mark 1:31). When Jairus’s little girl died, Jesus raised her up (Mark 5:41). When sickness knocks you down, look to the Lord to raise you up. The One who was raised is in the business of raising the sick and the dead (Rom. 8:11, 1 Cor. 15:42–44).
(d) Committed sins. Some say God’s forgiveness is conditional on your behavior. “God won’t forgive you unless you do A, B, and C.” But there is only one condition for forgiveness: “If he has committed sins.” Have you committed sins? Then rejoice, for you are forgiven. You are not forgiven because you prayed, confessed, or repented; you are forgiven because God is love and love keeps no record of wrongs. You are not forgiven in accordance with your acts of repentance, but in accordance with the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:7).
(e) Be forgiven. As far as God is concerned, you are forgiven – he holds nothing against you – but you won’t be forgiven – that is, you won’t experience his forgiveness – unless you receive it by faith (Acts 10:43, 26:18).
You are not forgiven because you confessed or cried. You are forgiven because Jesus bled and died (1 John 1:7, Heb. 9:26). On the cross the Lamb of God bore all your sins, past, present, and future (John 1:29, 1 John 2:2).
Further reading: “Does James 5:15 preach conditional forgiveness?”
Therefore, 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.
(a) Confess your sins to one another not to be forgiven but to be healed. (Your forgiveness is a done deal, settled at the cross. See previous verse.)
When we are dishonest about our struggles (I’m doing fine), we diminish grace (I don’t need it) and unwittingly turn ourselves into hypocrites. This is why grace-based churches work to create a culture of unconditional love while placing a high priority on transparency and keeping it real. We all stumble from time to time (Jas. 3:2). If you are struggling it can be helpful to ask a trusted friend to pray with you. Doing so breaks the Adamic habit of self-reliance and positions us to receive God’s grace.
(b) To one another. You don’t need to confess your sins to a priest; a trusted friend will do. A good friend will not rake you over the coals of your sin, but will direct your attention to the Lord Jesus.
(c) You may be healed. When we humble ourselves before the Lord, we receive his healing grace (Jas. 4:6).
The beautiful thing about being open and transparent is it often pre-empts sin limiting the damage that might otherwise be inflicted. By being honest about our weaknesses and vulnerabilities we position ourselves to receive the grace that empowers us to say no to ungodliness (Tit. 2:11–12).
Further reading: “Healthy vs unhealthy confession”
(d) Effective prayer gets results. In contrast with the weak and ineffectual prayers of the selfish (Jas. 4:3), the faith-filled prayers of the righteous are effective and powerful.
(e) The righteous man is the one who has been made right with God by receiving, through faith, the free gift of Christ’s righteousness (Rom. 5:17).
Yet there is another way to read this. The Righteous Man with the powerful prayers is Jesus the Righteous One (see entry for Jas. 5:6). When we pray with faith, the Spirit of Christ helps us making our prayers powerful and effective (Rom. 8:26–27)
Elijah 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. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
(a) Elijah was a regular guy who prayed powerful prayers. If you have faith, you can pray powerful prayers.
(b) Prayed earnestly. The two original words are the verb (proseuchomai) and noun for prayer (proseuche). “With prayer he prayed for it” is how the Interlinear New Testament translates it. It means he prayed to God. He prayed with faith, not sweat.
(c) It did not rain. The story about Elijah’s prayer and the drought that followed comes from 1 King 17.
(d) Three years and six months; see 1 Kings 18:1.
(e) He prayed again; see 1 Kings 18:42–45.
My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back,
(a) Brethren; see entry for Jas. 1:16.
(b) If any among you strays. Those who wander can be brought back onto the right path. This is good news for anyone who has lost their way.
(c) Turns him back. We all stumble (Jas. 3:2). When we do, we may come to a trusted friend (Jas. 5:16), or a friend may come to us. If you are that friend, come with a spirit of gentleness and not judgment (Gal. 6:1).
let 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.
(a) A sinner is someone who remains captive to sin and needs be saved. Whether you’re a straying Christian (see previous verse) or a prisoner of sin, you can turn to God.
(b) Save his soul from death. We save sinners by introducing them to the Savior who saves our souls from death (Ps. 33:19, 116:8).
Some use this verse to preach a perverted form of church discipline. “The Christian who strays is headed for damnation.” But Christians are not sinners and God doesn’t kill his kids. The good news is that those who are dead in sin can be saved and those who are lost can be found. When we lead sinners to Jesus, we are leading them from death to eternal life (John 3:15–16, 5:24).
(c) Will cover a multitude of sins. It is the love of God that covers all our sins (Pro. 10:12; 1 Pet. 4:8). God is not mad at you; he’s mad about you. He loves you more than you know and he holds nothing against you. He longs for you to know his relentless and unconditional love.
This is the good news that inspires sinners to turn to God and be saved.
See the entry for “Love of God”
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- James 5:1
- James 5:2
- James 5:3
- James 5:4
- James 5:5
- James 5:6
- James 5:7
- James 5:8
- James 5:9
- James 5:10
- James 5:11
- James 5:12
- James 5:13
- James 5:14
- James 5:15
- James 5:16
- James 5:17-18
- James 5:19
- James 5:20