Read James 5:1-6

This section contains a warning to Christian and non-Christian alike that those who are rich should not take advantage of their situation to oppress, misuse or abuse the poor. We may not think that we are rich ourselves, when compared to the royal family or those on the "Sunday Times Rich List" of wealthy people. Nevertheless, set alongside the majority of people in the world, we can consider ourselves very rich if we have a roof over our heads, a bed to sleep on and food to eat every day.

James warns us that, if we are making life tough for others whilst lining our own pockets (or feathering our own nests), we can expect only a miserable future. He points out that wealth does not equal happiness - a fact to which many wealthy people have testified. He cites the example of employers not offering a fair wage to their employees and says that such behaviour will not go unnoticed by God, who will hold the employer accountable. James describes the workers as being "innocent" because they are not seeking to oppose the rich or stand in their way, but simply asking for a fair return for their labour. This was not a political point from James. He was saying that God hates the exploitation of those who have less than others. He made all human beings in His own image and looks for us to act with compassion and mercy in our relationships, one with another. He will judge any selfish hoarding of wealth, withholding of a fair wage or indulgent, self-gratification by those who simply ignore the needs of others.

Any who are well off should take note of these verses. They are a warning to all of us to keep our attitude to money and wealth in line with God's word. We need constantly to check that we are not becoming too proud of our possessions and the value and status that we think they bestow on us. (1 Timothy 6:17) Let us also examine our hearts to ensure that we are not judging others according to their clothes, position, job, house, car, childrens' education or anything else that is valued by our culture, but means little in the kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:19-21)

We all came into the world with nothing and we all go out with nothing, except the "treasure" that we have laid up in heaven. (1 Timothy 6:7) If God were to call us to bid farewell to our life today, what would we find difficult to let go? Even if we are rich in the eyes of the secular world, we have to measure ourselves by God’s standards. Anything that causes us to regard ourselves as superior to others, whether it be our looks, our education, upbringing or possessions, could be the very thing that brings us only misery.

Problems caused by earthly riches

  • We forget God. (Deuteronomy 8:13,14)
  • We rely on riches rather than God and take life easy. (Luke 12:19,20)
  • Wealth encourages greed. (Psalm 62:10)
  • Wealth encourages a lack of integrity. (Proverbs 28:20)
  • Wealth adds additional temptations. (1 Timothy 6:9)
  • Wealth makes it hard to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:23)
  • Wealth can lead to a fruitless life in God’s kingdom. (Mark 4:19)
  • Riches are deceptive. (Hebrews 11:26; Revelation 3:17)
  • Hoarding is destructive. (James 5:3)

In the light of these warnings, let us examine our hearts and our attitude to wealth; how does it affect the way we consider our own value - and that of others? Are we using the world’s standards or God’s standards? God wants us to take joy in His eternal riches, not in our latest acquisition or shopping trip! Our "treasure" and our goals must be fixed on God’s eternal kingdom. This means that our energies should be directed towards sharing the good news about Jesus with people and making disciples. This is what constitutes our "treasure in heaven". (Matthew 6:20)

God calls all Christian believers to use what He has given them - however little or large - to benefit others. He has called some to sell all that they have in order to follow Him. (Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33) To others He has given great riches so that they can be generous and use their wealth to benefit others. (2 Corinthians 9:11) In 2 Corinthians, chapters eight and nine, the apostle Paul is very clear about how we should deal with wealth and poverty, using the Macedonian Church as his example. If we are short of resources, let's not lose sleep over the fact that wicked people seem to be doing all right; let's look to God’s word and pray to our heavenly Father for His provision instead. (Psalm 73:1-17)

Living a life of self–indulgence blinds us to all that God has for us and the fantastic prosperity of walking daily in the richness of His peace and joy, knowing we are pleasing Him. As we walk and talk with Him, He will make us aware of others' needs and how we can be a blessing to them. Where can you be a godly blessing today?

Be patient and wait! (James 5:7-12)

James tells the believers to be patient and stand firm. As surely as the harvest follows the planting of seed, so Jesus’ second coming is going to happen. In God’s mercy, He has not yet sent Jesus back to earth because He longs for all to have heard the truth and to respond so that He can call them into His Kingdom. He calls us all to be patient and not to give up like the "wise and foolish virgins" in one of Jesus' parables. (Matthew 25:1-13 - see also study four in "Real Women".) This is a warning from James that, in the face of difficulty and persecution, we must not give up our faith or fall away. (Mark 13:13; Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 10:35-39)

We cannot make ourselves firm and patient by our own strength. But God - through His Holy Spirit - is ready to help us. Patience is a vital fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22) God Himself will make us strong firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10) No one knows the time when Jesus will return to this world. Even Jesus Himself was not privy to this information. The Father has set a time known only to Himself, but it will be worth waiting for. The Bible gives us some clues as to what state the world is likely to be in immediately before Jesus' return:

"As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." (Matthew 24:36-44)

"God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways." (Genesis 6:11-13)

Reading about the days of Noah is like reading today’s newspaper, so we must be ready.

Patience in suffering

James also bids the believers to be patient during suffering and persecution, reminding them that the prophets (during Old Testament times) had suffered for their faithfulness in speaking God's word. James had seen the persecution of believers in Jerusalem which had resulted in a scattering of believers all over the known world of his time and the planting of new churches in many different places. In our own day, the church is strong wherever there is clear persecution (as in places like China) but, in the West, the prevailing apathy about spiritual things and the attraction of comparative riches and wealth have combined to render churches throughly compromised. It seems that very few believers know their God and are prepared to stand up and be counted for Jesus. (Daniel 11:32) Something similar happened in Jesus' time as well. When He had been talking to His disciples about "eating His flesh and drinking His blood", they struggled to understand what He meant and some simply gave up. (John 6:66)

However, those who persevere to the end in the midst of persecution are considered blessed. (James 1:4) James gives an example from the Old Testament in the shape of Job. (James 5:10-11) Job was an important man in his time, but God tested him by allowing terrible afflictions to come upon him. Job lost everything: his house, his land, his wealth, his children and his dignity. Then he lost his health but, even in the face of such severe trials, Job never grumbled against God. A great debate between Job and his friends forms the central part of his book, but the situation is only resolved when God Himself steps in to the debate. After that, God reinstates Job and greatly blesses him, to the point where his final state was better than his first. The book also depicts the "Satan" - the great enemy of humanity - asking God for permission to attack Job. God allows this and then Satan is initially confident that he will be able to turn Job against his creator. But Job hangs on - despite all his suffering - and refuses to blame God for any wrongdoing. The lesson is that God may allow suffering to come upon us, but He promises that, "All things work for our good when we are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) In the end, because of His great mercy and love, He will always turn our sorrow and pain into joy and blessing. (Psalm 103:8)

Grumbling and swearing (James 5:9,12)

As part of his exhortation to be patient, James again touches on the importance of speech. We looked at his warnings (in study seven) about the dangers of the tongue and how we use it. Like a "bad penny" it returns and James emphasises that, as Christians, we must not be finding fault with each other. When trials and persecution come upon us, how quick we are to blame each other for our trouble. We are also quick to allow our emotions to run away with our thinking and this often shows itself in our speech. We need to remember, says James, that grumbling against one another is tantamount to grumbling against God. (Exodus 16:8) God, the judge, is standing at the door and He hears our grumbling. (James 5:9; Revelation 3:20) His judgment of His people in the desert was severe. We should take warning! (Numbers 11:1; Numbers 14:1-4 and Numbers 14:26-29)

James also warned his readers that, when we speak, we must talk plainly and honestly. An honest man never needs to swear in order to prove that what he says is true. Let us beware, for the Lord will judge us for every false and careless word that we speak. (Matthew 12:36)

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