Divided into two halves. First injustices saints experience – sins against believers, then governmental chastening, sickness – sins of believers.
Handling Injustices: Sins Against Believers (5:1-12)
Rich and Poor. God’s heart is toward the poor (Luke 7:22; 2 Cor. 8:9; Psalm 41:1; 1 Tim. 6:9). Riches make selfish.
The Sins of the Rich Unbelieving Jews (vv.1-6)
vv.1-3 Judgment Warned on the Greedy Rich. Mistreatment by elite. Character exposed by treated the poor. True saints called “brethren” in v.7. Prophetic warning of impending judgment. Were celebrating their status, should howl and weep. Start weeping now, no opportunity for repentance. Poetically, ill-gotten wealth now rotten, gold corroded into poisonous acid. Piling up treasure, sheer greed (Matt. 6:19). “The last days”, just preceded appearing, though a precursor in 70 A.D., Piling wealth meaningless in view.
v.4 Injustices Heard by the Lord of Sabaoth. Indicted on three specific counts + general greed in vv.1-3. (1) cheating the laborers of their wages to poverty and starvation. Wages and defrauded reapers crying out. “The Lord of Sabaoth” or Lord of Hosts used in the prophets when Israel oppressed by cruel enemies (1 Sam. 17:45, first mention 1 Sam. 1:3). Name invokes the Lord as Captain of hosts of heaven, all power to deliver His people and crush their enemies.
v.5 Living Luxuriously and Indulgently. Rich condemned. It says “on the earth”. Their thoughts are here below. Heaven does not factor in. Expression “as in a day of slaughter” an allusion to lusty rampage of a victorious army through an enemy camp or city. Grabbing for myself, as fast as I can, without concern or self-restraint.
v.6 Killing the Just One. Indicted for killing the Just One; c.p. Acts 7:52. The word “just” in the singular. Belonged to the same generation as killed the Lord. Slaying of faithful remnant included (John 15:20). “He does not resist”, Jesus did not defend Himself or retaliate (1 Pet. 2:23). Even now He waits at God’s right hand. Will “resist” and far more at His second coming (2 Thess. 1:8)! God does not intervene, instead works by grace. Companions in tribulation.
The Reaction of the Faithful to these Injustices: Patience (vv.7-12)
vv.7-8 Patience for the Lord’s Coming. Hope of Lord’s coming has moral effect. Two aspects not distinguished, but appearing is here especially. A present hope for first century Christians. Deal with injustices, not by retaliating, but by patiently waiting. The example of a laborer on a farm, sows then patiently waits. Cannot rush the process. The timetable is God’s. It had “drawn nigh” when James wrote, how much nearer today? Sufferings rewarded in glory (Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12). The “laborer” is a believer, but application to the Lord as Sower.
v.9 Guard Against Complaining. Danger of pressures of injustices, trials, the flesh in us and in our brethren, lead to difficulties. need grace. See Matthew 7:1-2. Incur God’s governmental judgment. Judge will set everything right.
vv.10-11 Remember Examples of Patience. Old Testament saints, “the prophets”, raised up by God to speak in His Name when His people were in a bad state; e.g. Micaiah, Isaiah and Jeremiah. We see how their path was vindicated by God, their happy portion now, and at the resurrection to come. Famous example in Job: physical, emotional, and spiritual pain – amazing endurance. If only saw the beginning would not know the Lord’s heart. We have “seen the end of the Lord”, he did not allow Job to suffer in vain.
v.12 Oaths Prohibited: Don’t Resort to the Flesh. Danger to react in the flesh, swearing or oaths. Spoils our testimony. Jews especially had a habit, Gentile world too. When a man’s word is questioned, habit of using oaths; “I swear to God.” A man’s ordinary word cannot be trusted. N.T. forbids common oaths. Swearing “by heaven” or won’t make your word better; can only bring down the government of God. A man’s word should be unequivocal and binding; “yea, yea and nay, nay”.
Chastening and Restoration: Sins of Believers (5:13-20)
v.13 Turning to God In All Circumstances. A transition, connects with preceding and succeeding subjects. Believer can turn to God vs. resorting to the flesh (v.12). Prayer, the proper and automatic response of faith. In joyful circumstances? Singing keeps God in our minds. Psalms are songs of praise, have to do with Christian experience.
vv.14-15 Sickness and Prayer of the Elders. Positive chastening, not necessarily punitive. A purpose for our blessing. May hinder us from sinning. Ask for prayer, and expect to be healed! “Elders of the assembly”, officially appointed in that day. Not the oil, only a sign, but “prayer of faith shall heal the sick”. Not the gift (1 Cor. 12:9), nor apostles (Mark 6:13), but those in responsibility. Earlier in James (Jam. 2:1) it was the synagogue , now it is “the assembly”. Can still carry forward with this. A possibility the sickness was a result of sin. Governmental forgiveness. Not confess to elders… tends to class-priesthood. Confession first to God, then to one another.
vv.16-18 Confession and Intercession. General resource of confession and intercessory prayer, applicable where no elders officially appointed. The “therefore”, knowing God’s heart towards us encourages us to be open. Confess offenses mutually to one another, because the heart is open to our brethren. We don’t want to hide our sin to preserve a false reputation. Our hearts are united in a bond of love. Supplication is an intense request. Confidence that God hears prayers and answers them. Fervency and personal righteousness are two keys to the efficacy of prayer. An example. Elijah, of like passions, shows we do not need to achieve moral perfection in order to pray. Twice, God altered the forces of nature to answer. To stop the rain Elijah had to “pray prayerfully”, to start he simply “prayed”. We do not follow example of praying for judgment, but the example of earnest prayer.
vv.19-20 Restoring a Wayward Brother. God’s desire is to see restoration. Grace active in restoration. Directly connected with converting a sinner, also applies to a backslidden believer (Gal. 6:1). Restoration first to the Lord, the Lord’s work (Psa. 23:3; Luke 24:15). Can involve bringing the fault before them, bringing out scripture, and praying. Requires patience and love. An encouragement for restorers. (1) They have done something for the person, sparing from the ultimate consequence of that sin. (2) They have done something for God, covering a multitude of sins that would have otherwise spread out before Him in their nauseous insults to His holy nature (1 Pet. 4:8). Effect of restoration is to brings back from the error of his way, not make sinner comfortable in their sin. True grace results in practical holiness (Tit. 2:12).