I continue with my last instalment on my commentary on the biblical book of James. These thoughts carry over from a weekly Bible study I lead called, the Forum. We have been digesting the book slowly, and have gotten much out of the book.
James 5 hits the wealthy hard and ends his letter to the Jerusalem church where he begins, with prejudice and oppression of the poor and lower class. As you read the chapter, take note of any phrases or ideas that jump out at you.
Looking at verse 1, what miseries do you suppose James is speaking of?
He is speaking of the coming judgement. James is addressing those that have received ill-gotten gain from robbing and oppressing the laborers. He uses harsh words that leave us with strong images. Images of ruined clothes, rusted precious metals (which is virtually impossible), and rotting flesh. Images of workers that are so abused, their cries are constant and have reached the ears of the Almighty. We get images of wealthy landowners heaping and storing their treasures and selfish gain from those who have been wrongly condemned and even murdered.
It is hard to keep in mind that he is addressing professing followers of Christ!
The Danger in the Pursuit of Riches
James continues to denounce the pursuit of riches that disregards God, His purposes and His people. He condemns those who were hoarding their wealth, living self-indulgently, and the employers who were abusing their staff, and promises just judgment on those who oppress and exploit the poor.
What does it mean when James says that the Christians in the church at Jerusalem fatten their hearts in the day of slaughter in verse 5?
I want to take a look at this, because this is something interesting. A better interpretation of verse 5 would be, “they have feasted and filled their hearts full of every carnal thing, while closing their hearts to the suffering and needs of others, having even taken delight in seeing the suffering of others, which filled their hearts even fuller.” This is the context. I find it utterly shocking!
The irony that James uses here is perhaps lost to us in our culture today, but back then, the church would have understood what James was illustrating.. “Fattening yourself for the day of slaughter” reflects what cattle farmers did. They would, each day, fatten the animal a little more making it good and fat and perfect for slaughter. The irony here is that, it seems the church doesn’t realize they are fattening themselves to their own destruction with the coming Day of the Lord, a day of slaughter.
Be Doers of the Word
As I mentioned in the first blog on the study of James, in the 108 verses that comprise the book of James, 54 are imperative commands. Verses 7-18 gives us many. What are some of them? Let’s take a look. We can find the following commands James puts forward in these few verses:
- Be patient
- Establish your hearts
- Don’t grumble
- Be of strong character
- Pray and anoint the sick
- Confess trespasses
Let’s unpack some of these.
How does one establish their heart?
Build upon faith. Read the bible, pray, fellowship with other believers. Discover your weaknesses. Avoid putting yourself in situations that will cause you to stumble.
What does James mean when he says don’t swear by heaven or by earth and to let your “Yes” b
y yes and your “No” be no?
If we profess to know Christ, we must really stay alert to maintain a strong resemblance to Jesus. This will require discipline, concentration, and plenty of self-sacrifice. Our name (reputation) should be so strong that we don’t have to swear by anything or anyone. We mustn’t be full of compromise, and we must be known to be people of our word, totally reliable. A Ch
ristian should say what they mean and mean what they say.
Meet Specific Needs and Heal the Body
James moves on to address meeting specific needs. He focuses on healing and the sick, probably because these were the most desperate of people. Something caught my eye in this passage about healing in verses 13-18.
All illness does not stem from sin, but some does. This passage is proof. If the sinner confesses his sin honestly and with repentance, the sin is forgiven and the illness healed. He then gives us an example of a faithful saint who prayed fervently. Elijah is a great example to use, because he petitioned some pretty intense requests, for no rain, and no rain came until he prayed again 3 ½ years later!
We can apply here our yes/no scenario. If we come to the Lord believing that He answers prayer, not just offering a ritualistic prayer, He will hear us. If we come to the Lord in prayer speaking out of both sides of our mouth, He only hears mumbo jumbo.
There is something, though, deeper here we must grasp. James, I believe, isn’t just rambling randomly coming upon the subject of healing. His words are very deliberate and specific. James isn’t laying a doctrine about healing here, stating that every single thing we requests is ours for just by simply believing. He isn’t saying just put forward a strong prayer warrior and God will hear you and heal you.
Something was amiss in this fellowship. People were being carnal in thought and in deed, and grieving the Holy Spirit, who was obviously very silent and on the outside of the fellowship. This entire letter is James instructing the group of Christians to look away from, and come out of, the world that was influencing and corrupting them.
In this letter, James was teaching them how to put, and keep, Christ in the center, and he was giving them guidance how to do this. He was showing them their sin. And the depth and grossness of their offenses was so awful, it apparently was making them ill. They needed to confess their trespasses, make restoration and have some of the mature, Godly people within the fellowship come forward to pray for the sick. We can assume from James’ instruction that there were at least a few strong believers caught in the fray within this fellowship.
The Common Anointing with Oil
The use of oil here was a common practice in the Jewish community and would not have been a foreign idea. It was customary to use oils to soothe skin and sores and wounds. Anointing with oil not only had practical purposes, by was symbolic of Christ and death and resurrection and the healing that will come during the Millennium.
The purpose of confession is to bring our sins to the light, to expose them. Generally, until this happens, we are unable to overcome them. Confession helps believers to gain spiritual wholeness, or spiritual health, so to speak. Confession will also bring spiritual unity within a Christian community.
Turn a Brother From Evil
As James closes, he talks about turning a brother or sister from the evil of their ways. Again, this isn’t a random, closing though. James is actually the one turning a sinner from the error of his way. The church in Jerusalem was under gross, gross violation of one another. James had to be harsh and direct in his condemnation. But he didn’t just condemn, he offered them an escape, a way of correction. It would be up to them to take it or not. And if they did, he would have saved them from destruction of their souls. He has practiced tough love in this letter. He had to!
I really believe the church might not be alive today if it wasn’t for people brave and bold like James. The church was heavily influenced by its culture and needed to get disciplined.
Today, we must do the same! We need to be patient and help preserve each other and our faith, not frauding and oppressing each other. We, like the church in Jerusalem, are products of our environment and bad thinking and behavior infiltrates into our fellowships. We need liberty! We need to liberate each other. Love to liberate!
In conclusion, we may profess to know God, but our acts, deeds, and words will ultimately define us. A changed life will result in loving actions, controlled speech, Godly wisdom, self-sacrifice, lack of worldly attitude of wealth, lack of prejudice, healthy attitude towards trials and suffering. These qualities will not only testify of our faith, but draw others to Christ. Let’s become doers of the Word!
Written by Jori Sams
Jori Sams is a Christian author and freelance writer with nearly 2000 published pieces on the Internet, with over 1500 being published by Yahoo. Her books are published through Writeious Books. When she isn’t writing, you can usually find her following the sun…