Read James 5:1-12
In this final chapter of James, he seems to be touching on all manner of miscellaneous subjects. From the responsibilities of Christians who are wealthy, to persevere in our faith, to the sick, and bringing back those who have strayed from the truth. He begins by addressing the rich. Jesus once said it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25). Does this mean that wealthy people can’t know Jesus? Not at all! I know many wealthy Christians who serve God humbly, using their money to support missions and the church. But we must remember the culture of the day when reading this chapter.
New believers in the early church came from all walks of life, and some of them were rich. Most of the wealthy were landowners who had people working for them. It would appear that James is talking specifically to them. Whether or not they were believers is unclear, although James 5:9 seems to imply the wealthy were believers. What is clear are their sins, which James addresses in the first six verses. His warnings to the rich are somewhat prophetic because it was the aristocracy who, a few years after this letter was written, were mostly obliterated during the Jewish revolt from Rome.
Continuing with our study of James, there is a theme James is striving to get across to his early readers – pride and selfishness have no place in the hearts of those who serve the Lord. Instead of wrestling with God in prayer, these believers seem to be wrestling with each other and the positions of prestige and power the world offers. James suggests they love the world and what it provides more than they love God. In this chapter, he touches on four main subjects – pride, humility, judging others and boasting.
James begins this third chapter warning that not everyone should be teachers of the Word of God as they are held to a higher standard and accountable to God for what they teach. I have always been of the opinion (because I was taught this) that this chapter of James was speaking about foul language in general. And while foul language should not be part of the Christian’s vocabulary since we are ambassadors for Christ, I now believe James was talking about something entirely different.
Standard Jewish doctrine is that everyone sins and one of the most destructive devices to cause one to sin was the human tongue. Jewish sages warned against teaching error and that those who taught false doctrine would be judged more harshly. During James’ day, to be a Rabbi with followers was to gain a certain amount of prestige and James was addressing those who sought that prestige. Like celebrity preachers today, they were operating from wrong motives and were risking the spiritual welfare of those listening to them. Faith, works and controlling our tongues are crucial to a faith that works.
Are we justified by faith alone? According to the Apostle James, we are not. But according to the Apostle Paul, we are. Who is right? What did Jesus teach? Many Christians believe that they have to work their way to heaven. In other words, the better they do, the higher their chances are of getting through the “Pearly Gates.” Others believe faith is enough and as long as they believe in Jesus as their Saviour that is all that matters. It would seem those in the early church had the same impressions. But as we have seen from the beginning of this study, our actions say a lot about our faith in Christ. James sets the record straight on the importance of our actions as believers in Jesus. Works and faith go hand in hand.
In James chapter one, we learned why, as Christians, we are still tempted to sin and how to keep ourselves from that temptation. In James chapter two the Apostle goes a little further in expressing how, as Christians, we can set ourselves apart from the world. Once again, keep in mind that James is talking to first century Christian Jews. So he is addressing first century problems that might seem strange to us but were a regular occurrence back then.
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved,
In our last lesson, we learned that we are to “count it all joy” when we fall into temptation because temptation produces patience, endurance or perseverance in us. And in the next few verses, the actual word “temptation” is used openly, rather than the word previously used, which was “trials.” Now, the full context of this chapter comes into view. There is no doubt, James is talking about the temptation to sin.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.