Letter of James 10

James 5 Amplified Bible (AMP)

l. Warnings to wealthy oppressors
5 Come [quickly] now, you rich [who lack true faith and hoard and misuse your resources], weep and howl over the miseries [the woes, the judgments] that are coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted and is ruined and your [fine] clothes have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. You have stored up your treasure in the last days [when it will do you no good]. 4 Look! The wages that you have [fraudulently] withheld from the laborers who have mowed your fields are crying out [against you for vengeance]; and the cries of the harvesters have come to the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 On the earth you have lived luxuriously and abandoned yourselves to soft living and led a life of wanton pleasure [self-indulgence, self-gratification]; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and have put to death the righteous man; he offers you no resistance.
m. Encouragements to the oppressed (5:7–11)

7 So wait patiently, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits [expectantly] for the precious harvest from the land, being patient about it, until it receives the early and late rains. 8 You too, be patient; strengthen your hearts [keep them energized and firmly committed to God], because the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Do not complain against one another, believers, so that you will not be judged [for it]. Look! The Judge is standing right at the door. 10 As an example, brothers and sisters, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord [as His messengers and representatives]. 11 You know we call those blessed [happy, spiritually prosperous, favored by God] who were steadfast and endured [difficult circumstances]. You have heard of the patient endurance of Job and you have seen the Lord’s outcome [how He richly blessed Job]. The Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.

n. Against oaths (5:12)
12 But above all, my fellow believers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be [a truthful] yes, and your no be [a truthful] no, so that you may not fall under judgment.
o. The power of prayer (5:13–18)
13 Is anyone among you suffering? He must pray. Is anyone joyful? He is to sing praises [to God]. 14 Is anyone among you sick? He must call for the elders (spiritual leaders) of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another [your false steps, your offenses], and pray for one another, that you may be healed and restored. The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power]. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours
[with the same physical, mental, and spiritual limitations and shortcomings], and he prayed intensely for it not to rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its crops [as usual].
p. Help for the backslider (5:19–20)
19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you strays from the truth and falls into error and [another] one turns him back [to God], 20 let the [latter] one know that the one who has turned a sinner from the error of his way will save that one’s soul from death and cover a multitude of sins [that is, obtain the pardon of the many sins committed by the one who has been restored].

Chapter 5.1
l. Warnings to wealthy oppressors (5:1–6)
James thinks next of those who put all their confidence in riches and who use their wealth as an opportunity to oppress those less fortunate. Such men are denounced in language which recalls the Old Testament prophets.

This section relates closely to 4,13-17 both in style [the two begin with the imperative ‘Come now’] and in content [a pursuit of wealth that disregards God and his purposes is condemned in both]. But the prominence of the eschatological consummation ties this section with 5,7-11. According to most scholars, these verses are addressed to non-believers, however they can also be applied to anyone who thirsts for wealth and power, including believers. In this section James uses biblical and extrabiblical traditions concerning unrighteous wealth [either by the way it was acquired or by the way it is used]. The style that James uses in this paragraph immediately brings to mind the style of the prophets who announced the misfortunes that would befall the pagan nations. Due to the strong denunciation that Santiago makes here of the rich, Santiago has become the spokesman of the Theology of Liberation. But it must be made clear that in the biblical context, also in this letter of James, the rich are not condemned for being rich but for the sinful use they make of their wealth. Therefore, to apply this passage indiscriminately to all the rich is to make a bad exegesis of it.

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to systematically ignore this serious warning that James makes about money and possessions by considering this passage exclusively directed to the rich and powerful. One of the sins that James condemns here is the compulsive obsession with accumulating money and possessions. We live in a world where obsessive and unnecessary accumulation of wealth is not only not condemned but admired and encouraged. This fact undoubtedly makes it even more difficult for Christians to lead a life according to what James and Scripture in general teach.

The general structure of this passage is very clear. The main part is the condemnation that James pronounces on the "rich" [v. 1]. Then explain the reasons why those "rich" are going to be condemned: [i] they have amassed wealth in a selfish manner [vv. 2-3]; [ii] have abused workers [v. 4]; [[iii] lead an unbridled lifestyle [v. 5]; and [iv] have oppressed "the righteous" [v. 6]. The vocabulary and tone of this passage of the letter of James matches those used by the Old Testament prophets. The terms 'weep' and 'shout' appear frequently in the writings of the prophets when they speak of the reaction of the wicked on the day of the Lord [Is. 13:6; 10:10; 14:31; 15:2-3; Jer. 2:23; 31:20,31; Ezek. 21:17; Hosea 7:14; Amos 8:3; Zach 11:2, etc.]. This background makes it clear that the sufferings that come upon the rich to whom it is addressed do not refer to earthly sufferings but to punishment on the day of final judgment.

In a teaching remarkably similar to that of James, Jesus warns the rich that the "comfort" they have in this world will be replaced by "tears" in the next [Lk. 6:24-25]. Also, in the book of Revelation [18:10-24] there is a long list of "woes" directed against the rich and powerful who "weep" at the devastation of the great city, Babylon. As can be seen, the denunciation of the rich is a recurring theme throughout the biblical tradition. But we must insist that the rich are not condemned because they are rich, but because of how they use their wealth. This condemnation is directed only against the wicked rich, those who treasure unjustly acquired wealth and use it for evil purposes. It is true that in the Bible the rich are often associated with injustice but it is also true that the biblical writers as well as Jesus saw, rightly, wealth as a substitute for God, not least because it can offer a sense of false security and trust so that faith and trust that should be placed in God alone are placed in it. It is for this reason that they continually warn believers that riches imply a risk for the Christian life and therefore they should be on the alert to prevent riches from ruling over them and occupying in their lives and in their hearts the place that only God should occupy.

James uses a series of metaphorical images [images that were common in the Old Testament and in intertestamental and secular literature to refer to material goods] to illustrate to his readers the brevity and transience of material possessions and their inability to save. It is not worth putting your trust in something that is transitory and that today is and tomorrow disappears. Something that is considered valuable today and may have no value tomorrow [as many people around the world realized after the 1929 New York Stock Exchange crash, went to bed a millionaire, and woke up penniless]. Do not put your hope or your time or your life in what does not save; seek first the Kingdom of God, the wisdom from above and not earthly wisdom. Wealth, possessions were not created to be an end in themselves but to be an aid to human life.

The first accusation that God makes against those who pile up wealth is that they do it for nothing because nothing earthly is lasting. However, the second accusation is much more direct, accusing them of exploiting their workers, of not paying a fair wage. Santiago had in mind the abundant biblical tradition of denouncing the abuse of the poor, for example, Malachi 3,5: “Then I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, and against those who oppress the laborer in his wages and widows and the fatherless, and against those who turn away the alien [from his right], and those who do not fear Me [with awe-filled reverence],” says the Lord of hosts." Also, we should take into account as influence in Santiago Leviticus 19, 13: “You shall not oppress or exploit your neighbor, nor rob him. You shall not withhold the wages of a hired man overnight until morning.” We can also find this same idea in Deuteronomy 24:14-15: “You shall not take advantage of a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether [he is] one of your countrymen or one of the strangers (resident aliens, foreigners) who is in your land inside your cities. 15 You shall give him his wages on the day that he earns them before the sun sets—for he is poor and is counting on it—so that he does not cry out to the Lord against you, and it becomes a sin for you.”

After this, James introduces a new reason why God will judge them. They have led a life of luxury and wanton pleasure in this world. The expression in this world suggests a contrast between the pleasures that the rich enjoy on earth and the torment that awaits them in eternity. We find this same idea in the teaching of Jesus, again the influence of Jesus' teachings is evident in James, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus although with a different wording: “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things [all the comforts and delights], and Lazarus likewise bad things [all the discomforts and distresses]; but now he is comforted here [in paradise], while you are in severe agony.” [Lk. 16,25]. Or in other words: "You are able to live in the midst of enjoyment and abundance while seeing the poor in their need". But this recurring theme of the exchange of roles that appears in the parable and in other texts, suggests that the day of the slaughter for which the rich are getting fat refers to a concrete eschatological moment. James surely associates that judgment with the Lord's parousia [5:7]; and that word becomes a technical term to define the coming of the Lord in glory at the end of time. Therefore, it is likely that the day of the slaughter is a description of the day of the final judgment. This syntagma, “day of the slaughter” has a parallel in Isaiah 30,25, it also appears in the pseudo-epigraphic book of 1 Enoch [90,4] to describe the day of judgment. In addition, the Bible uses the image of the slaughter in battle to describe the day of judgment [e.g., Ezek. 7:14-23; Rev. 19:17-21].

James has accused the rich and powerful of amassing wealth [vv. 2-3], abusing their workers [v. 4] and living for pleasure [v.5]. Now, to finish, he accuses them of condemning and murdering the righteous. The topic of the persecution of the righteous is one of the recurring themes in Old Testament and intertestamental teaching, e.g. Wisdom 2:6-20; Amos 2:6; 5:12; Micah 2:2.6-9; 3:1-3.9-12; Psalms 10:8-9; 37:32, etc. Now, how do the powerful kill the righteous? Here, James probably had in mind the result of his actions, in the book of Ecclesiasticus [34,22] this connection is explicitly established: "He slays his neighbor who deprives him of his living: he sheds blood who denies the laborer his wages". James concludes the paragraph by reminding us that the righteous are helpless victims of the stratagems of the powerful.

Questions to think about
1. What attitude does God have toward hoarding wealth?
2. Do I have more than I need? Do I properly use the wealth I possess, or do I accumulate it? How does the love of money and riches affect or jeopardy our relationship with God? How can we learn to hold our wealth and possessions lightly?
3. Why does James speak so strongly against wanton pleasure [self-indulgence]? What kinds of wanton pleasure [self-indulgent] activities are “in now”? Why is this inappropriate for believers?
4. How can we get the balance between the ability not to put our hope in wealth, and the ability to enjoy all that God richly provides?
5. What do you tend to pursue that has little eternal value?
6. What meaning would you give to the word righteous? Who are the righteous?

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