Thirdmill Study Bible

Notes on James 4:13-5:6

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Make Plans According to God’s Will - James 4:13-17

Grabbing the attention of merchants in the Christian community, James offers an example from business planning that serves as a principle of planning for all Christians. Make plans, but plan with humility in submission to God’s will for we have very limited ability to control outcomes.

James warns the wealthy against presumption - James 4:13-15

James reminds the merchants who are planning to travel to another city, set up a business and make a profit, that they do not know what tomorrow will bring. In much the same way that Jesus warned the rich in his parables, James warns the wealthy against presumption. Those who plan from the perspective of heavenly wisdom (see notes on 1:5; 3;15), consider their limitations, that their life is a mist. Accordingly, they submit their plans in humility to God’s wishes. This posture of planning not only acknowledges God’s sovereignty, it recalls the wisdom of God’s law which requires righteousness in our business dealings, and generosity in our use of material goods. If the Lord wills reminds us of our limitations and the provisional nature of our plans. Ultimately, God sets the limits on what our plans achieve (cf. Prov. 16:1, 3; 19:21; 1 Cor 3:5-8). See WCF 3.1-2; WLC 12-14; BC 13.

Boast - James 4:16-17

As he had in 4:6, James warns against boasting and making arrogant plans that disregard the Lord’s will. While the wise person seeks that which is good, the foolish person knows to do good, but does not do it. This clearly echoes 1:22-25 and 2:14-19 (see notes), and situates “doing good” in relation to what merchants will do with their profits to assist their neighbors. Merchants and artisans usually were not landowners, neither were they poor. In the community of faith, however, all are called to share the gifts and goods that they have with those who need life’s necessities, whether spiritual or material.

Share Your Wealth. - James 5:1-6

James shifts his attention from merchants to wealthy landowners. Wisdom addresses every member of the community, regardless of nobility, gender, ethnic identity or economic status. James does not confront the rich for being wealthy, but for unjust practices that exploit their neighbors in order to gain or maintain their wealth.

Rich people - James 5:1

Taking a prophetic tone similar to that in 4:4-5, 9-10, James calls the rich to weep and wail at the impending judgment of God (Isa. 13:6; Isa. 15:3; Amos 8:3). Unlike his call to repentance from sins of speech, James does not offer any options of return, restitution or reconciliation. Those who fail to be generous and cheat their workers face miseries from judgment (cf. Lk 6:24), because they have chosen friendship with the world instead of friendship with the God of the oppressed.

Rotted...moth-eaten - James 5:2-5

Again, echoing Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:19-20), James underscores the corrosive influence and definitive end of misused wealth. In sharp contrast to the immaculate garments and shining jewels of the rich, the result for those among them who ignore the cries of the weak (cf. Lk 16:19-31) or who decide to withhold wages from their workers or pay them unjustly is to experience their own miseries in judgment.

Withheld and unjust pay - James 5:4

The withheld and unjust pay of the laborers cries out against the rich, because it is a direct violation of God’s Law (Lev 19:13; Deut 24:14-15). Moses commanded those who hired laborers to pay wages on the same day that the work was done. Finding excuses not to pay them, keeping no written records which many workers could not read, day laborers had little recourse in the courts, which often sided with the rich, who could afford bribes. The cries of the workers is reminiscent of Abel’s blood (Gen. 4:10) and the outcry of enslaved Israel (Ex. 2:23).

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