Thirdmill Study Bible

Notes on James 4:16-5:12

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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).

Fattened yourselves - James 5:5-6

Reminiscent of Jesus’ description of the rich man and Lazarus, James describes how the luxury and indulgence of the rich has prepared them for judgment like a fattened calf for slaughter. By failing to provide fair and timely wages the rich have killed the poor.

Remain Steadfast Despite Suffering. - James 5:7-12

In this section, James narrows his focus again to encourage those who suffer unjustly to remain committed to the Lord. The wise community remains steadfast in faith, fervent in prayer, and perseveres in doing good (Rom. 12:12), assured that the Lord will vindicate them on the last day. See 135.

James assures those suffering of their vindication - James 5:7-8

As he had at the beginning of his letter, James turns his attention back to his brothers and sisters, and their trials (see notes on 1:2-4, 12). Having confronted slanderers in 4:8-12 and those who oppress the poor in 5:1-6 in expectation of the Lord’s judgment, James assures those who suffer of their ultimate vindication. As a farmer awaits the valuable harvest from the ground, Christians must patiently await Jesus’ coming (1 Thess. 5:2-4; 2 Pet. 3:1-10). Again, Jesus’ teaching lies in the background of James’ proverbial sayings (e. g. the Parables of the Persistent Widow in Lk 18:1-8; the Tenants in Matt 21:33-46; and the Ten Wedding Attendants in Matt 25:1-13) underscoring the need to wait faithfully for Jesus’ royal return (p).

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