James Chapter 5
"Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for
your miseries that shall come upon you" (v.1)
The reference to rich men weeping again suggests
a link with the beatitudes: "Woe unto you that are rich...that
laugh now, for ye shall mourn and weep...when all men shall speak
well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets" (Lk.6:24-26).
The mourning and weeping was what they were advised to do as a
mark of their repentance in 4:9- perhaps this was therefore to
be as a result of their no longer being rich, i.e. sharing their
wealth with their desperately poor brethren. The beatitudes were
saying that the rich would mourn and weep at the judgment; James
is advising them to do so now, i.e. to judge or condemn themselves
by their self-examination in this life, so that they would not
experience the weeping and gnashing of teeth then (cp. 1 Cor.11:31).
The weeping and howling were to be when "your miseries...shall
come upon you"- i.e. in AD70. Thus the 'coming' of Christ then
was also like the judgment seat at the second coming; the misery
of the AD70 judgments and subsequent Jewish persecution was similar
to that to be seen at the second coming. There should also be
a parallel with the true contrition which we ought to have after
There is an allusion here to Zeph.1:11,12:
"Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh (i.e. the market area near the
temple- see N.I.V.)...I will search Jerusalem with candles, and
punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their
heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil. Therefore
your goods shall become a booty". The Jews Zephaniah addressed
were facing the coming day of the Lord at the hand of Babylon;
the materialism and subsequent money-making from the temple worshippers
that they were guilty of, was being repeated in a more subtle
form by their counterparts in the Jewish ecclesia in the days
before AD70. Zephaniah warned "The great day of the Lord is near,
and hasteth greatly" (Zeph.1:14), hoping to motivate them to repent.
Similarly James : "The coming of the Lord draweth nigh" (5:8).
Ripping off the temple worshippers was parallelled by the financial
abuses of the flock by the elders, to be mentioned in v.4. The
idea of howling in Israel as a result of the impending day of
the Lord due to their sins is common in the Old Testament prophets:
Is.13:6; Jer.25:34; 47:2; Ez.21:12; Joel 1:5,8,11,13;
Mic.1:8; Zech.11:3. Many of these refer to the
priests or the prophet howling. Thus James is saying that as well
as howling in repentance, these ecclesial elders as counterparts
of the priests and prophets under the Mosaic system should be
howling out warning to the flock concerning the coming day of
"Miseries" can also imply spiritual lowness;
the rareness of the Greek word and the other allusions to Rom.7
in James suggest that we are intended to see a connection with
Rom.7:24: "O wretched (same word as "miseries") man that I am!"-
an exclamation concerning the intense evil of his natural mind
that was called forth by Paul's self examination, maybe implying
that if they judged (condemned) themselves now in their self examination,
they would avoid the misery and self-realization they were to
have in the coming holocaust.
"Your riches are corrupted, and your garments
are moth eaten" (v.2).
The similarities between them and the priests
is continued by their garments being described as moth eaten;
which exactly fits the context of Heb.8:13, which describes the
old covenant as a decaying garment about to vanish away in AD70.
Thus the Jewish ecclesial elders were so closely associated with
the Law due to their desire to justify their materialism (which
the riches and garments must also refer to) that they were to
be destroyed along with it. That these rich men were in the ecclesia
is confirmed by the reference back to the rich brother in goodly
apparel being given a prominent place in the ecclesial meeting
Note the present tenses: "are corrupted...are
moth eaten". The unlikelihood that they walked around in literally
moth eaten clothes or that their gold was literally corrupted
indicates that James meant that they were like this in the sight
of God. This provides an interesting key to Mt.6:19-21, to which
there is a clear allusion: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures
upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt..but lay up for yourselves
treasures in Heaven...for their will your heart be also". Thus
James read the moth and rust corrupting as being in God's sight-
if a man's heart is set on earthly things, God looks ahead to
the distant day when those possessions have decayed, perhaps after
the person's death, and as they are then, so God considers them
to be in this present life. The emphasis in Mt.6 is on where the
heart is- which precisely agrees with the context of James. Our
mind is able to see our material possessions in a similar
light to how God does.
"Your gold and silver is cankered; and the
rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your
flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for
the last days" (v.3).
Their riches were specifically "gold and silver"-
which we have identified as the main thing which these brethren
were desiring (see notes on 4:3). The idea of corruption of financial
wealth is repeated in 2 Cor.8:15, where Paul likens the Corinthians'
giving of their financial blessings in order to make an equality
among the brotherhood, to the manna not being left to corrupt
by the morning, but instead being gathered and shared out (Ex.16:18,19).
Those who refused to obey this command found their manna was corrupted
by morning- teaching that unless we share our manna or money (as
2 Cor.8:15 interprets it) before the morning of the Lord's coming,
we will incur His wrath. This fits beautifully with the situation
in James; in our notes on v.1 we saw that there was probably the
suggestion that they share their riches with the poorer brethren,
so that the curses on the rich and happy in the beatitudes did
not come upon them.
The eating of the flesh with fire connects
the literal and symbolic use of fire to destroy the Jewish heavens
and earth (2 Pet.3:7). Note the equation of the believers with
their riches- as rust ate gold and silver, so fire would eat their
flesh. Their life ("flesh") did consist in the abundance
of the things which they possessed (Lk.12:15). The fire also represents
the Gehenna fire of the rejected at judgment; its connection with
the rust of their riches perhaps indicates that the punishment
of the rejected at judgment is at the hands of those things which
caused their rejection. Alternatively, this language may be similar
in idea to "delivering to satan for the destruction of the flesh"
in 1 Cor.5:5; the satan, or evil desires, in this case being their
love of riches.
The Greek for "rust" occurs also in 3:8 translated
"poison", concerning the nature of the tongue and the evil heart
it is associated with. Thus they are being reminded that their
gross materialism was rooted in their evil desires, and it is
this fact that "shall be a witness (judicially) against you".
this is the language of judgment, as if they
were to be soon at the Lord's judgment seat. The idea of eating
flesh at judgment occurs again in Rev.17:16 and 19:18- prophecies
which must have an initial application to the AD70 destruction
of Israel. They describe the military forces responsible for the
AD70 punishments and subsequent persecutions as eating the flesh;
here in James the evil desires behind their riches do the eating,
implying that it was because of these that the judgment came,
again stressing the ultimate importance of the heart's spiritual
condition. Remember that the judgments on Jerusalem in AD70 had
repercussions for natural and spiritual Israel throughout the
Heaping up treasure
The heaping of treasure together is
another allusion to the early chapters of Romans: "Despisest thou
the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering;
not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance
(cp. 2 Pet.3:15 concerning the delay in judgment upon Jerusalem
in order to allow natural and spiritual Israel time to repent),
but after thy hardness and impenitent heart (notice the emphasis
on this) treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath"
in AD70 (Rom.2:4,5). The treasures they had heaped up were therefore
directly proportionate to the amount of wrath they would receive-
perhaps because their wealth was proportionate to the amount of
defrauding and subsequent lack of love shown to their brethren
(5:4). The Heavens and earth (natural and spiritual Israel?) were
"kept in store" (2 Pet.3:7)- the same Greek phrase for "treasuring
up" and heaping treasure together- for judgment by fire in AD70.
The fact this fire was to come on individuals (2 Thess.1:8) invites
us to interpret the heavens and earth as referring to the individual
people that comprised the Jewish system; and we can conclude that
this included both apostate, largely Judaist-influenced Christians,
as well as the natural Jews.
This Greek phrase for laying up treasure also
occurs in Lk.12:21 concerning the 'greater barns' man laying up
treasure for himself. Note that Lk.12:15, also in this context,
has already been alluded to in James 5:3 (see above). The rich
man was a farmer- as were some of the rich brethren amongst James'
readership (5:4); he thought he knew the future, as the same class
in James' letter thought they did (4:13), and the suddenness of
his destruction corresponds with the rich in the ecclesia thinking
that spiritually they were in peace and safety, and then the sudden
destruction of AD70 coming (1 Thess.5:2,3) at "the day of the
Lord"- note the many links between 1 Thess.4:15 - 5:9 and the
Olivet prophecy concerning the same destruction. Again, James
opens up a parable with an interpretation many of us otherwise
would not have reached. The emphasis on their time being "the
last days" is doubtless because they thought they knew the future-
as indicated in 4:13-15 by their lack of saying 'If the Lord will',
presumably because they thought the Lord's coming was far distant.
Therefore along with their prototype in the rich farmer parable,
they thought that they could go on building up their own Kingdom
"Behold, the hire of the labourers who have
reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud,
crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered
into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth" (v.4).
We have frequently made reference to this verse
previously, showing how this was being done by the rich farm owners
in the ecclesia, under the pretext that the poor brethren who
were their employees were spiritually unworthy; and it is to this
that 2:6 concerning despising the poor refers. This situation
could well have occurred within a small household ecclesia, thus
putting much more pressure on the labourer brethren (See Digression
14, 'The Size Of The Early Church').
There is a reference here to Mal.3:5, which is
in the context of describing the day of the Lord's sudden coming
to the temple in fire in AD70 (v.1-3), and primarily refers to
the judgements on the corrupt priesthood: "I will come near to
you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against..false
swearers, and against those that oppress (mg. 'defraud', cp. James
5:4) the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless
(James 1:27), and that turn aside the stranger from his right
(James 2:2cp. 2:6 implies unexpected visiting brethren were refused
material help), and fear not Me..return unto Me...But ye said,
Wherein shall we return?..It is vain to serve God...we call the
proud happy (cp. glorying in their proud boastings)"- Mal.3:5,7,14,15.
Again, the eldership of the Jewish ecclesias is being likened
to the priesthood under the Old Covenant (see notes on 4:8), and
the priests' stealing of the offerings matched the elders financially
abusing the poor of the flock within the ecclesias. The materialism
and subsequent laxness of Israel's shepherds has uncanny similarities
with criticisms which could be levelled at their latter day equivalent.
We have seen in our notes on "consume" in 4:3
and 5:3 that the weakness of these brethren was for hard cash-
hence it was "the hire" that was kept back. Passages warning about
the dangers of loving money (e.g. 1 Tim.6:10) can now be interpreted
with reference to this class of believers. The cry of these brethren
coming up to God connects with Elihu's inspired accusation of
Job causing the cry of the poor to rise to God (Job 34:28), thus
making Job a type of the rich Jews of the first century ecclesia
who had to learn the true ways of God through their sufferings
(see Digression 12
for more on this).
Cain and Abel
A cry entering God's ears recalls he
effect of the slaughter of Abel by Cain (Gen.4:10), who as the
first human liar and murderer was a prototype of the Jewish devil
(Jn.8:44). His persecution and slaughter of Abel represented the
oppression of the poor Christians by these Judaist-influenced
brethren. Cain's killing of Abel pointed forward to that of Christ
by the Jews, and thus James is saying that by enduring the abuses
of these so-called elders in the ecclesia, the poor brethren were
fellowshiping the sufferings of Christ on the cross at the hands
of the Jewish elders of His 'ecclesia'. Each of our sufferings
too can be examined to show echoes of the cross. It appears that
Cain's hate of Abel was based on spiritual pride- Gen.4:3 speaks
of their review by God "at the end of the day" (AVmg.), and Gen.4:7
suggests that then a choice was made between them by God as to
who should be priest: "If thou doest well, shalt thou not have
the excellency?...and unto thee shall be his desire" AVmg.). This
type of hurt pride is easily discernible in the actions of the
Jewish elders towards the more spiritual believers, and in the
persecution of Jesus by the Jews. Thus the description of the
brethren as condemning and killing the just in v.6 applies both
to Christ on the cross and to the spiritual condemnation and lack
of love ("killing", in terms of the sermon on the mount) which
was being shown towards the poor brethren by their reprobate elders.
Note how Rom.12:14 speaks of brethren persecuting each other within
Israel in Egypt
God's hearing of a sincere cry of affliction
also looks back to Israel in bondage to Egypt, whose cry was then
answered by Angelic intervention. Similarly the use of the title
"Lord of Sabaoth" is the equivalent of the "Lord of hosts" with
all its Angelic implications. This emphasis is doubtless due to
the fact that Angels brought the punishment of natural and spiritual
Israel in the AD70 period (Mt.22:7 cp. Rev.19:14; Dan.4:35). The
echo of Israel's experience in Egypt is surely intended: "The
children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried,
and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage" (Ex.2:23).
This would associate the rich Jewish believers with the Egyptians
in their persecution of God's people. And as natural Israel were
delivered at Passover, so these suffering poor believers would
be at the second coming, which the Passover deliverance typified.
"Reaped down" is a totally different Greek word
to that used in "them which have reaped". The latter means to
harvest in the agricultural sense, whilst the former means more
'to gather together', thus linking with the idea of heaping treasure
together in the previous verse. The hard work of the labouring
brethren had brought riches to the rich elders, yet still they
defrauded them of their wages, showing the degree of their wide-eyed
lust for money.
"Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth (the
land- of Israel?), and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts,
as in a day of slaughter" (v.5).
Note the certainty of James' accusations- "Ye
have" occurs four times in as many verses. This shows the certainty
of inspiration, either through James having seen how they had
lived in Israel before their scattering, the inspired reports
of the 'messengers of the churches', or a direct satellite-vision
of their present situation given to James. Their living in pleasure
on the earth may refer back to the affluent man in the parable
of the rich man and Lazarus, who represented the Jewish priesthood
(Lk.16:19). Compare this with the same class being represented
by the rich farmer in the greater barns parable. The mocking of
the requests of poor Lazarus would refer to the rich Jewish eldership
despising the welfare requests of the poor believers.
The use of the phrase "on the earth"
may be reminding them that they were amassing pleasure on earth
as opposed to Heaven, as v.3 had also made clear. Alternatively,
the past tenses here may refer to James' knowledge of how they
had lived "on the earth" or land of Israel. The words for "pleasure"
and "wanton" imply glorious feasting; "ye have nourished your
hearts" therefore equates their minds with their bodies. This
is a theme of James- that our way of thinking and our physical
actions and sensations are indivisible. Their glorious feasting
was really feeding the evil desires of their hearts which had
led them to hold the feasts. Yet in practice they were fattening
themselves in readiness for the slaughter to provide meat for
another feast- that of God's wrath (cp. the description of the
day of the Lord's judgment as a feast with slaughtered beasts
in Is.34:6). The Greek for "nourished" can also mean 'to stiffen',
digging at their refusal to let their hearts be changed by the
word. "A day of slaughter" suggests reference to Ez.34:2-4, which
condemns the pastors of Israel for killing the spiritually fat
of the flock but not spiritually feeding the others; and also
to the "day of slaughter" of those in Jer.12:1-3 whose hearts
were far from God because of their prosperity, although they had
a show of Godliness. There is probably another link to Jer.25:34,
where the shepherds of the flock were to be killed in the AD70
slaughter (Jer.25:38=AD70; 25:32=Mt.24=AD70).
"Ye have condemned and killed the just; and
he doth not resist you" (v.6).
We have shown in our comments on v.4 that "the
just" can refer to both Christ and the oppressed underclass of
believers. Their sumptuous feasts of v.5 were at the expense of
killing fatted animals- who represented the spiritually fat, ideal
sacrifices of Christ and the poor brethren. The idea of killing
being equated with lack of love is popular in James- e.g. 4:2;
2:11, based on Matt.5:22.
There seems to be a contrast here with 4:6, where
God is said to resist (same word) the prayer of the brethren.
Maybe the maximum show of God's displeasure with them was only
in not answering their prayers for material things and money.
Thus an apparent lack of major signs of displeasure from God should
not lull any of us into thinking that this means we are totally
acceptable in God's sight.
"The just one" is a title of the Lord
Jesus (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14) whom they crucified afresh, and
"He doth not resist you" indicates that one particular "just one"
is being referred to. However, "the just" can also refer to those
justified by their faith, which is how it is used in early Romans
(1:17; 2:13), a part of Scripture which James' readers seem to
have been familiar with in view of the number of references made
to it. By being justified by their faith these believers were
not relying on the Mosaic law- for which they seem to have been
condemned by their elders. Yet they did not resist the abuses
made of them, but followed Christ's example on the cross. Thus
we have the impression of this group of brethren being condemned
by pompous, materialistic elders claiming to have some new revelation
from God, who used this as an excuse to withhold their wages and
publicly humiliate them at the communion service (2:2); and in
the face of all this, they did not actively resist but took the
sad state of the ecclesia to God in prayer- cp. the faithful servants
sorrowfully telling their Lord about the abuses of one of their
number by the much-forgiven ecclesial elder (Mt.18:31). The cry
of those servants and their fellow brethren whom James is referring
to "entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth"- and He heard.
"Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming
of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious
fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he
receive the early and latter rain" (v.7).
This final section of the letter appears to be
addressed to the whole ecclesia, with a bias towards those who
were being persecuted by the rich brethren. Its theme is an appeal
for positive co-operation in order to help each other repent and
thus be ready for the imminent coming of the Lord. It is therefore
intensely relevant to the Lord's people of today. Note that James
appears to have expected the second coming in his time: "Unto
the coming of the Lord".
"Patient" means literally to be 'long-spirited',
again showing the fundamental importance of the control of the
mind. It can also imply to suffer patiently, as if encouraging
the abused brethren to continue to use their spiritual minds to
spiritually endure the trials the others were giving them. Their
patience is equated with that of God, as a husbandman waiting
for spiritual fruit to develop. This shows James' urging of them
to continue their non-resistance to these brethren so that they
would bear spiritual fruit, and maybe also the suggestion that
they were to be patient with the misguided elders until they too
bore spiritual fruit. James 5 goes on to speak of the patience
of the prophets in continuing to speak the word- as if to encourage
these brethren to keep using the word to help the others to bear
spiritual fruit- cp. notes on 3:18.
"The coming of the Lord" is parallelled with
receiving the early and latter rain, which must be referring back
to Joel 2:23 and Dt.11:13,14 concerning the blessings of the Kingdom
which would be experienced once Israel repented. Note that there
is a dearth of direct Biblical evidence to support the idea that
the early and latter rains refer to the outpourings of the Spirit
in the first century and the Kingdom- although humanly speaking
the idea fits nicely. Biblically they seem to refer to the physical
blessings of the land as a result of Israel's obedience. Thus
again there is the inference that James looked for the literal
second coming and establishment of the Kingdom being in AD70,
conditional on Israel's repentance. The precious spiritual fruit
of the ecclesia would only be fully harvested by the Lord then-
maybe indicating that the attitude of mind we develop now will
be fully manifested in terms of spiritual fruit by our reaction
to that great moment of absolute truth at the judgment. "Precious
fruit" carries the specific idea of great financial value in Greek-
as if to encourage them that the spiritual fruit being developed
by their poverty was the true riches, thus again connecting with
the allusion in v.3 to the Lord's words about treasure in Heaven
rather than on earth.
The long patience of God for spiritual development
until the coming of the Lord is clearly parallel with 2 Pet.3:7-15,
which says that the apparent delay in the Lord's coming was in
order to give them the opportunity of developing spiritual fruit.
"As workers together with God" for their spiritual growth and
subsequent acceptance at judgement, they were to be patient under
the trials God was bringing- as God too was patient in watching
their gradual development of fruit. The husbandman receiving the
rains connects with Dt.11:13,14 describing a repentant, obedient
to the word Israel being given the rains- again showing the Jewish
audience of the letter, and stressing the need for the whole ecclesia
"Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts:
for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh" (v.8).
Again, James throws down an ultimate challenge-
to show the same supreme patience to our stumbling spiritual development
and blatant faults which God shows to us, to both the trials which
help us develop and also to our weak brethren.
"Stablish" means both to set fast/ confirm, and
also to turn resolutely- which neatly makes it relevant to both
groups in the readership, the one who needed to continue to develop
their already spiritual mind, and the other who needed to resolutely
turn their hearts around in repentance. The word occurs relatively
frequently in Thessalonians, also in the context of preparing
for the Lord's coming- showing that the main way of preparing
for the second coming is by a conscious development of our way
of thinking, which can only be achieved through true commitment
to the word. Very often the Greek word for "stablish" is used
about God stablishing our heart- showing that God will work on
our hearts in accord with our personal effort. 1 Thess.3:12,13
even suggests that this stablishing or confirming of the mind
which we have personally developed will be done for us at the
judgment seat, where self-doubt as to whether we have had a truly
spiritual mind will loom large: "Abound in love one toward another...to
the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before
God...at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ". Notice this stablishing
is dependent on loving each other now- very relevant in the James
The coming of the Lord was drawing
nearer on behalf of their patience. The exhortation to patience
was not just because they needed to patiently endure in their
spirituality, but also because James was probably aware that the
second coming of the Lord which he expected in the first century
was quite likely to be delayed, due to the lack of Israel's repentance.
Both James and the parallel Peter (2 Pet.3:11,15) are saying:
'Be patient for the second coming and continue your spiritual
patience so that it will come quicker and you won't have to be
patient for so long'.
Thus Peter's parallel to this v.8 is "The end
of all things is at hands: be ye therefore sober (self-controlled-
by having a stablished mind), and watch unto prayer. And above
all things have fervent charity among yourselves" (1 Pet.4:7,8).
They were to continue their effective love to those brethren who
so abused them, praying earnestly for the second coming. This
would only be achieved by their continued attention to stablishing
their thinking, so that it was consistently controlled by the
word rather than just being partially controlled- which was the
root cause of the semi-faith and lukewarm commitment to true spirituality
that had been the downfall of the other brethren.
"Draweth nigh" literally means 'is made near'-
the more spiritually aware, especially those who had heard of
Peter's reasoning in 2 Pet.3, would have seen in this the implication
that a stablishing of the mind would draw near the Lord's coming.
The same Greek phrase occurs in 4:8 "Draw nigh to God, and He
will draw nigh to you"- and we have seen that this refers to praying
to God acceptably from a heart influenced by the word. Such prayer
would hasten the second coming- a basic principle taught in the
Lord's prayer, seeing there is no point in praying "Thy Kingdom
come" unless we believe those prayers will result in the days
being shortened to that day.
"Grudge not one against another, brethren,
lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the
In view of the gross abuses going on, it must
have been a sore temptation for the poor brethren to grudge against
their elders- not least when they turned them away empty handed
at pay day (v.4). James is pleading with them to keep up their
excellent attitude of not resisting (v.6)- because at any moment
the true judge would come. And note too that if they did resist
by grudging, they also would be condemned at the Lord's coming-
for taking the judgment of these renegade servants of the Lord
into their own hands. How much less have we any right to judge
our fellow servants of today! James' reasoning implied that the
verdict of condemnation pronounced on them by the other brethren
(v.6) was not valid- but they would only be condemned if they
grudged against such treatment.
The Greek for "grudge" is normally
used concerning the groaning of sincere prayer, often in silence,
brought about by suffering- e.g. Mk.7:34; Acts 7:34; Rom.8:23,26;
2 Cor.5:2,4- although it also carries the idea of complaining.
Thus instead of making their complaints to each other, they were
to quietly make them to God- and the Lord Jesus, with "groanings
(same word as "grudge") which cannot be uttered" (Rom.8:26) would
make powerful intercession for them.
Peter's equivalent for them being condemned is
in his warning that Sodom and Gomorrha were "condemned with an
overthrow", making them an ensample unto those that after should
live unGodly" (2 Pet.2:6). If this is a valid connection, James
is saying that vicious bitterness against brethren who are wrongly
abusing you, leading you to condemn them, is the same magnitude
of sin as living the reprobate life of the Sodomites. Similarly
"the judge standeth before the door" is clearly matched by 1 Pet.4:4,5,
which says that some - the same group of Judaizers within the
ecclesia?- "think it strange that ye run not with them to the
same excess of riot, speaking evil of you (this is the sort of
accusation often made by the Judaist infiltrators- cp. their smear
campaign on Paul): who shall give account to him that is ready
(cp. "before the door") to judge the quick and the dead". Thus
a life of "excess of riot" is the same as giving way to bitterness
in the heart that leads to condemnation of the brethren.
This connection between 5:9 and 1 Pet.4:5 parallels
the coming of the Lord in judgment with the resurrection- the
judging of living and dead. Thus James and Peter did not think
of the Lord's coming in any sense other than how we think of the
second coming- to raise and judge the dead, and establish the
Kingdom on earth (see notes on 5:7). Thus Paul, probably writing
to the same group of Jewish believers: "Wherefore we receiving
(i.e. being so near to receiving it we are practically receiving
it now) a Kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby
we may serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear" (Heb.12:28)-
i.e. in the development of truly spiritual characteristics in
our heart. Such acute awareness of the imminence of the Lord's
coming should surely be matched by us, as we live on the very
edge of time and human experience as we know it, when "the end
of all things is at hand" (1 Pet.4:7).
This likening of the second coming to Christ
standing at the door must surely connect with Rev.3:20: "I stand
at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the
door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him". Having a
formal meal ("sup") with the believer must connect with the Lord's
parable of the marriage supper representing the Kingdom. These
letters having been written before AD70, Christ is maybe saying
that if only there was a true response to His word on an individual
basis ("If any man..."), then he would fully come in the glory
of His Kingdom in AD70. The principle of interpretting Scripture
by Scripture- in this case Rev.3:20 by James 5:9- surely has violence
done to it if the Lord's standing, knocking at the door is not
understood with some reference to the second coming.
"Take, my brethren, the prophets, which have
spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering
affliction and of patience" (v.10).
We have suggested in our notes on v.7 that the
example of the prophets patiently speaking forth the word of God
amidst opposition from others in their ecclesia, was an example
of the patience the wrongly denigrated brethren needed in continuing
to gently rebuke the erring brethren with the word; and to continue
patiently letting the word dwell in their minds so that they did
not let bitterness develop. This appears to be another allusion
to the beatitudes- this time to Mt.5:11,12: "Blessed are ye, when
men (even in the ecclesia, in their case) shall revile you, and
persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely...rejoice,
and be exceeding glad (cp. James 1:2)..for so persecuted they
the prophets which were before you". This enduring physical suffering
not only associated them with Christ, but also with a whole band
of men who had faithfully spoken forth the word in the past. The
fact the prophets had suffered for speaking forth the word to
an apostate Israel indicates that the persecution of the brethren
was due to their Biblically hitting the rest of the ecclesia below
the belt. The Greek for "suffering affliction" really means 'hardship',
referring to the obvious domestic hardship brought about by the
holding back of the wages by the criticized brethren.
We have suggested that the eldership in the Jewish
ecclesias probably had the gift of prophecy, and even if they
did not, these to whom James was writing certainly thought they
did. Thus James is pointing out from much Biblical precedent that
being a prophet was associated with experiencing hardship as a
result of persecution and unfair treatment by those who claimed
to be brethren (so the Matt.5:12 allusion intimates); and also
with being patient with many opposers. Such reasoning would have
been very telling on these elders. It is hard to see why the reminder
should be given that the prophets spoke in the name of the Lord.
Maybe it was because the poor brethren's Scriptural protests were
being ridiculed as not being spoken in the name of the Lord. In
this case James would be encouraging them that by reason of their
being persecuted for their message, they were proving their association
with those who were truly inspired to speak in the Lord's name.
Speaking forth the word is often associated with carrying the
name of God; not only in the sense that prophets spoke God's word
in the Lord's name, but that the word develops the attributes
of the Name (Ex.34:4-7) in a man's character, thus leading him
to carry God's Name if he shows forth the truth, mercy and patience
of the Lord. By their correct response to the word these believers
were similar to the prophets in that they spoke in the name of
the Lord. See Digression 5, 'The Name, The Word and The Glory'
for more about the word giving men the name of God.
A pitiful Lord
"Behold, we count them happy which endure.
Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end
of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy"
The concluding theme of this letter is that despite
their faults, all the ecclesia should pray for God's forgiveness
for the others, especially bearing in mind the physical affliction
that had been brought on some of them because of the grossness
of their sins (see notes on 4:12). Job was a prophet (Job 29:4),
one of those referred to in the preceding verse, and his example
seems to be behind much of what James says in this chapter. "Happy"
being the same word translated "Blessed" in the beatitudes encourages
us to see an allusion here back to Matt.5:10-12, which v.10 has
already referred to: blessed are those who endure tribulation
for speaking the word. The Jews ("we") counted the prophets as
blessed people because of their sufferings (Mt.23:29; Acts 13:15,27).
Indeed, the Greek for "count" means 'to beautify', and is from
the word for "happy/ blessed". The suffering which Job endured
was not just physical but more especially from the mental trauma
created in him by the criticisms of him by his friends with their
(false?) claims to be inspired prophets, saying that his sufferings
were due to gross spiritual weakness. This was probably the elders'
reason for not supporting the poor brethren- they would have reasoned
that their hardships were a sign of God's displeasure because
of their lack of spirituality.
We have discussed the problem of Job being credited
with "patience" despite his mistakes in Digression 6; his patience
seem to have been in continuing to speak forth the true word of
God, and in having the humility at the end to accept his failures.
That Job did have failures is indicated by James saying that in
"the end of the Lord" He showed great mercy and pity, which would
imply forgiveness. The same word is used in Heb.10:28 concerning
the man dying without mercy, i.e. forgiveness, under the Law as
a punishment for sin.
"Very pitiful" is very intense in Greek- elsewhere
it is translated "bowels", "inward affection". Thus the position
of Job touched the Lord's heart in a way few other human experiences
are said to in the word. We have shown (in Digression 6) Job to
have been a man who allowed himself to be too far influenced by
the Judaist-type philosophy of the friends, the 'elders' of his
ecclesia, and yet to have kept doggedly reflecting on and believing
God's basic principles so that he eventually came to an appreciation
of human nature and God's greatness which few others have done.
The poor brethren in the Jewish ecclesias were in a similar position-
being worn down by the spiritually cocksure reasoning of their
elders, feeling increasingly spiritually desperate because of
their words, as Job did, and therefore needing every encouragement
to patiently continue rather than give way in bitterness, so that
they might come to the same end as Job. The tremendous pity which
God showed for Job would also be shown to them if they fully fellowshiped
his example by their patient endurance.
Above all things...
"But above all things, my brethren, swear not,
neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other
oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall
into condemnation" (v.12).
This may well be referring to Job again, in his
over-dogmatism brought about by the intensity of his sufferings;
e.g. his cursing of the day he was born, and his swearing that
he will never confess to being a sinner or admit that his sufferings
were justified because of his sinfulness (see Job 27:5 and context).
This was the type of statement which he repented of at the end.
Similarly, James wants the brethren not to let the emotionally
charged nature of their situation lead them to make any other
response apart from a humble response governed by the word. Hence
v.13 and 14 go on to say that the response to affliction, sickness
or falling away should always be expressed in the form of prayer,
rather than in self-generated oaths. The stress of "above all
things" is hard to understand until the passage in the sermon
on the mount which this verse is based on is properly appreciated.
Mt.5:33 quotes Lev.19:12 concerning swearing, which warns that
oaths by the Lord's name should not be made lightly but had to
be fulfilled, otherwise the name of the Lord would be blasphemed.
Therefore the Lord quotes this as saying "Thou shalt not forswear
thyself (i.e. swear falsely), but shalt perform (His emphasis
being on that word) unto the Lord thine oaths" (i.e. oaths made
in His name).
But because Christ so appreciated the extreme
proneness to failure which we have by nature, He correctly declared
that whatever men claimed they would do 'by the Lord's name' was
likely to be "of the evil one", i.e. the devil of their own heart
(Mt.5:37), and therefore plans to do the Lord's work should be
expressed in straightforward, unassuming language. Even with the
best intention in the world, the Lord knew that oaths could so
easily go unperformed. Christ concluded His advice with His reason
for it: "For whatsoever is more than these cometh of the evil
one" (AVmg.). The phrasing of James 5:12 is similar, and matches
this with "Lest ye fall into condemnation"- which connects with
the theme of the whole letter, that "above all things" the believer
must not give way to his innate evil desires because doing so
will lead to rejection at the judgment. And again, he singles
out the expression of those desires through the tongue ("swear
not") as being the most likely form of failure. The Greek word
used for 'falling' here does not carry the idea of falling headlong,
as in "Fall from your own steadfastness" in 2 Pet.3:17, but rather
of a more gradual stepping down from their high spiritual position-
as if to say that whether they dramatically fell by renouncing
their faith or apparently just stepped down a little by responding
to the trials given by these false brethren, the result was the
same- condemnation at the judgment which James believed was so
imminent. "Condemnation" is also translated "hypocrisy"- i.e.
they could step down into a semi-spirituality, which was tantamount
to being condemned.
"Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray.
Is any merry? Let him sing psalms" (v.13).
The previous verse has been emphasizing the importance
of not letting our words run away with us- and therefore James
now tells us to channel all our words through prayer, rather than
indulge in the circular talking of Job and the friends which was
the exact opposite of "Yea,yea...nay,nay". "Afflicted" is the
same word translated "affliction" in v.10 concerning Job's hardships.
"Merry" really means 'To be cheered
up' after hardship, and is only used elsewhere in the record of
Paul's shipwreck concerning the company being of "good cheer"
after Paul's stirring exhortation on the deck- surely one of the
most dynamic and powerful appeals for faith ever heard (Acts 27:22,36).
It may be that some of them had found legitimate release from
their sufferings, perhaps by contributions from other ecclesias.
Alternatively, James may be talking hypothetically: 'Even if any
of you find relief, then express your joy in the words of the
psalms rather than giving reign to your own natural inclinations
to make a rash oath to God in gratitude'. Those who had been 'cheered
up' may refer to the rich brethren- instead of expressing their
joy in rowdy parties dressed up with spiritual excuses (Jude 12;
1 Cor.11:21; James 2:2), they should express it in the words of
psalms. "Sing" here is also translated "making melody" in Eph.5:19,
where Paul speaks of doing so in the heart by singing "psalms
and hymns and spiritual songs".
It is perhaps significant that Paul advises them
to do this as an antidote to being drunk (Eph.5:18)- and if James
is speaking about the need to sing psalms instead of indulging
in drunken revelry at the communion service, then he would be
saying the same thing as Paul. Drunkenness at the breaking of
bread must have been a regular occurrence at Corinth at least,
from how Paul writes (e.g. "Another is drunken...when(ever) ye
come together...this is not to eat the Lord's supper, therefore-
1 Cor.11:20,21). Singing psalms would have been done at the breaking
of bread service to imitate the singing of the Hallel Psalms (113-118)
at the last supper (Mt.26:30); and the reference to Psalm singing
in 1 Cor.14:26 also seems to be in the communion service context.
Thus it may be that v.13-16 are describing what should have been
happening at the memorial feast- there should have been prayer
rather than complaining by the suffering, psalm singing rather
than drunkenness by the joyful, the time given over to conversation-
which would have been considerable, if the service was based on
that of the Jewish Sabbath or Passover- should have been spent
confessing faults rather than bragging, condemning and spreading
false doctrine (Jude 10-12 cp. 2 Pet.2:18,19), and this should
have given way to loving prayer for those who had been struck
sick because of committing such sins.
"Is any sick among you? Let him call for the
elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing
him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith
shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if
he have committed sins, they ("it", Gk.) shall be forgiven him"
There are two different words translated "sick"
here. The first implies more 'weariness of mind', as if spiritual
weakness is being referred to. The references to "save a soul
from death and...hide a multitude of sins" in v.20 is in the same
context of spiritual sickness. In any case, it is unlikely that
James would be saying that any physical sickness could be cured,
bearing in mind Paul's thorn in the flesh. "The sick" in v.15
however does refer to physical sickness, although "raise him up"
is also used concerning a spiritual revival (Rom.13:11 cp. Eph.5:14).
This confusion between physical and spiritual sickness is understandable
once it is appreciated that physical sickness was brought upon
weak members of the first century ecclesia in order to lead them
to repentance (see notes on 4:12). Therefore v.16 tells them to
confess their faults to each other so that they could pray for
forgiveness and subsequent healing for their brethren.
"The elders of the church" may be those of the
Jerusalem ecclesia, as that is whom "the elders" often refers
to in the New Testament. However, it is just as likely that they
refer to the Spirit-gifted eldership of the individual ecclesias
to whom this letter was sent- their anointing with oil shows their
control of the use of the Spirit. This pouring out of oil not
only recalls the use of the Spirit to heal the physically sick
by the disciples (Mk.6:13), but also the outpouring of the Spirit
in the gift of forgiveness in Acts 2:37,38 (see Digression 12).
In this case James would be emphasizing the need to respect the
eldership because of their possession of the Spirit, which made
them God's representatives regardless of their personal spirituality.
Compare this with David's respect for apostate, Spirit-gifted
Saul, and the respect Israel had to give their reprobate judges
(Ps.82:1-5). Notice that it was possible for "the prayer of faith"
by these elders to "save the sick" despite their unspirituality.
Similarly Paul warned an identical group at Corinth that although
they had faith to move mountains through the Spirit- e.g. curing
the sick- their lack of love would deprive them of salvation personally
(1 Cor.13:2). Spiritual success in any form- be it in preaching
or the triumph of faith in a particular problem- can so easily
tempt us to feel that therefore in all other areas our life must
be acceptable with God. But not necessarily so.
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray
one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent
prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (v.16).
Note the parallel effect of the prayer of a friendly
brother and that of the eldership in v.14,15- again indicating
that in ultimate terms an elder had no spiritual power that was
not possessed by any brother who had a humble faith.
The Job allusions continue, this time to his
prayer for the forgiveness of his friends (Job 42:8). Job himself
was ill at the time he prayed for the friends- his "captivity"
was ended "when he prayed for his friends" (Job 42:10). That James
too was counselling the sick to pray for the sick is implied by
"pray one for another, that ye may be healed". The sickness being
brought on as a result of their sins in holding false, Judaist
doctrine confirms that James read Job, under inspiration, as a
type of those influenced by Judaist thinking (see Digression 6).
Based on Job's example, James is probably advising them to concentrate
on forgiving and loving one another, as this would lead to their
personal repentance and thus their cure too. This would imply
that the fundamental sin that was causing their sickness was their
gross lack of love and spiritual concern for each other.
As these sick brethren were to call for the elders
of the ecclesia to pray for them, it may be that the rich, spiritually
proud brethren whom James has been reprimanding in his letter
may not have been the true eldership, although they fancied themselves
as such. However, it appears that the problem of spiritual and
subsequent physical sickness was widespread in all groups of the
ecclesia, including the eldership. There seems, at first glance,
two types of prayer spoken of in v.15 and 16; a calling of the
elders to pray for the sick person, and the afflicted ones confessing
their sins to each other in order to effect a cure. Yet in view
of what we know of the corruption of the eldership, it would seem
better to treat these two descriptions as parallel- the elder
who had been struck seriously sick was to call the others to him,
and at the pathetic bedside of the once arrogant rich farmer they,
too, were to confess their sins, so that not only would he be
cured, but their less serious sicknesses would also be lifted.
The Lord's prayer
To be successful this kind of prayer
had to be "effectual". The Greek 'energeo' gives the idea of dynamic
expenditure of energy. Such effort in prayer for the spiritual
welfare of others can only come from a truly selfless spirit.
The prayer of our Lord for us and the disciples in Gethsemane
springs to mind. The connection is strengthened by "fervent" being
the same word translated "earnestly" in Lk.22:44 concerning the
Lord's praying more earnestly with huge tears. This would suggest
that James understood Christ's prayer in Gethsemane not just to
have been for personal strength but also for our forgiveness and
salvation. Thus in Lk.22:46 He could encourage the sleepy disciples
to rise and pray also- i.e. as well as him praying for
them- that they did not fall into temptation. Note how "watch"
in Mt.26:38 is elsewhere used about spiritual watching rather
than being on the look out for people approaching. Heb.5:6,7 lends
support by saying that Christ's agonizing prayer in the garden
that God would save Him from death was fulfilling the type of
Melchizedek, who prayed to God for other people, not just himself.
The only way of reconciling all this is to see Christ's prayer
for salvation from death as being motivated by His desire for
our salvation from death. No wonder James refers to this as the
supreme example of showing spiritual love for our brethren in
our prayer life.
"Availeth" means literally to 'in-work'- as if
prayer for others will help us personally by our offering it.
This idea seems to be picked up in the next verse.
Of like passions
"Elias was a man subject to (Strong: 'similarly
affected by') like passions as we are (James found
it hard too), and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain:
and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and
six months" (v.17).
Elijah's prayer exemplifies how intensely we
should pray for the spiritual benefit of others, and how that
in itself helped him spiritually. In view of the exalted status
of Elijah in Jewish theology, James stresses how he was of "like
passions" to us (cp. Acts 14:15)- i.e. he too, because of his
inherent human nature, did not find intense prayer easy. Elijah's
fervent prayer was that it might not rain, and in the context
of James his prayer was for the spiritual good of Ahab and apostate
Israel. In the same way as apostles like Paul and Peter could
pray for physical sickness to come upon men to lead them to repentance,
so Elijah prayed for the famine to come upon Israel to make them
realize their sin. James is saying that if the sick brethren and
indeed the whole ecclesia prayed for forgiveness with the same
intensity that the apostles and Elijah had prayed for such physical
problems to come upon the spiritually weak, then those problems
could be lifted. But it was only those who were sensitive to the
true spirit of the word, in this case in the Elijah record, who
would have grasped this.
The intensity of Elijah's prayer needs some thought
to appreciate, as superficially it appears that it is hardly recorded
that he prayed for the drought. However, it must have been as
a result of his prayer that he could say "there shall not be dew
nor rain these years, but according to my word". This is because
of a principle outlined by Eliphaz in Job 22:27,28; he said that
one of the blessings of living in good conscience with God was
that one's prayers were powerful, and therefore "Thou shalt make
thy prayer unto (God), and He shall hear thee...thou shalt also
decree a thing (i.e. in prayer), and it shall be established unto
thee". Thus the power of prayer is such that effectively requests
became decrees, so sure can we be of their being answered. So
many of the great prayers of Scripture are not littered with "If
it be Thy will"- instead, because those who prayed were saturated
with knowledge of God's will through their familiarity with the
word which contains God's will (Jn.1:13 cp. 1 Pet.1:23), they
could pray whatever they willed, and could be confident
of being heard because the word was in them. And our Lord had
said that nothing less was possible for His people now- Jn.15:7.
Therefore if a man of our passions like Elijah could pray so powerfully
for the weak in his ecclesia, the same was possible for that of
the first century.
Triumph on Carmel
"And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain,
and the earth brought forth her fruit" (v.18).
Again we are left to imagine when, where and
how Elijah made this prayer, seeing that it is unrecorded. After
his glorious triumph of faith on Carmel in the sight of all Israel,
there appeared at last to be a significant repentance: "When all
the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, Yahweh,
He is the God", and promptly proceeded to massacre the priests
of Baal. No doubt finding the four barrels of water to put on
the sacrifice as the ritual required had involved considerable
effort- making them reflect on the God whom they knew in their
hearts provided rain. Elijah then went up to the solitude of the
crags of Carmel, "cast himself down upon the earth, and put his
face between his knees (in fervent prayer), and said to his servant,
Go up now, look toward the sea" for rain. This command was repeated
seven times. Being a man of like passions as us, it took seven
repeated prayers, a widow continually coming and not taking no
for an answer, for there to be even an indication of a response.
Thus Elijah's 'praying again' was for a lifting of the physical
curse on the land because of their repentance. Note his running
before Ahab's chariot as the rain started to come down, symbolic
of his belief that by his repentance Ahab was the righteous king
that he had come to herald (1 Kings 18:39,33,42-46). This same
calibre of head-between-the-knees, up-in-the-mountain prayer,
consistently repeated, would lead to the lifting of the sickness
placed on the first century ecclesia.
The heaven giving rain is associated
with the earth bringing forth her fruit- miraculously, seeing
that it is unlikely that anything had been planted in the previous
3« years of total drought. Similarly God would act over and above
their personal ability to develop spiritual fruit in them, given
this basic prerequisite of total faith in prayer, based on the
word truly dwelling in them as it did in Elijah. Similar victories
of faith and repentance are just as possible for us, especially
during the three and a half year period of tribulation which may
well come upon us in the last days. James' specific, inspired
mention of the three and a half year period of drought must be
significant, as the duration of the drought is not mentioned in
the Old Testament record. It is possible to historically demonstrate
that there was a three and a half year period of especial difficulty
in the land and among the Jews empire-wide before the final cataclysm
of AD70; during this period the Jewish ecclesias would have had
special opportunity to repent. The situation of AD70 is more than
likely to be replicated in our last days. The way to ensure that
we will stand up to that test is by each showing unlimited love
and concern for the true spiritual welfare of our brother. The
final two verses sum this up, and thereby the whole theme of the
"Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth,
and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth
the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from
death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (v.19,20).
Erring from the truth in the terms of James'
letter is not only limited to doctrinal deviance in the sense
of 'first principles', but in showing a lack of love of each other
and of the word, having a selfish materialism rather than a truly
spiritual mind, and having a heart uninfluenced by the word, resulting
in uncontrolled words and a lack of true compassion towards the
Lord's brethren. In the context of the previous verses, James
is giving extra incentive to pray for each other's repentance
and forgiveness- such prayer as well as personal discussion and
example really can "convert him". This shows that to some degree
our prayers can influence the spiritual state of another brother
over and above his personal level of spirituality- given certain
prerequisites. If this is not so, and we each totally determine
our own spiritual destiny regardless of the effort of others,
then these closing exhortations of James 5 are without purpose.
Converting the sinner
"Convert" here means literally 'to
revert'. It is used in the New Testament particularly of the conversion
of the Jews- i.e. a reverting of their hearts to the true spirit
of their father Abraham (cp. Lk.1:17). Interestingly, Is.6:10
and Acts 28:27 talk of the Jews refusing to be sensitive to the
word preached in the first century, and therefore not being healed-
both physically and spiritually. This background of the word 'convert'
nicely fits the context of James in its associating the ecclesia
with the apostate Jewish world by which they were influenced,
and warning that unless they were more sensitive to the word they
would not be healed. By the same token those who did speak forth
the word to try to convert their brethren were being classified
along with Christ and the apostles, who also spoke the word to
try to convert the Jews.
"If...one convert him, let him know..." sounds
as if the brethren were not consciously trying to win converts-
yet James encourages them that their conscious 'preaching' of
the word to their wayward brethren and praying for them were all
to the same effect as preaching, seeing that these brethren were
spiritually dead anyway. By re-awakening them to a truly spiritual
life they were saving their soul from death. The 'soul' here may
mean the body or life, in the sense that ultimately acceptance
at the judgment seat would mean that their "soul" or life would
not die; however, it is more likely that the soul here refers
to the spiritual record of the believer (see Digression 3). The
language of preaching- i.e. conversion and saving souls- is being
used here about the upbuilding of brethren. The same style is
found in Dan.12:3: "They that be wise (Heb. 'teachers', i.e. prudent
guides) shall shine as the (stars)...and they that turn many to
righteousness as the stars". 1 Thess.1:8 similarly speaks of the
word of the Lord sounding out from the Thessalonian ecclesia-
in the sense that all the ecclesias near and far were inspired
by their evident faith. Thus it was their spiritual example to
others that was their sounding out of the word. Another example
is Phil.2:15 speaking of the ecclesia witnessing as lights in
the world to "a crooked and perverse nation". A closer examination
of this passage shows that this was through their holding forth
the true word of life to the Judaizers amongst them. The specific
nation referred to cannot be the Roman world in general, but rather
the Jews. This suggestion is clinched by the fact that Paul is
here quoting Dt.32:5, which is describing the apostate among the
ecclesia in the wilderness as "a perverse and crooked generation".
Thus Paul like James is using the language of preaching, to describe
how they should work through the word and prayer to build up the
apostate amongst the new Israel during their wilderness walk to
the Kingdom. Likewise Acts 20:7 speaks of Paul "preaching unto"
the Troas ecclesia in his breaking of bread exhortation. The language
of preaching being used in upbuilding existing believers may help
explain why Paul sometimes speaks to believers as if he is imparting
basic doctrine to them; thus "Behold, I shew you a mystery: We
shall not all sleep" (1 Cor.15:51) was written to believers. Writing
to the same ecclesia a while later there is more of the same:
"As though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's
stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor.5:20).
The end of all things
The exact parallel of these verses
in James is found in 1Pet.4:7,8: "The end of all things is at
hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer (for each other,
we may imply from the James parallel). And above all things have
fervent charity (cp. fervent prayer, James 5:16- through which
true love can be expressed) among yourselves: for charity shall
cover the multitude of sins". This parallel shows that fervent
prayer for each other spiritually is the way fervent love is shown.
Converting the erring brother will "hide a multitude of sins",
alluding to Prov.10:12: "Love covereth all sins". True love is
therefore shown by loving rebuke, rather than turning a blind
eye. Truly "the end of all things is at hand" for us, as never
before. There is a special need in our last days to show these
qualities of true love to each other.
We have to seriously ask ourselves personally
whether we have that degree of selfless concern for the spiritual
welfare of each other that we would climb mountains to find the
solace conducive to prayer; to have our face between our knees
in the intensity of our pleading with God, for the sake of our
brother's spiritual growth. Elijah and the brethren of the first
century did this for men who were far gone in their declension;
how much more motivated should we be for our far less errant brethren?
Many of us do not have the fear of sin, both in ourselves and
in our brethren, which leads us to such intensity of effort either
for others or for ourselves in our own weaknesses. Surely each
of us needs to assimilate more the idea of striving for God's
glory in the conquest of the flesh. But this is the high challenge
of the letter of James- to drive ourselves onwards to an altogether
higher and fuller spirituality, which by its very nature concerns
itself with the triumph of others in the day of judgment to the
same extent as we care for our own.
There is a strong hint throughout the
New Testament that the quicker the believers develop spiritually,
the sooner the Lord's coming will happen (notably 2 Pet.3:11,12,15).
It also seems likely that Christ's coming is to some degree dependent
on the repentance or spiritual condition of Israel. At least,
this is how it seems God wishes us to perceive things.
It therefore follows that the New Testament letters
should emphasize and encourage spiritual development so that the
second coming would occur. The letters of Hebrews, James and Peter
being addressed specifically to the Jews (James 1:1 "The twelve
tribes which are scattered abroad"- a strange phrase to use to
Gentiles), it is fitting that they should emphasize the need for
each Jewish Christian to develop a spiritual character, so that
the day of Christ would be hastened, and that the judgements would
not fall on the believers, and less heavily on the natural Jews.
The relevance of such exhortation to the present generation, apparently
living on the brink of the second coming, is therefore acute:
"Be ye also patient: stablish your hearts: for the coming of the
Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest
ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door" (5:8,9).
"Denying...worldly lusts (of James 1:14 etc.) we should live soberly,
righteously, and Godly in this present world (the whole theme
of James); looking for...the glorious appearing of the great God
and our saviour Jesus Christ" (Tit.2:12,13).