James Five

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

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James 5:1 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.

James 5:2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.

James 5:3 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.

for the last days. This section (James 5:1-9) is obviously set in the context of “the last days.” While it is true that the disparity between rich and poor has always been a great problem (and thus any period in church history could have been held to fulfill this prophecy), it also seems true that the problem grows more severe every year. The communist scourge, which all but conquered the world before it suddenly disintegrated (maybe!) was fueled by intellectuals who took advantage of the feeling of hopelessness in the downtrodden masses, on whose backs had been built the great fortunes of the wealthy classes. The institution of slavery had already contributed to the amassing of wealth by prosperous merchants and landowners in many nations. Even now, despite the development of a superficial democracy in various nations, the reality is that wealth and political influence in greater and more insidious—even conspiratorial—financial empires have concentrated the wealth of the world in the hands of a relatively small number of multi-national power brokers. That this will still be the case in the very last days before Christ returns is evident from the graphic description of the destruction of commercial Babylon in Revelation 18.

James 5:4 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.

Lord of sabaoth. This phrase means “the Lord of hosts.” In the New Testament, this appellation of God is used only here and in Romans 9:29 (the latter quoting Isaiah 1:9). This phrase is used very frequently in the Old Testament, the term “hosts” referring to the heavenly hosts of angels in the armies of God.

James 5:5 Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

day of slaughter. In general (the American revolution being one of the few exceptions), those who fight in wars do not profit from them financially, nor do the common people whose lands and lives are devastated by them. The profiteers are, again, the wealthy bankers and other financiers who underwrite them.

James 5:6 Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

James 5:7 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.

James 5:8 Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

draweth nigh. In fact, the great “Judge standeth before the door,” as it were (James 5:9, note Revelation 3:20; Mark 13:29). Even though a great majority of Christian believers in every nation are among those of whom the rich have taken unjust advantage, the Lord would advise prayerful patience rather than rebellion and retribution. He will make all things right when He comes in judgment.

James 5:9 Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.

James 5:10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.

James 5:11 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.

patience of Job. Many modern theologians have alleged that the book of Job was a great dramatic poem, with Job merely a fictional character concerned with the perennial problem of undeserved suffering. James, however, confirms the historicity of Job and his experiences.

pitiful. That is, “full of compassion.”

James 5:12 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.

James 5:13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

James 5:14 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:

sick. The promise of healing in this passage applies only to the special case of one whose sins have brought about the Lord's chastening in the form of sickness. The word “sick” in this verse means “ill.” In James 5:13, on the other hand, the word “afflicted” means “suffering trouble” (same as in James 5:10; also, the same as “endure hardness” in 2 Timothy 2:3; see also 2 Timothy 2:9 and 4:5). In such a case of affliction in a believer's life, assuming it is not clearly a specific chastising because of sin, the admonition is: “Let him pray.” The Lord in such cases will answer in whatever way best serves His greater purpose (note Paul's testimony in 2 Corinthians 12:9). In cases of divinely imposed illness, however, when the sick person has injured the body of Christ by his sin (as in 1 Corinthians 11:18-34, especially verses 30-31), he must first confess his sin to God and to those injured, as represented by the elders of the church, asking them to pray for him—the initiative coming from him rather than the elders.

oil. There is nothing magical in the anointing oil, of course. It could well have been used as merely a soothing ointment to alleviate the suffering (note Isaiah 1:6; Mark 6:13; Luke 10:34). The oil was merely a spiritual symbol, representing God's hoped-for anointing of the sick person by the Holy Spirit, in order to bring him back to active service for the Lord. This symbol recalled how priests and kings had been anointed in ancient Israel, symbolizing their divine call to service.

James 5:15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

faith shall save. “Save” here means “deliver”—that is, from his illness.

sick. “Sick” in this verse is different from both “afflicted” in James 5:13 and “sick” in James 5:14. Used elsewhere only in Hebrews 12:3 and Revelation 2:3, it means “wearied.” In context, it must refer to the depression induced by the guilt of his sin. This can only be relieved, not by some psychiatric encouragement of his supposed self-worth, but by repentant confession of his specific sin to God (xTerm 1:9), then to the church and its elders. The latter can then pray for him in faith (note that the latter prayer is their prayer, not his—they must have the faith to believe God's promise). If all conditions are met, then “the Lord shall raise him up.” Notice that nothing in the context mentions the need for someone with the gift of healing, though one or more of the elders (at least in apostolic times, before the completion of the New Testament) may well have had such a gift (to be used, however, in evangelizing, rather than in a case such as the one described here). The reason why this type of healing does not occur more often today is probably because one or more of the conditions are not met.

if. “If” here means “since.” The reason for the illness in such a case is unconfessed sin that has injured the church and its ministry. If the conditions have been met for healing, they will also have been met for forgiveness.

James 5:16 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.

Confess your faults. “Faults” is a different word than “sins” in James 5:15, which primarily refers to “offenses” or “trespasses.” It is used either for offenses against God or against fellow men. The latter are evidently meant here, for the admonition here is to confess such offenses to the individual person or persons we have offended. Once the offenses are confessed, then it is fitting to pray for whatever healing is needed.

fervent. “Effectual fervent” is one word in the Greek (energeo), meaning “energizing.” The one praying such an energizing prayer (therefore, healing prayer) is assumed to be “righteous,” both in standing before God through faith in Christ, and in practice before God, having left no sins of his own unconfessed and made right.

James 5:17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, 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.

on the earth. This remarkable answer to Elijah's prayer was a providential miracle, rather than a miracle of creation. No laws of hydrology or meteorology need to be superseded in order to produce or withhold rain, but rather a providential ordering and timing of the many factors that control rainfall. While creation miracles are extremely rare today, providential miracles often occur in answer to prayer, when we meet God's conditions.

James 5:18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

James 5:19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;

James 5:20 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.

save a soul. This verse can properly be considered an incentive for soul-winning in general. In context, however, it seems to refer primarily to the particular case being discussed—that of a professing Christian whose sin has resulted in divine chastisement in the form of sickness. As long as he persists in his sin, refusing to confess and forsake it, he is in danger of eventually being consigned to physical death (note 1 Corinthians 5:5; 11:30; 1 Timothy 1:20). This is probably the “sin unto death” mentioned in xTerm 5:16. There is thus a great need for concerned Christian friends to try diligently to “turn him back” (the meaning of “convert”) from the dangerous course he is traveling. It is even more urgent if his professed faith in Christ was not genuine in the first place. He then needs to be saved not only from physical death but also from eternal, spiritual death.