James 5:1 – 6
James begins to write the final part of his letter to the scattered Jews in diaspora who thought they were waiting for the tribulation and had acquiesced to the many forms of pain, problems and thorns in their flesh that they experienced in the hands of their accusers and even from within their own camp. Many of them were suffering in the hands of their fellow Jewish counterparts.
His audience in this letter was predominantly Jews and nothing was mentioned in his letter about Gentiles. We are reminded that James did not write from the perspective of the New Testament doctrine but was restricted to the norms, standards and culture of the Old Testament. He couldn’t but write from what he was comfortable with, until Apostle Paul penned down the New Testament doctrine from the perspective of the death, burial, resurrection and the ascension to glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.
Nothing was mentioned about our place and identity in Christ; nothing was mentioned about the saving Grace of God; nothing was mentioned in this book about the ministry of the Holy Spirit but a lot of emphasis was placed on the gospel of works and what we could do to inherit eternal life.
The onus is therefore on us to sift through this letter from the perspective of the New Testament writings, picking out the many things we can learn from this book of James. Although we’ve stated earlier that he wrote from the perspective of the Old Testament, this does not mean that we discard his letter rather, we are to read and understand some of the things he said which are still viable in today’s world.
As he tries to conclude in this letter, his searchlight went back to the rich (those with wealth, gold and silver) among his people (the Jews) who were already Christians but ruled their subordinates with an iron hand and more so, were unjust to the many who were poor amongst them. The idea is that the rich would employ as many as were willing to work and make a living out of the work they did for them.
James was not careful to mention his disdain for their not too pleasant attitude as regards the way the poor were treated. One would almost not believe that this could be going on most especially between believers – those who had come to understand that Jesus became their friend and died for them even when they were His archenemies. One would have thought that none of such could even be mentioned amongst the Christian family or community of believers.
He was not careful to condemn the rich and how they treated the people who worked for them. He was not careful to mention the futility and misuse of their wealth and he went on to judge them based on their evil character towards their fellow Jewish Christians.
James was not careful when he said, “And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You’ll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment”.
He was not cautious to express that their wealth was rotten, how that moths have eaten up their clothes and that their gold and silver were already corroded and that the corrosion would testify against them on the Day of Judgment.
He was not careful to mention how they misused their wealth by not paying their workers. Their workers were in turn not able to feed and keep their families while the rich lived in luxury and self-indulgence. The rich became richer and the poor became poorer and this reminds me of the same in today’s church where the pastors are richer than the congregation and continue to be richer while they don’t care about the people under their care.
Not only did these oppressors plunder the poor, they went as far as condemning, killing and murdering innocent men who didn’t have the power to oppose or speak against them even though they were conversant with what the Good Book says in the book of Deuteronomy. The Good Book says, “Don’t abuse a labourer who is destitute and needy, whether he is a fellow Israelite living in your land and in your city. Pay him at the end of each workday; he’s living from hand to mouth and needs it now. If you hold back his pay, he’ll protest to God and you’ll have sin on your books”.
James was also not careful to condemn and revile these oppressors when he told them to weep and wail because of the misery coming upon them as in judgment from Almighty God because of their attitude towards the people who worked for them. He mentioned that the wages that were withheld from the oppressed were crying out to God against these oppressors.
We can learn from this part of the letter that it is not commendable when we turn our fellow Christians to slaves just because we want them to remain as slaves for our own good. It is not commendable when we don’t show love one to another, no matter how highly placed we are in the society, but like the community that was formed in the Book of Acts, it was written that everyone had all things in common.
We are also reminded of the Church of God today, where highly placed individuals are placed in the front row pews in churches and the poor are not recognised or are further oppressed. In today’s world we have circular magazines displaying the wealth of many Pastor’s as one of the richest in the world in terms of material wealth (silver and gold) and yet many of the people who have been placed in their care can’t afford to eat once a day to the extent that many who are poor don’t even find a place in the church again.
Paul helped put this into perspective when he advised and said to Timothy that many of these leaders are after money, they’ll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.
He also told Timothy to tell those leaders and pastors this, “Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life”.
Apostle Paul’s idea is to help the one who finds him/her self as one of the oppressors to turn back on this evil as opposed to the judgment James reigned on them.
Keep it right here as we conclude on the book of James next week!