One of the themes that runs through James 5 is trouble. We meet poor people deprived of their wages (James 5:4), as well as people who are physically afflicted (James 5:13–16), and spiritually backslidden (James 5:19–20). A second theme that James introduced is prayer. The poor laborers cry out to God (James 5:4). The sick and afflicted should pray (James 5:13–16). He cited Elijah as an example of one who believed in prayer (James 5:17–18). James continued his opposition to self-centered merchants who seem to succeed in their business plans and not only turn a profit but are considered rich with their hoarded wealth. This hoarding of wealth, James declared it was misused and wasteful. Spiritual growth is found in sharing, not hoarding, possessions. To those who may have been the victims of the heartless conduct of the rich, or who may have been tempted to turn to similar shortsighted goals, James recommended patience. Finally, to all believers, whether blessed, burdened, or backslidden, James appealed for praise, prayer, and persuasion.
James’ concluding remarks center on sharing—sharing one’s possessions (1-6), sharing with patience (7-12), and sharing in prayer (13-20).
The attack begun in the concluding section of chapter 4 is carried into chapter 5 but with greater concentration and condemnation. The rich are denounced. James appears to have included all rich people, both believers (cf. 1:10) and unbelievers (cf. 2:6). There is no plea for reform, only a grim warning that hoarded wealth brings dismay, ends up rotting away, and results in condemnation.
This also speaks to the treatment of employers and employees. In the spirit of the OT prophets, James pronounces judgment on employers who treat their employees unjustly (Is 3:14, 15; 10:2). God will judge those who oppress the poor (Ezek 18:12-13).
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