This chapter begins with a harsh condemnation of rich people who trust in wealth and not in God (v.1-6). James sounds like a prophet as he pronounces judgment on those who want to get rich at any cost, stepping on people all the way to the top. These people had condemned and murdered righteous people, committed fraud, and exploited their employees by cheating them out of their wages. They were on a road filled with luxury and pleasure, but their destination was “weeping and howling” in misery in hell (v.1). Everything they had valued (precious metals, designer clothing, and all their money) was going to deteriorate to worthlessness.
It is important to note that it is not a sin to be rich. Some of God’s most honored servants were wealthy: Abraham, Job, David, and Joseph of Arimathea were all rich people who served God with their wealth. But what the Bible does condemn is the practice of trusting in wealth rather than trusting in God. It is possible to believe that money can buy you anything — even health, satisfaction, and peace. You don’t have to be rich to think that. This blistering censure should shake us out of the false sense of security that comes from money and lead us to the eternal security that is found only in Christ.
For those in James’s scattered congregation who had been oppressed by the rich or were suffering in other ways, he encouraged patience as they waited on the Lord to deliver them (v.7-11). The kind of patience James wrote about is simply sustained faith. Farmers exercise that patience between planting and harvest, when they can’t control the elements or speed up the growing process (v.7). Job is another example of this patience (v.11). He could not see the mercy and compassion of the Lord while he was suffering, but he patiently endured — and you can, too.
People of great faith are invariably people of prayer. James urged his friends to pray in verses 13-18. I have often been asked, “Pastor, if God is sovereign and all-knowing, and if Jesus said He knows what we need before we even ask, why do we need to pray at all?” That question implies that prayer is a chore, a burden — but God never meant for prayer to be like that. If you love Him, it will be natural and joyful for you to talk to Him, and that is prayer. God answers prayer, and it should not surprise us that the people who get their prayers answered are the ones who pursue a right relationship with God and have an active, energetic prayer life (v.16). We are told to pray when we are suffering (v.13), when we have sinned (v.15-16), and when we are sick (v.15). In every situation, the God who controls the forces of nature is more than able to answer our prayers (v.17-18).
James concludes his letter with an appeal to take the initiative to recover and restore those who have “wandered from the truth” (v.19-20). The Old Testament term for that is “backsliding”, and it happens when people are lured into false doctrines, pulled by the world, disappointed by the church, or pressured by life.
After Cain had killed his brother Abel, God asked him a question to which He already knew the answer: “Where is your brother?” Cain answered with a question of his own: “I don’t know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (see Genesis 4:9). What he implied was, “He’s my brother, but he’s not my responsibility!” I doubt that anyone reading this blog has committed murder like Cain, but I wonder how many times we sit idly by as people are struggling and dying all around us and use the excuse of the world’s first murderer: “It’s not my responsibility — am I my brother’s keeper?” The Bible says you are.
James thought this was very important. Not only did he close his letter with the challenge to be your brother’s keeper, but he devoted the entire letter to doing that himself: turning sinners like us from the errors of our way. And now, in the last breath of his letter, he tells us all to go and do the same for other people. So let’s do it.