Hello again everyone!
Angela here with another instalment in our studies in the book of James. James, who was Jesus’ younger brother (well, actually half-brother!) wrote one of the most wisdom-packed, stirring and practical of all the New Testament letters. This week we come to the first twelve verses of chapter five. Every week, as we start these studies I always put the link for today’s Bible verses in at the start. Please do take a moment to click on the link and read the scripture for yourself, don’t just take my word for it! It’s so important that you check the Bible verses as well as read what I’m saying about them. So – here’s today’s text!
Today’s study has three parts. We are going to look at the context, then the word of God to the oppressors, then what he says to the oppressed. As ever, James uses stirring, provocative language; and absolutely refuses to water down the truth to try and make it popular or more palatable for his audience. He just tells it like it is!
- The Context:
A young friend of mine here in Scotland was due to sit his exams during the Spring of 2020, which were all cancelled because of the pandemic. The schools were shut, all the pupils were scattered across the towns and villages where they lived; and not gathered together in classrooms. He knew that he had to get a good grade in his chemistry coursework – because he needed good grades for his university application. But he was cut off from the chemistry class, his classmates, the labs and the textbooks – and left in a dilemma. Sensibly, he sought advice from a teacher via email, and was enabled by the teacher’s return message to negotiate the complexities of “Electromagnetic radiation and atomic spectra” or whatever it was that week!!!
The Jerusalem Church had a different dilemma. They had been scattered across various parts of the Roman Empire from their home city and their pastor James. Remember, they had no complete New Testament, many of them were very new believers, and were having to figure out how to respond as disciples of Jesus, all on their own. It seems that when new or unexpected situations arose, then they were thrown into confusion. Somehow, someone got word to James, who wrote to them to tell them how to negotiate their situation with clarity and wisdom.
And the issue they are facing here is a very difficult one (even more difficult than my young friend’s Chemistry coursework!). The fact was that as Messianic-Jewish migrants fleeing persecution, in a gentile/pagan empire they were extremely vulnerable – and were being exploited. It seems that the rich people in the cities were lauding it over them, oppressing them, refusing to pay their wages and exploiting them ruthlessly. Now this must have been extremely troubling for young, untaught Christians – who might have been tempted to think that such difficulties in life meant that God had abandoned them, or didn’t in fact love them after all. When pastor Timothy Keller in New York tweeted recently, “The basic premise of ‘religion’ – that if you try to be good, things will go well for you, is wrong. Jesus lived perfectly, yet suffered”, he wasn’t just reflecting on the realty of his own cancer diagnosis; but was drawing on years of wisdom and pastoral experience. What could the scattered Christians of James’ day do?
The answer is that they called on James, who wrote to them. This text is his answer to them, in their time of trouble.
2. God’s word to the oppressors (vs 1-6)
James goes in all-guns-blazing in his words here. In order to show the young, hurting, oppressed Christians whose side God is actually on – he makes it absolutely plain that these people who are oppressing them are God’s enemies. Furthermore, the injustice which they are enduring at the time James wrote, would not last forever; in fact James prophecies that the rich oppressors would be judged. Their fate, in the hands of Almighty God is threefold:
- Their laughter will turn to misery.
They may be living in opulent homes, with banquets, good food and parties – but because they are oppressing the poor, they will end up in misery. Their wealth is merely fattening them up for slaughter, says James!
- Their possessions will do them no eternal good
When James says their gold and silver will corrode and their clothes will be moth-eaten, he presents two vivid pictures of the eternal uselessness of material earthly possessions. He clearly has Jesus’ teaching about treasures in heaven in mind here, (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+6%3B19-24&version=NIV) because Jesus too warned that earthy possessions do not last.
- The cries of their oppressed workers will be heard by God
God loves justice, and opposes the proud. James warns the rich oppressors that they will face God’s judgement, but also assures his readers that their cries have been heard by God, and God will respond. They have not been deserted, or abandoned because God’s judgement is coming.
It’s probably important to note that James isn’t condemning all rich people for being rich! He couldn’t really, because he knew well that Moses and Abraham were amongst the wealthiest people of their age. Likewise, the Old Testament repeatedly promises that God would bless Israel materially as well as spiritually. What can he mean, then?
In his impressive survey of scripture, “Neither Riches nor Poverty; A Biblical Theology of Possessions”, Craig Blomberg writes: “The rich are not necessarily wicked, but frequently surplus goods have lead people to imagine that their material resources can secure their futures so that they ignore God, from whom alone comes any security” (p246.) The pattern seems to be that it is not wrong to have money – if it has been acquired justly; and stewarded wisely, which includes care for the vulnerable. These people in James 5, acquired their wealth in corrupt ways (v4), and hoarded it without love for the poor. James’ words of condemnation hang heavily over them.
- God’s word to the oppressed (vs 7-12)
Firstly, James clearly wants his readers to know that justice will done to those who oppress, and that they do not need to seek vengeance – because The Lord will do that. Throughout history, powerful men have sought to ban the Bible outright, or to at least remove passages like this from it – which challenge their cruelty and greed. The oppressed have always taken great courage from the promise of God’s judgement to come. There are reported to be over 30million people held in slavery in the world today, according to the International Justice Mission. Many of these are Christians, who should know in their hearts that their abusers will stand before The Living God and tremble.
Secondly, James urges the believers to be patient. Patience in suffering is a hard, hard calling. Yet James knows that The Lord will return, that God’s justice is coming, that the wrongs will be righted and the kingdom coming!
Tim Keller recently wrote:
“Thankyou Lord for the confidence your resurrection gives me that in the end all wrongs will be made right. Thank you for allowing me to rest in the assurance of my future resurrection and of living with you forever, knowing this heals all wounds. Amen”
Waiting patiently for The Lord, is the opposite of waging a war of vengeance, or succumbing to bitterness, spite, and brokenness. Job was urged to “curse God and die” in his suffering; but he was patient, and waited for the Lord. God’s judgement and deliverance will come, just as surely as the seasons turn.
Thirdly, watch your words! James returns to his words-wisdom which he has mentioned before in his letter. Keep honesty and integrity in speech at all times – even when you are under great pressure.
Which means that…
If today you are a Christian who is being oppressed, mistreated, or are being denied justice; God knows, God sees, and God will bring justice. Be patient and wait for Him. Don’t give up, keep praying and walking by faith, because He hasn’t forgotten you, He is on your side.
If you have been given wealth, power, status or authority by God, always remember that you are a steward of these things for Him. All these things ultimately come from Him, and He expects you to handle them well. If you have ever underpaid, or mistreated an employee, or failed to use your wealth and power to help the most vulnerable; then God calls you this day to repent and seek his forgiveness. Craig Blomberg writes, “a necessary sign in the process of being redeemed is that of transformation in the area of stewardship.” Jesus was more direct. He said, “give without expecting to get anything back”.
God is our judge and a redeemer. That means that even if we have strayed a long way from His ways, he welcomes back repentant sinners – and can forgive you and transform you! On the day of judgement no earthy power, money, power, possessions, popularity or influence can help you before the throne of God. Some people spend all their lives cutting deals, and think that they will be able to strike some deal with God on the final day. Others spend their time controlling and influencing and think they might negotiate some heavenly treaty with God.
The Bible says otherwise:
11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (I John 5)
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3)
Make sure you are right with God this day, because for those who are – a glorious future awaits, even if today is hard.
Angela Courte MacKenzie is a broadcaster, pianist, vocalist, and worship leader. Her music has traveled all over the world through her Facebook live events and The Power of Praise program as a witness to the glory of God. Angela holds a B.A. degree in music/vocal performance from the University of Central Florida, and a M.A. in apologetics from Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
Her desire is to awaken hearts to Christ through music, Bible Teachings, blogs, one 2 one chats, the gifts of laughter and simply life in “real time.”
To find out more about Angela visit www.angela.org. To hear her music and other offerings visit her YouTube channel www.youtube.com/angelacourtemackenzieofficial.