James is writing to people who have come to believe in Jesus, but the danger is that they can continue living just like everybody else who don’t believe in Jesus. They can too easily forget that Jesus will one day return, too easily focus solely on this life and not the next. Today, we can very easily find ourselves in exactly the same situation.
So, James wants his readers to know about the dangers. In today’s passage, he speaks to them in three sections, the first two sections are warnings. In 4:13, ‘Now listen you who say’, then in Chapter 5:1, ‘Now listen, you rich people’. The third section is an encouragement to those who are persevering. In Chapter 5:7, ‘Be patient then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming’.
So, we’re going to look at this passage in the following three sections.
B. A warning against presumption (Chapter 4:13-17)
James begins by addressing travelling merchants. He says in verse 13, ‘Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”’. Merchants in James’ time would have moved from city to city,
they would have made their plans about what to sell and where to sell it. That was their situation similar as nowadays.
There’s nothing wrong with making plans, in Proverbs 12:11, it commends people to make plans in order to steward our time properly and to balance our commitments. Also, James is not against planning, instead, he’s warning about the danger of presumption. This tendency we have towards self-sufficiency and self-importance, when we make our plans without reference to God.
First, we presume that we know the future, we think we know what will happen tomorrow,
but James tells us an uncomfortable truth. He says, ‘Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow’. But the unsettling reality is, we’re actually not in control of tomorrow.
Our default view is to think what we plan should actually happen. However, we often get anxious when we think about the future. We presume to know about the future, but we also presume too much about ourselves. We think that life is all about ourselves.
That there is a time for everything, before it’s gone because the bible says generations come and generations go, and there is the passing of all things.
James is giving us this blunt truth about ourselves. He’s saying, ‘Don’t presume that life is all about you ‘You’re mist; you’re here one moment and gone the next’. Instead of being presumptuous, James offers an alternative. He says in verse 15, ‘Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that”. As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
Remember, James is not against planning, but he’s saying our attitude is what’s important.
In our planning, we acknowledge that God is the one who’s ultimately in control.
In Proverbs 16:9, ‘In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.’ So, if we recognise that on the one hand, God is sovereign. And on the other hand, it’s ok for us to plan.
How should we go about our planning? James gives us a clue. He uses that word ‘boasting’. To boast God and rejoice in Him, not boast ourselves; and to pursue God’s agenda and not our agenda. James says, ‘We know the good we should be doing, but we don’t do it’.
In the morning, when you plan your ‘To Do List’ for your day, pray about what’s coming up, ‘Lord, I want to honour you in this situation. Please guide me’. Don’t go through your day acting as if God is irrelevant.
C. A warning against greed (Chapter 5:1-6)
Then, James warns us against greed. In Chapter 5:1 ‘Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you’. In this section, James uses some of his strongest language in the whole letter. James wants the Christians to know how to think rightly about the rich people around them. He doesn’t want them to covet their wealth, to envy them, or to aspire to be like them. It’s not that the problem is wealth itself, because we know that there were godly men like Abraham, Joseph, and David in the bible who handled wealth. The problem is the additional dangers that wealth can bring.
The first danger is hoarding (verses 2-3)
It’s the accumulation of wealth, and clothes, silver and gold. James warns against what most people in our world take for granted. In our world, amassing wealth and possessions is not avoided, it’s commended. It’s one of the ways we measure success in life. The more you have, the better you’ve done.
But James says not only does our hoarded wealth disappear. It will testify against us, because it exposes our ungodly priorities. There will be a day of judgement that will expose the foolishness of living for wealth.
The second danger is injustice (verse 4)
James condemns the rich who fail to pay the workers’ wages. He’s identifying a mindset of entitlement that wealth can bring. ‘This wealth is mine. I can do with it what I want.‘, I’m not obliged to anyone else. I’m not responsible to anyone’.
Therefore, it changes how you relate to people. You develop an insensitivity and carelessness to the needs of people around you. In this case, you think, ‘The workers are just the little people; they don’t matter as much’
The third danger is indulgence (verse 5)
James isn’t saying that you can’t enjoy the things that God has given you. He’s talking about an attitude that sees yourself at the centre of everything. ‘What I have is for me to use for me’. Do you see what James is doing? He’s trying to show what will happen in the future to people if they let wealth control them. If they think that this life is all there is, and that accumulation of wealth is all that matters. And they forget that one day God will bring everything to account.
James is incredibly direct. He says, ‘Now listen, you… this is what will happen to you…’
‘God hears the cries of the people you’ve exploited’, ‘You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter’.
Now, we do need to take this seriously for ourselves and not just point the finger at others,
because we always think other people are richer than us.
James is warning us against hoarding wealth, because it tends to kill off our spiritual faculties. Wealth gives us a sense of self-importance, self-sufficiency, and lack of dependence on God which leads to indulgence, and extravagance, and exploiting people.
The antidote to this spiritual decline is to continually remind yourself, that everything you have comes to you from God. That you are but a temporary steward of the wealth, the gifts, the time, that he has given. Everything that God gives should be used for God’s purposes
As a result, we should get into the habit of giving everything you can for eternal good.
D. Encouragement towards patience (Chapter 5:7-12)
Lastly, he gives an encouragement towards patience. In verse 7 & 8, ‘Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.’
1. Motive for patience
James says the motive for patience is the coming of the Lord. He’s calling on us to lift our eyes, beyond our immediate circumstances to something that is coming in the future ―
the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, the reality is we’re always fixing our eyes on some event in the future. Functionally speaking, your life is shaped by the anticipation of some future goal that you’ve set your hope on.
Now as good as these goals can be, whether they are qualifications, relational and career…etc. James is saying set your eyes further. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this life is all there is. Instead, James is saying, be like the farmer, who patiently waits
for valuable harvest to come.
2. Manner of patience
James teaches us the manner of patience, grumbling is complaining; grumbling is fault finding; it’s being cynical and critical. He says, ‘Don’t grumble, or you will be judged.’
So why does James tell us not to do it? I think it’s because grumbling is the seed of something that is poisonous in your heart. What is grumbling? It’s the concentration on self. ‘Why do these things happen to me? That’s so inconvenient to me. That puts me out. ‘Where’s the benefit in that for me?
Grumbling is what happens when your understanding of need is focussed on yourself
It’s when you say, ‘What’s in it for me’, rather than ‘What can I do for you’. It builds up walls between people, rather than tearing them down. Grumbling is what happens when you focus on what you don’t have. Rather than on what you do. It’s the symptom of ingratitude, a thankless heart.
And the difficulty with grumbling is that you so often hardly notice it. You get used to it, it’s around all the time, but it’s insidious, like a slow cancer that eats away at relationships. That’s why James says, ‘Beware of it. Grumbling might seem like a small thing, but it’s not
‘It’s not just a sign of impatience’, ‘It’s a sign of a greater problem with your heart’.
If you want to become a bit more of a thankful and joyful person, a person who is transformed by grace, let’s think of all the times when God has been supporting you and forgiving you by His grace.
3. Models for patience
In verse 10, he gives us some models of patience. There, he uses a different word for patience, he uses a Greek word, ‘upomone’, it literally means, endurance or perseverance, to endure steadily in a course of action and not budge.
James uses few models of endurance in the passage. Firstly, James talks about the Prophets, Isaiah and Hosea. God says to these prophets, ‘I want you to endure, to stand fast, to obey’. Their lives were terrible. And yet James says, ‘We count those blessed who persevered’. God blesses those who patiently endured. Things might seem to make no sense to them at the time, and yet they triumphed.
Secondly, James mentions Job. Job was described as a righteous man, but his wealth and possessions, his children and his health are all taken away. He wrestled with God and asked why God would do all these to him, at the end of the book, he still has no answers. Except that God has spoken and said, ‘Job, you don’t need to know why. You just need to know that I’m God’.
And Job says, ‘Lord I had heard of you, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.’ Job didn’t just come through that experience with refined character. He came through with more experience of the living God, he had a greater understanding of God’s mercy and compassion.
That’s patient endurance that produces obedience and it is the path that all of us must walk.
We should choose what we know that is right and which honors God, even when people around us and our heart are telling us to do the opposite.
So, whatever situation you may be encounter, James is saying, ‘We count those blessed who have persevered’.
Think about the ultimate model of patience and endurance.
Jesus who said to his disciples, ‘I’m going to go to Jerusalem, and there I’m going to be betrayed and arrested and crucified’ To his disciples, it is unreasonable and didn’t make sense to them. And those who looked at him on the cross, enduring humiliation and suffering, thinking. ‘If he’s supposed to be the Son of God?’ What’s God doing? And again, it was hard for the disciples to understand and make no sense at all. Unless you see that Jesus went through all this on our behalf. His death for us, so that we would know ultimately the mercy and compassion of God.
Therefore, we should wait patiently, seek to live obediently and wait for his return. Let us wait patiently for the one who has given everything for us.
Lord God, we confess that we are often distracted by the demands and attractions of this world. We have this spiritual myopia that we only see what we have these lives and not the eternity, so I fix our hearts this lives and forget about the eternity, we forget about the eternity. We ask for your forgiveness, we pray that you put away the presumptions about today and tomorrow. You may help us to cast our greed, help us to wait patiently for return of Jesus Christ. May the prospect His return and see him face to face, fill us with both anticipation and determination that we live our lives for Him. Help us Lord to look forward to that day we see him face to face and He says ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’. We ask all these things in His name. Amen.