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Chapter 5

Commentary by Tom Brown

1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.

you rich people. A reference to the unsaved that are rich.

misery that is coming upon you. Reminder of the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. His misery was in hell. Some people receive early judgment; others later after death.

2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.

Jesus spoke of wealth in terms of moths eating the clothes. Something so small--a moth--can easily eat clothes. If a moth can do so much damage, then what will God be able to do to the one who has refused to repent.

3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

Corroded. Even the best of metals can get ruined.

hoarded wealth in the last days. Ecclesiastes 2:26 says that the God has given the sinner the "task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. " Many times in this life the wealth of the sinner eventually comes into the hands of the righteous.

4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.

wages you failed to pay. The rich people James is referring to are cheaters. They rip people off.

reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. God is not deaf that He doesn't hear the righteous prayers.

5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  

Fattened. Ranchers would feed the cattle they were going to slaughter. They wanted fat cattle. James uses this as an analogy for the present time.

6 You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.


innocent men. Death penalty is scriptural, but not for the innocent.

7 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.

Be patient. Impatience is often manifested in anger. Don't be discouraged if you feel the sting of injustice. God will make it right in the end. On the other hand, if you try to exact your own revenge, then you have forfeited God's recompense.

See how the farmer waits. Sometimes there is nothing you can do but wait. He must trust God to give the rains; so it is with you, you have to trust God to do things that is beyond your power. Later, James mentions Elijah who prayed for rain. see verse 18.

8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near.

be patient and stand firm. He adds an additional instruction other than to be patient; he says to stand firm. This means to turn resolutely in a certain direction. For the believer, he turns to God and his promises.

9 Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!


Don't grumble. The theme of the tongue constantly is reinforced. The Greek word is stenazo, which has a wide variety of uses, but in simply idea of the word is to "sigh and groan." You don't actually have to say words to grumble, you can grumble through sighing and groaning within. 

10 Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

take the prophets. Prophets like Jeremiah and Elijah were often attacked for telling the truth. Yet they did not waver in saying the truth.

11 As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.


blessed those who have persevered. There is a special blessing that God gives to those who persevere.

Job's perseverance. Job refused to blame or complain against God. 

what the Lord finally brought about. Job was blessed with twice as much blessings. James exhorts the readers to trust God to turn things around.

Lord is full of compassion and mercy. Even though Job was the most righteous man on the earth, he needed compassion and mercy from God. No one is without sin.

12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear — not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned.


Above all. In all the book of James, great emphasis has been placed on the tongue, so for the reader to swear, he is forgetting the important lesson on the tongue. You don't want additional curses to come upon you by swearing. You are treating the tongue as something very minor, in that you need to put an oath or swear to make the tongue more important.

13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

Whether you are in trouble or happy, prayer and praise belongs to God. The response is from the tongue.

14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

elders. These were generally older people in the Lord that were ordained in ministry.

pray over him. Not pray "for" him, but "over" him. The idea is of the scapegoat in which the priest laid his hands on the goat to confess all the sins of the people. The sick person is one who needs both forgiveness and health. This explains why both health and forgiveness is mentioned in the next verse.

15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

prayer offered in faith. There must be some assurance and certainty that God will forgive and heal the person.

faith will make the sick person well. There should be no doubt that the person will recover from his disease, especially one brought on by sin. 

the Lord will raise him up. He is healed so he can be raised up to serve the Lord.

he will be forgiven. Just as there is no doubt that the person will be healed, there should be no doubt that person will be forgiven. Only condition for forgiveness was whether the person sinned, not whether or not the person gets physically healed. It is wonderful to see all three blessings manifested: health, raised up and forgiven.

16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.


confess your sins to each other. Confession is good for the soul, especially confessing to the elders. Just as the elders prayed for you, it is good to confess to them.

pray for each other so that you may be healed. This is total health: spirit, soul and body. It comes through prayer.

prayer of a righteous man. A righteous man is not a perfect man; however, he is a servant of God. So long as you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord, you are righteous in God's sight.

powerful and effective. This means that your prayers get the intended results.

17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.

man just like us. Even prophets were not perfect, yet, Elijah's prayers were powerful and effective.

18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.



19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back,

wander from the truth. Ultimately, the reason people go into sin is because they depart from the truth. They believed some lie that caused them to go into sin.

20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.


Whoever turns a sinner. The sinner is more likely a brother or sister that has backslidden. The ultimate goal of James in this letter was to turn backslidden Christian back to God.

error of his way. Notice, again, his sinful lifestyle was a result of "error." He believed  an error rather than the truth.

save him from death. It is a reference to eternal death. Eternal death is separation from God which results in God's punishment.

cover over a multitude of sins. Regardless of how many times the person sinned, he or she is forgiven.



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