Reading for Friday, June 8: James 5
James continues his treatise on economy, this time turning to address the rich. His language is stunning, even biting, especially to American ears. What are we to make of his indictment? “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted…You have laid up treasure in the last days…You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence.” (vv1, 2, 5).
At one level, we shouldn’t be quick to explain away these words. God may intend for them to strike us squarely, so we should be attentive to this. We live in the midst of great abundance. Our language of “economic downturn” is surely misunderstood by our global brothers and sisters in Christ, many of whom live in squalor. These words OUGHT to convict us, at one level, to examine our resources and how we deploy them, even how we think about them.
At another level, though, it is important to keep in mind the situation of the first century. There was no middle class to speak of: you were either rich or poor, often as the result of circumstance, same as today. But it seems that James is looking to these people of means who have truly found their treasure in their possessions, those who have mistreated their laborers, those who have oppressed the righteous. God’s Word to these is indeed harsh.
James encourages the church to remain steadfast in the faith, awaiting the coming of the Lord. On this day, all accounts will be settled. The way of faith is to persevere with the steadfastness of Job (v11).
In the meantime, we pray through suffering and sing through joy (v13). We touch the untouchable, the sick and bereaved in our midst (v14-15). And we confess our sins to one another, praying again for healing amid our brokenness (v16). James ends abruptly with a reminder of the role the Christian community plays in the life of her members, reaching out to bring lost ones back into the fold, saving souls from death (v20).