You may have heard the story of the woman who had been bitten by a rabid animal. When she went to see a doctor, he gave her the bad news. There was no medical help for her. She asked for a pencil and paper. Sitting down, she began furiously writing. When asked if she were making a list of her sins, she looked up, quizzically. “Sins? No. I’m making a list of all the people I want to bite before I die!” The desire for getting back at someone, retaliating, is a powerful impulse. Jesus provided an antidote to the lex talionis, the law of retaliation, by our returning good for evil (Matt. 5:38-42). In this study, I have imagined the kind of situations a businessman might encounter.
First, we look at the businessman and his investments (vv. 1-3). James was familiar with Jesus’ teaching about the deceitfulness of riches choking the word (Matt. 13:22) and the fact that it would be “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Mk. 10:25). More explicitly, however, are the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” What Jesus saw as a possible life style, James observed in reality. He ranted against the corrupted riches, moth-eaten garments, the cankered gold and rusted silver (v. 2). The rich were heaping up evidence against them “for the last days.”
At this point we need to record a peculiarity of James’s epistle. Absent is any reference to our Lord’s sacrificial death for sin, or His resurrection from the dead. He says nothing about the church as such. He has a broad reference to the “assembly” in 2:2, variously translated also as congregation or meeting. The Greek word is synagogue. Apparently those of the Diaspora (v. 1:1) had not yet formed separate churches. James followed the strategy throughout the Book of Acts. The missionaries went first to the synagogues to preach the gospel (Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:1, 17; 18:4; 19:8). The word church appears initially in Acts in 2:17 and 14 times thereafter. James never used the term. He spoke of elders once (5:4).
We look next at the businessman and his employees (vv. 4-6). Unlike our culture, the economic worth of the ancients had no middle class, consisting of the upper class of the nobility and huge land owners on the one had and the low class comprised of workers commonly called peasants. The widows and orphans were especially vulnerable. James championed the cause of the “have-nots.” Their plight was being observed by “the Lord of Sabaoth,” usually translated as Almighty. He is the Lord of armies, the host of heaven. In adopting this term so common in the Old Testament, James was placing himself in the category of Israel’s prophets and their message.
This brings us to the next subject, the businessman and the Lord’s return (vv. 7-9). Twice he alludes to “the coming of the Lord” (vv. 7, 8) and once to “the judge standing at the door.” Clearly, in the light of the Lord’s coming, the rich would soon lose their wealth. Their life goal was about to pass away as illustrated by the rich fool who accumulated great wealth but died unexpectedly, losing everything (Lk. 12:16-21).
We close with a look at the businessman and his patience (vv. 10-11). James had given scathing denunciations of the rich, but he tempers his remarks in two ways. First, he continued to address them as brethren (vv. 7, 9, 10, 12, 19). He also pointed them to “the patience of Job,” the prime example of a rich man who prevailed against the wiles of Satan and never wavered in his complete trust in God. After all his adversities Job learned in the end that God is “very pitiful, and of tender mercy.”
We end this brief study of James’s epistle with a final reference to a teaching of Jesus. The admonition against swearing bears striking parallels from Matthew 5:34:”But I say unto you, swear not by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.”
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