We embark on the last chapter in the book of James, we will be delving into verses 1-12. This chapter begins with James giving a warning to rich oppressors. He does not attack them for just being rich but talks about what sin does to them and how they use their riches and position to further indulge themselves while stomping on those in need.
In James 1:27 we read what James wrote about religion that God finds as pure and faultless.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
The rich that James warns here neither helps those in need nor kept themselves from being polluted by the world. What kind of wisdom did they choose to live by? In James 3:13-17, we learnt about the two kinds of wisdom, one from God and one of this world. The wisdom that is not of God is expressed in selfish ambition, envy, disorder, and every evil practice. What do we read in James 5 about the rich oppressors – you have hoarded wealth, you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields, you have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men who were not opposing you (James 5:3-6). They did not choose to live by wisdom from God. What was to be their fate? James warns them of the misery, the judgement they would face from the Lord.
Ecclesiastes 5:10 says “Whoever loves money never has enough, whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.”
In our today, when there is an increased exposure to the seemingly near perfect snapshots into people’s lives we get to see on social media, it is easy to compare and to encounter discontentment. And it can lead one into the pursuit of a life that fits a certain frame which lacks a grounding in the things of God but rather in envy, pride and wrong desires. The enemy loves for us to fixate on things that we do not have so that our attention is drawn away from our blessings. If our contentment is not rooted in God, it never remains, and we end up craving satisfaction apart from God.
In 1 Timothy 6:6 Paul writes “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
An essential aspect to contentment is having a thankful attitude. Hebrews 13:5 says “Let your conduct be without covetousness, be content with such things as you have. For he himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.” And here we read what our true grounding in contentment should be, in the faithful presence of the Lord in our lives. What a joyful and assuring reminder that no matter what is and is not, His presence is a guarantee. God with us- our Immanuel.
When discontentment stems within, may we remember David’s words in Psalm 116:7 “Return to our rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” David spoke to his own soul, to find its rest in the Lord. Let your fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and sadness find its rest in the faithfulness and presence of our loving Father.
James continues with words addressed to those who are at the receiving end of the oppression.
James 5:7-9 “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. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!”
His words to be patient in their trials are comforting because they are backed with a reason, the reason being that the Lord is at work, and he is coming. Just as the farmer sows the seeds and waits, so must we. And while he waits, he does not idle, he diligently works the land that is allotted to him and so must we. Wherever God has placed us, we work diligently trusting that the seed God has placed in our hands will yield a harvest. The farmer patiently waits for the rains which is not in his control, similarly, we rely on God to pour out the spirit to do his work and bring forth a crop. And as the farmer cannot see the evidence of growth when the seed is underground or when he sees a small sapling but trusts in what it can grow into, we too are called to trust when we are yet to see or what we see is yet to feel impactful enough. In God’s hands we place it all and remain patient and stand firm.
James follows this with giving examples of prophets and of Job’s perseverance.
James 5:10-12 “Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as 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. Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.”
The prophets and Job’s example teach us to cling to the Lord, to stay faithful to Him, to be obedient to His calling when hostility towards God is more the norm. To trust in His goodness even if our circumstances do not feel that way at the moment. And to ultimately remember that everything is truly in the hands of the Lord and His plans and purposes will come to pass.
James ends this section of the chapter with a reminder that our words have weight. If we identify with Christ, our words should measure up to a truthfulness and integrity that Christ would want his followers to reflect.
This passage of scripture encourages us to reflect on a few things:
Where does your daily pursuit lie? What are your desires tied to? Is contentment a struggle? Is your patience with how things are wearing thin?
The Judge is standing at the door, he watches, all our cries and tears will be accounted for and so will all our actions. God has allotted a place and time for us, let us focus on being diligent to what he would want us to do in that time and place. How can we live for God today – maybe sow a seed of love and encouragement. How can we nurture what has been sown – pray, extend grace, be the hands and feet of Christ for someone. Focus on one day at a time with the time you have and with those around you.
May the God of compassion and mercy, open our eyes to those around while helping us to stay focused on Him enabling us to be His faithful servants.