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Background on James
Guided Bible Study


Background on James

Elsa Tamez Commentary on James
The Scandal of James

Link to James as Wisdom
A Word for the Wise

Link to James and Eschatology
The End is at Hand

James and Spiritual Wholeness Not Yet Available
Finding Spiritual
Wholeness in James

James View of the World
James' View of
The World

Worship Resources Not Yet Available
Worship Resources
STILL TO COME

James 5: The rich are condemned. Pray!

We now turn to the climax of James' letter. In James 5:1-6 the rich are condemned without pity and without possibility of conversion. We can almost hear James preaching reach its peak, and then see him catch his breath as he turns to verse 7. A return to the endearing brothers and sisters signals a return to hope for the local congregation. Our patience will be rewarded as we wait for the condemnation of our oppressors. And then James closes with a call to a life of prayer.

Study Chapter Five
James 5:1-6 Rusting Riches | James 4:7-20 Patience and Prayer
Top of Page
No further pages Previous Page: Chapter Four

Guided Bible Study
Using the Guided Bible Study | Introduction
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5
I Artwork, Link to Introduction 1 Artwork Link to Chapter 1 Study 2 Artwork Link to Chapter 2 Study 3 Artwork Link to Chapter 3 Study 4 Artwork Link to Chapter 4 Study 5 Artwork Link to Chapter 5 Study

1. James 5:1-6. Your riches are rusting away! (estimated time: 90 minutes including the worship planning. 60 minutes without it.)

Supplies
Lottery Tickets in a hat or bowl
Play money
Sales Catalogues and Real Estate Sections from newspapers
Word studies on Rich and Poor for each group
Commentary on James 5:1-6
Optional: United Methodist Hymnals for each group

Experiential Activity
Using colored paper, make enough Lottery Tickets for every member of your study. Make it so two people win a million dollars, most of the group wins a thousand dollars, and a few win a hundred thousand dollars. Using play money, bring enough bills to pay out about half the winnings.

Explain that you have a million dollar lottery and hand out gift catalogues and real estate sections from the local newspaper for everyone to choose what they will buy if they are the winner. Work in the large group, but encourage sharing catalogues as each person chooses some things they might buy with their winnings. Allow about five minutes.

Once everyone has chosen some items to buy bring the hat around the circle for everyone to choose their lottery ticket. Then, starting randomly, hand out the play money to each person from their winnings. Working your way around the circle, skip a winner if you don’t have enough money to pay the winnings in full. When you run out tell the group that you don’t have any more money, so they won’t get the prize after all.

Divide into three groups: those who won nothing, those who won a hundred thousand or more, and those who won a thousand dollars. In these groups take twenty minutes to discuss these questions:

  • How did it feel to plan for the lottery? Was it fun to consider what you would buy?
  • How did you feel when you got your “winning” ticket?
  • How did it feel when you realized that there was not enough money to pay everyone?
  • Is wealth a limited or unlimited thing? If it is unlimited, why do so many in the world have so little? If it is limited, is it OK to have more than your neighbor?

Study the text
Break up groups that have more than six people into smaller groups. Hand out the commentaries on rich and poor. Ask each group to discuss whether the definitions of rich and poor in James’ time are the same as today. Take no more than 10 minutes for this.

As groups finish the discussion on rich and poor ask them to turn to James 5:1-6. Each group should read it aloud and then sit with it in silence for a minute. Going around the circle each person should share what stands out to them from the text. Read the text aloud again and then have each person read the commentary. Discuss for about 20 minutes.

  • What does this text say to our congregation?
  • What does this text say to North American churches today?
  • What does this text say to you individually?

Optional Activity
This text is not included in the Revised Common Lectionary. Take a half hour to plan a worship service around this text in your small group. What hymns would you sing? What would the prayer of confession and the pastoral prayer look like? What would be the main topic of the sermon?

James 5:1-6
When we reach chapter five it is clear that it is the rich who are condemned. James offers none of the hope for conversion from chapter four here in this passage. In 4:17 those who know what is right, but fail to do it are committing sin. In 5:1 the punishment for that sin begins. The rich are condemned for their wealth, but also for their use of the wealth. (M210). In James 4:9 we lament and mourn and weep as a sign of our repentance, but the weeping and wailing in James 5:1 is from suffering in the last days, not from repentance.

These passages are linked to 4:13-17 by the opening words: come now or now listen. The message is urgent, in the style of the prophets condemning the nations (M210). The tense of the verbs in verses 2 and 3 imply that the rotting and rusting has already begun, even though the wealthy may be unaware of this (M213). Scholars make extensive efforts to explain why James would use the word rust for silver and gold, which do not rust. However I suspect his point is that even the safest of our treasures are not safe from the ravages of God’s judgment. Human fire will not destroy silver or gold, but the fires of God’s judgment destroy all human treasures.

Is everyone with human treasures condemned? Moo argues it is not the owning itself that is the sin, but rather our focus on earthly treasure instead of heavenly treasure (M214). This connects to 4:13 where the sin is planning our life around wealth. Yet James 5:4 makes it clear that the wealth these landowners have has been created by oppressing the poor. The image of withholding wages is linked to Leviticus 19:13, and thus, once again, to James’ focus on the law.

Withholding wages from a subsistence laborer is to risk their very lives. The first century conflict between landowners and workers was acute (M210). In Deuteronomy 24:14-15 the Israelites are called to pay wages before sunset every day. James makes no distinction between one who obtained their wealth without oppression, and those whose wealth was gained at the expense of those who are poor. Perhaps the question for middle class citizens of first world countries is whether wealth today is different from the wealth of the first century?

Writing to a first century community, James presumes that wanton pleasure, or self-indulgence, described in verse 5 comes from the condemnation of the righteous one in verse 6. Like James 2:6 the language of 5:6 (especially the word condemned) presumes a court setting or judicial procedure (J217). Early Christian commentators presumed that the righteous one was Jesus, but it is generally understood to be the innocent or perhaps the typical Christian who is condemned.

There is some question as to who is not resisting this condemnation. The text offers no subject other than he, which most likely would refer to the righteous one. This suggests that the Christians are helpless victims of the legal actions the wealthy take against them (M220). Another possibility is that it is God who does not oppose the wealthy (J217), at least until the day of slaughter. This would fit the pattern throughout James 5:1-6, where the behavior or the rich is contrasted with God’s response. The verb here is the same as that in 4:6 where it is God who resists the proud.

God is clearly on the side of the humble and poor in James 5:1-6. The entire letter has built up to this climax. Yet this text is not included in the Revised Common Lectionary, and therefore is not read during worship in most North American congregations. Elsa Tamez believes this is part of the effort to intercept the letter (T5). What do you think?

Resources (Link to full Bibliography for web site)
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James in The New Interpreter's Bible Volume XII, Leander E. Keck et al, editors. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000).

Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James in The Pillar New Testament Commentary, DA Carson, general editor. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000).

Elsa Tamez, The Scandalous Message of James: Faith Without Works Is Dead. John Eagleson, translator. With Study Guide by Pamela Sparr. (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002).

Study Chapter Five
James 5:1-6 Rusting Riches | James 4:7-20 Patience and Prayer
Top of Page
No further pages Previous Page: Chapter Four

Guided Bible Study
Using the Guided Bible Study | Introduction
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5
I Artwork, Link to Introduction 1 Artwork Link to Chapter 1 Study 2 Artwork Link to Chapter 2 Study 3 Artwork Link to Chapter 3 Study 4 Artwork Link to Chapter 4 Study 5 Artwork Link to Chapter 5 Study

James calls us to Patience and Prayer (estimated time: 45 minutes)

Supplies
Handout of Commentary on James 5:7-20
Handout of Tamez on Militant Patience

Experiential Activity
Perhaps the most meaningful opening for this last portion of James might be a healing worship service. If that is not an option, consider instead breaking into groups of two or three and having the members of the study share their experiences of healing prayer. Have they prayed for someone to be healed? What happened as a result? What do they believe about healing prayer? Spend about 20 minutes on this discussion before turning to the text.

Study the Text
As the healing discussion wraps up, ask each group to turn to James 5:7-20. Have one person read the text aloud. Each person should say one word or phrase that jumps out at them. Don't allow discussion at this point. Sit in silence a bit, and then read it aloud again.

Allow about ten more minutes for discussion and then give each group the commentary on James 5:7-20 and Elsa Tamez' study of the words patience and endurance in James.

Discussion questions

James 5:7-20
James has finished his condemnation, and turns back to teaching with the endearing brothers and sisters or believers. In 5:1-6 the rich are condemned in the coming judgment, have been warned, and now James encourages the oppressed believers to wait patiently for that time.

James uses patience or makrothymia in verses 7, 8 and 10. Tamez argues James is calling for militant patience—not resignation or even neutral waiting, but rather active and heroic patience, facing the battles the world presents head on (T43). The example of Job in verse 11 is one of a man who questions his suffering and calls on God to explain Godself. James uses the term endurance or hypomone here, and declares that those who endure oppression are blessed in their waiting.

What are we to wait for? Certainly the condemnation of the rich is one of the rewards for the oppressed, but also how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. James uses Lord in 5:7, 8, 10, and perhaps synonymously, the Judge in verse 9. Although Christ is not mentioned in these verse, James’ language is similar to that of 1 Corinthians 15:23, 1 Thessalonians 2:19 and others, where Christ is clearly intended.

As we wait for Christ’s parousia, or presence (M221) we are to strengthen our hearts in verse 8 and avoid grumbling in verse 9. Grumble is more accurately groan or a sigh, typically “an expression of frustration from the people of God who are suffering oppression or even judgment” (M225). It is not just grumbling we should avoid, but, in James 5:12, oaths. This line seems somewhat disconnected from the rest of the chapter, but perhaps is calling for simple, unadorned speech in which what we say is what we mean (J222). Compare this to Matthew 5:34-37.

The comparison for James 5:13-20 is with the other New Testament letters. They generally end with encouragement to pray, yet James has a longer and more detailed exhortation than any of the others (M235). He offers three reasons for prayer: suffering, happiness and illness. Illness in the first century is used for those who are weak, mentally or spiritually impaired, or facing issues of conscience. Illness is also used as we do today for physical illness or disability.

Those who are ill are encourage to summon the elders, which implies an official demand, not a casual request (J222). Elders in the early church were guides of the congregation’s spiritual development (M237). We should not look for a line between spiritual and physical healing here, they happen at the same time. The role of forgiveness in the healing of physical ailments is found in Jesus’ ministry. The oil mentioned is widely used for medicinal purposes in the first century, and for spiritual healing in the traditions of Israel and of Jesus’ ministry (J222).

Early theologians thought the righteous person in James 5:16 might refer to Jesus. Yet the verse begins with a call to pray for one another and proceeds to the claim that Elijah was a human being like us. Scholars today agree that the righteous person is an ordinary believer rather than a super saint, or even a Christian leader (M247). Elijah’s prayer was for rain for the crops, which connects this to the farmer in James 5:7. It also makes clear that we are waiting now for the answer to our prayers, which will come with the parousia, or presence of our Lord.

As we wait, we should encourage one another in verse 19 and 20, bringing them back from wandering. Again we find an allusion to Leviticus 19:17 where the law says you shall reprove your neighbor. You may find the meaning of verse 20 to be quite different in various translations. The Greek is simply not clear as to whether it is the sinner’s soul that is saved, or the soul of the faithful Christian who brought the sinner back into the fold (J223).

Resources (Link to full Bibliography for web site)
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James in The New Interpreter's Bible Volume XII, Leander E. Keck et al, editors. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000).

Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James in The Pillar New Testament Commentary, DA Carson, general editor. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000).

Elsa Tamez, The Scandalous Message of James: Faith Without Works Is Dead. John Eagleson, translator. With Study Guide by Pamela Sparr. (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002).

Study Chapter Five
James 5:1-6 Rusting Riches | James 4:7-20 Patience and Prayer
Top of Page
No further pages Previous Page: Chapter Four

Guided Bible Study
Using the Guided Bible Study | Introduction
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5
I Artwork, Link to Introduction 1 Artwork Link to Chapter 1 Study 2 Artwork Link to Chapter 2 Study 3 Artwork Link to Chapter 3 Study 4 Artwork Link to Chapter 4 Study 5 Artwork Link to Chapter 5 Study

No more pages. End of Study. Previous Page: Chapter Four

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