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James chapter 5

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

Christian Standard Bible

New Living Translation

King James Version

What does James chapter 5 mean?

The final chapter of the book of James includes three distinct sections.

First, James pronounces the coming doom of certain rich landowners, who were oppressing the poverty-stricken Christians. He calls on wealthy people to start weeping and wailing now in anticipation of their coming misery. In fact, it will come so quickly James writes as if it has already happened. This is a common technique used in Bible prophecy, such as in the book of Obadiah (Obadiah 1:3–7). Under this perspective, their riches have rotted, their expensive clothes are moth-eaten, and their silver and gold has corroded (James 5:1–3).

James lays out the charges against these wealthy antagonists. These are crimes they will pay for when God's judgment comes on the day of the Lord. According to this passage, these selfish people have hoarded wealth while others suffered in poverty. They have cheated their workers out of earned wages. They have lived in luxury while others lived in squalor. They have used their influence in a rigged court system to take more from the poor—even to kill the innocent (James 5:4–6).

James's warning is dire: God has noticed, and their judgment is coming.

Then James turns back to his oppressed Christian readers in their suffering. He urges them to stay patient as they wait. The day of the Lord, the very same one that their oppressors should be dreading, is one they can look forward to. It will come. The Lord is standing at the door and ready.

According to James, his readers must be patient, like farmers who wait through the rainy seasons for the harvest to be ready. They must strengthen their hearts, stand firm in their faith, and refuse to give into grumbling against each other in their suffering. Instead, they should follow the example of the Old Testament prophets and Job, who remained faithful to God through great suffering and persecution. Then, as now, God knows what His people are going through. He is still compassionate and merciful. He will reward those who are faithful (James 5:7–12).

James opened his letter by commanding believers to count all struggles as "joy." His intent was not for Christians to pretend to be happy, but simply to realize that God could bring good out of every situation. Now, James closes out his letter by encouraging believers to demonstrate their faith in God by praying in response to every circumstance. Are you in trouble? James says you should pray. Are you cheerful? Sing songs of praise, he says. Are you sick, or spiritually weak? Involve the community by asking the elders to pray for you, anointing you with oil, and the Lord will raise you up; your sins will be forgiven (James 5:13–15).

James makes it clear that the community of Christians should take responsibility for each other. They should confess their sins to each other—so those brothers and sisters can pray for one another's strength to overcome those sins. Healing will follow. Prayer is powerful and effective. God hears and responds. James often repeats the idea that what a person does reflects what he believes. So, those who believe prayer works should pray (James 5:16–18)!

Finally, people who are in the community of Christ should make an attempt to go and rescue those who have wandered away and into sin. They have the opportunity to save souls from death (James 5:19–20).
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