What does James 5:1 mean?
ESV: Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.
NIV: Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.
NASB: Come now, you rich people, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.
CSB: Come now, you rich people, weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you.
NLT: Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you.
KJV: Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
NKJV: Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!
Verse Commentary:
James begins a new section of his letter in which he harshly condemns "you rich" people. He begins by warning them of misery headed their way. They should start weeping and wailing now in anticipation of it, he says. Jesus offered a similar warning to wealthy people in Luke 6:24–25: "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry…"

This raises a reasonable question: Is every wealthy person unrighteous and evil? Is James condemning the very possession of wealth? The answer is no, because that's not the teaching of this passage, nor the rest of Scripture. In James 1:10, he offers instruction to wealthy Christians about how to evaluate their lives. Paul does the same, even more clearly, in 1 Timothy 6:17. The condemnation here is not for wealth, itself, but for those whose wealth causes them to fall into the sins James will describe in upcoming verses.

Most commentators agree that the wealthy landowners James singles out were non-Christians. Speaking to Christians in chapter 4, James called those still following the world's path to repentance and humility. He reminded those people to fully receive the grace of God. In this section, James offers none of that. He simply condemns these rich oppressors with the voice of an Old Testament prophet predicting their doom. So, these wealthy people were unbelievers who used their wealth to harm others. Importantly, it also included those who did not use their wealth to help others (James 4:17). Specifically, they used their wealth to oppress the poor Christians James has been addressing.

So how should modern Christians read this section? First, we should be comforted by James's words that God will not allow injustice to go unpunished. But we should also hear a warning in James's condemnation: The temptation to trust wealth instead of God is a trap, and most of us are vulnerable to it.
Verse Context:
James 5:1–6 has a tone similar to that of an Old Testament prophet pronouncing the coming judgment on a group of people. This includes describing the ruin of these people as if it has already occurred. James lays out the charges against the rich landowners who were oppressing the poor. These crimes include selfishness, abuse of their workers, and indifference. Those rich sinners should start weeping and wailing now; their judgment was coming on the day of the Lord.
Chapter Summary:
What was causing fights and quarrels among the Christians to whom James was writing? They were living by the world's wisdom. This false perspective says human beings should do whatever it takes to get what they want in this life, even if it hurts other people. James says that to live that way is adultery, but God gives grace. Christians should repent and move close to God again. We should trust Him to provide, to be the Judge, and to lift us up in His time. In humility, we must acknowledge that all of our plans are dependent on Him, and He can change them at any moment.
Chapter Context:
Prior chapters in this letter focused on the relationship between beliefs and actions, and how to practically apply the concepts of Christianity. In chapter 4, James called his Christian readers to repent of their worldliness and turn back to closeness with God. Now in the last chapter of his letter, James addresses three things: He pronounces to the rich oppressors of the Christians that their judgment is coming on the day of the Lord. He urges those suffering under that oppression to remain patient, strong in their faith, as they wait for the day of the Lord. And he encourages all Christians to show their faith in God by praying in response to every circumstance.
Book Summary:
The book of James is about specifically understanding what saving faith looks like. How does faith in Christ reveal itself in a believer's life? What choices does real trust in God lead us to make? Those are the questions James answers. Most scholars believe the writer was Jesus' half-brother, a son born to Joseph and Mary after Jesus' birth. James may not have come to believe Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrection. Eventually, though, he became one of the leaders of the Christian church in Jerusalem. This is possibly the earliest-written of all the New Testament books, around AD 40–50. James addresses his letter to Jewish Christians scattered around the known world.
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