James 5:1-6—What Is and What Should Be


I once heard a great story about Tony Campolo (a well-known Christian teacher and activist who—for the record—has taken a recent stance on several moral issues that fails to match the biblical quality of his early ministry). He was to speak at a gathering of about 300 women. Before he was introduced, the conference leader read a letter from a mission, presenting an emergency need of $4000. The leader then asked Campolo to pray for that need before he spoke. He stunned the group by refusing. Instead, he opened his wallet and put its contents on the table—then challenged the women to do the same. Before the meeting ended, the ladies had covered that $4000 need plus much more.

What if Campolo hadn’t pushed for action? Though the means to meet the request were right there in the room, the women would probably have been content to “pray” without acting, leaving the mission in a state of emergency.

Earlier in our study of James, we read, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (2:14-17, NIV)

In today’s passage, James returns to the gap between words and deeds—between what is and what should be. Let’s take a look. Grab your Bible and read James 5:1-6.

In these verses, James addresses wealthy people (including both believers and nonbelievers) who were using the gentled faith of the Christians to exploit them. His words are some of the strongest in the New Testament. The writer and social reformer Upton Sinclair once read this passage to a group of ministers, disguising it by attributing it to a famous social agitator; the ministers reacted with instant anger, wanting to deport its “author”! (How sad that a group of ministers didn’t recognize this as scripture!)

James issues a powerful two-part warning to rich oppressors.

  1. Understand that God knows how you gain your wealth. His ears have heard the cries of those you’ve hurt in the process. (v. 4)
  2. Understand that God knows how you use your wealth. If you’re hoarding what you ought to be sharing, you’re creating your own indictment. Your stockpile will testify against you in the last day. (v. 3)

We may read these verses and think, “That’s not me. I’m certainly not rich!” Newsflash: By the standards of 80% of the world, you are rich! If you have in your possession
• food for more than two meals
• a car (yes, we’ll only count one)
• a dwelling with lights, heat, and clean water (indoor plumbing)
• more than two outfits of clothing
you have way more than most of the world’s population.

The truth is, we American women can look at a closet stuffed with clothes and moan that we have nothing to wear. We can look at cupboards full of food and groan that we have nothing to eat. Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff jokes of his wonder at Americans who rent storage units, paying to keep things they don’t want or use!

We are greatly blessed. With great blessing comes great responsibility. Despite our excuses, most of us can do way more than we think we can—and will be further blessed by God when we do it.

So let’s talk about the warning in James 5:1-6.

  1. In gaining wealth: Will you stand before God on the last day feeling indicted by or proud of your financial practices? Are you accumulating money on the backs of other people? If you’re an employer or business owner, are your workers treated fairly? paid well? Do you fatten your purse while your employees’ families struggle to make ends meet? Could you trade places with them without suffering? What can you do to better honor Him with your position and possessions?
  2. In using wealth: Are you faithfully tithing your income, giving ten percent to God? (God calls every Christian to this minimum, whether you consider yourself rich or poor or somewhere in between.) When you learn of a need—especially a need of a Christian brother or sister—do you move to help or do you offer to pray for them while hiding your bank book? Are you hoarding wealth while people you know are doing without things they need? Would you describe yourself as generous? If you showed God your spending record and your giving record, would He describe you as generous?

This study series is titled Faith Meets Reality. The reality is most of us have more than we need, and are very able to share. God is pleased when we open our hearts and our pocketbooks to the needs around us. Let’s make sure that our use of wealth is honoring Him, and that what is matches what should be.


This Week…

  • Review the verses you’ve committed to memory thus far. You’ve learned fifteen—which is awesome! See if you can quote James 1:2-3, 12, 17, 22; 2:13, 17, 26; 3:7-8, 17; and 4:7, 10, 12 and 17. Now throw in an extra verse—Hebrews 13:16—which says, “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
  • Look at your last three bank statements. Lay them out before the Lord. Ask Him to show you areas where you can honor Him better. Perhaps you need to tithe. Maybe you’ve become aware of a need you could help meet. Maybe you’re an employer who could be more generous with employees. Give God a chance to speak to your heart about your wealth.
  • Read James 5:7-12 before next week’s study. Then read, once again, the whole book of James—listening to the Spirit’s teaching voice as you read. I’ll meet you here again next Wednesday!

© Diane McLoud 2015

2 Comments on “James 5:1-6—What Is and What Should Be

  1. Thanks for putting the words of James into ways that open our eyes.

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