James 5 Commentary

Practical Christian Wisdom from the New Testament Book of James

Warning to the Rich (5:1-6)  

Verse 1: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you” (James 5:1 NIV). 

Is James condemning all rich people? No, as we read previously, he is condemning all those who are seeking to accumulate wealth irrespective of God or man. He describes whom he condemns — “you [who] boast in your arrogant schemes” (James 4:16 NIV). Why should they “weep and wail” (5:1 NIV)? He answers, “because of the misery that is coming on you” (5:1 NIV). To what misery does James refer? Jesus described the misery of more than one rich person, possibly because riches are associated with someone who has been blessed. The rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) illustrates how a homeless beggar goes to his reward in Abraham’s bosom, and a rich man descends from his luxury into the fiery torment of Hades, both defying what many would expect as their outcomes. The moral of their story is not to seek the outward evidence of wealth as a signpost to Heaven, and not to reject the evidence of poverty, as a certainty of Hell. Both must pay heed to the claims of Scripture, without the benefit of miraculous events, to find their way to Heaven. “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31 NIV). The rich fool and his storehouse (Luke 12:13-21) shows us how foolish it is to place our confidence in earthly riches, as a sign of prosperity, happiness, and security. “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (12:19 NIV). God terminates the rich fool’s life with the epitaph, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (12:21 NIV). 

Verse 2: “Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes” (James 5:2 NIV). 

“Your wealth has rotted” (James 5:2 NIV) makes one think of grain rotting in a silo before it could get to the market. Wealth has always been stored in commodities; and, earthly commodities are vulnerable. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19 NIV). Guarding against thievery is reasonable, since theft is, next to lying, one of the most common sins committed against a neighbor and represents hatred for one’s own soul. “Moths have eaten your clothes” (James 5:2 NIV). A rich person with an abundance of clothing stored in closets must especially guard against moths eating their clothes. All wealth and every human commodity has a cost of maintenance because everything in our material universe is running down. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (Mark 13:31 NIV). A Truly Rich person knows to transfer as much of their wealth as is wise and efficient into Heaven, not where God and angels may consume it; but, for the purpose of promoting the Gospel of Christ and the Kingdom of God on earth. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21 NIV). Unlike the rich, which James is so vigorously censoring, in the very Early Church “all the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44-45 NIV). Especially notable was Barnabas, who “sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet” (4:37 NIV). 

Verse 3: “Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days” (James 5:3 NIV). 

To accumulate wealth, human effort must be stored, e.g., in money, savings, commodities, land, contractual promises to pay, knowledge of how to further create wealth, so that it can be transferred to others, who can do the same. Or, you can do nothing — which is strongly not advised. “Then another servant came and said, Sir, here is your mina [Greek, mnâ, ancient monetary unit]; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow. His master replied, I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?” (Luke 19:20-23 NIV). The purpose of money, beyond simply sustaining you and your family’s life, is to promote the Kingdom of God. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20 NIV). The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, in the 18th century said about money, “Gain all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” Scripture teaches about money: (1) God will bless your labor with various amounts of money. “The worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7 NIV). (2) God expects you to take care of your family. “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1Timothy 5:8 NIV). (3) God expects you to take care of His Church. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2Corinthians 9:7 NIV). (4) God expects you to pay your taxes. “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17 NIV). 

“Your gold and silver are corroded [Greek, katioō, cankered, rust over]” (James 5:3 NIV). Since gold and silver are not ferrous metals, they do not technically rust, but they do corrode or tarnish, which is what James is teaching. “Corrosion” (5:3 NIV) does not appear to take place immediately, but with time and disuse. The lack of proper use of money will come back to “testify against you” (5:3 NIV) in the Final Judgment, if you end in apostasy, and “will eat your flesh like fire” (5:3 NIV). This refers to Eternal Punishment, “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44 KJV), which the Righteous do not fear, because they persevere in faith to the end. “You have hoarded your wealth in the last days” (James 5:3 NIV). The “last days” (5:3 NIV) are a relative term applied ever since Peter’s Pentecostal Sermon (Acts 2:17). The question is, “Why are you hoarding up gold and silver for the future, when there is no more earthly future for anyone to make use of that money?” He who dies with the most toys, not only does not win, but suffers the greater punishment. Didn’t you hear the Master’s instructions, “Put this money to work,” He said, “until I come back” (Luke 19:13 NIV)? Disobedience can only be punished. “His master replied, I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest? Then he said to those standing by, Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas. Sir, they said, he already has ten! He replied, I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them — bring them here and kill them in front of Me” (Luke 19:22-27 NIV). 

Verse 4: “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty” (James 5:4 NIV). 

Anywhere wages are failed to be paid, it is considered grounds for God’s judgment. Unless understood differently, wages are due after service is rendered at the end of the day. “Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin” (Deuteronomy 24:15 NIV). Does God hear the complaints of those who have been earthly wronged? Yes. Almighty God not only sees and hears your failure to pay your employees, but He hears their complaints and will judge you. Should man’s system of justice fail to gain payment for you, as often it does, God hears you and will judge your oppressor. What is the benefit of enduring oppression in the meantime? Your patience accrues heavenly interest and reward, because it glorifies God. “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:4 KJV). God always rewards patience. “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Genesis 15:1 NIV). 

Verse 5: “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter” (James 5:5 NIV). 

The difference between wasteful “luxury“ (James 5:5 NIV) and useful efficiency is heart attitude. “Self-indulgence” (5:5 NIV) is reprehensible because of the God we ignore. God has created us with the capacity to seek happiness. This is the concept of “blessed” in both the OT and NT, where it can also be properly translated as “happy,” e.g., Psalm 1:1; Matthew 5:3. Happiness becomes sinful, when we value our happiness more than God’s happiness, or we consider our happiness as not equal to our neighbor’s happiness, as Jesus summarized the purpose of the entire OT (Matthew 22:37-39). 

Verse 6: “You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you” (James 5:6 NIV). 

The rationalizations of an oppressor sounds objectionable to the unconvinced and high sounding to the sympathetic, but the evidence of the oppressor’s misdeeds can be seen in the results. “You have condemned and murdered the innocent one” (James 5:6 NIV). Murder, the unlawful taking of an innocent life, can be accomplished without lifting a finger. Jesus explained the methodology. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NIV). Murder, like adultery, is also accomplished in the heart. Though human judges and juries would fail to convict, God condemns the hatred at the root of murder. “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him” (1John 3:15 NIV). Jesus was straightforward about the cause of murder, because when the Church ceases to treat hatred of a brother or sister in this light, Society is less compelled to value innocent life so highly. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, Raca [Greek, rhaka, good-for-nothing], is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, You fool! will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22 NIV). The “innocent one, who was not opposing you” (James 5:6 NIV) describes the lack of maliciousness of the oppressed one. For this reason, most tyrants and oppressors will go to great extremes to falsely persuade Society of their victim’s deservedness of being so ill used. Who then is an “innocent one” (5:6 NIV)?  If the Church will not accurately “distinguish between the holy and the common [Hebrew, chôl, profane (KJV)]; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 22:26 NIV), between a truly condemnable sinfulness — “I hate God” — and its opposite, what they incorrectly label as an “I can’t help it,” innate sinfulness — “We’re all just sinners because we were born this way” — then Satan has stripped the Church of it’s ability to intelligently set up the Kingdom of God. Would they not also have trouble identifying the Antichrist? “When you see the abomination that causes desolation standing where it does not belong — let the reader understand — then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Mark 13:14 NIV). 

Patience in Suffering (5:7-12)   

Verse 7: “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” (James 5:7 NIV). 

Why does James implore patience on our part using the “Lord’s coming” (James 5:7 NIV) as our justification? We need patience, because what God does not make right now, He will certainly make right when He returns. “Heaven must receive Him [Jesus] until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets” (Acts 3:21 NIV). The Second Coming of Jesus Christ: (1) Is a certainty. “Men of Galilee, they said, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 NIV). (2) After about 2,000 years, it has not taken place. “They will say, Where is this coming He promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2Peter 3:4 NIV). (3) It may happen at any moment. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert ! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:32-33 NIV). (4) It will be soon. Jesus said, “I come quickly” (Revelation 22:7,12,20 NIV). James further gives the example of how the “farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop” (James 5:7 NIV). Anyone depending upon nature’s “autumn and spring rains” (5:7 NIV) — as ancient Israel counted upon the former and latter rains — is dependent upon God, regardless of science or technology. Who else can so precisely control when and where rain will fall? “You gave abundant showers, O God; You refreshed Your weary inheritance” (Psalm 68:9 NIV). 

Verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:8 NIV). 

“Be patient” (James 5:8 NIV) means to wait, but who will wait, if they do not believe the truth of the command? “Stand firm” (5:8 NIV) only occurs, when you are “fully convinced” (Romans 14:5 NIV). Here, James also justifies the command to “be patient” (5:8 NIV) and “stand firm” (5:8 NIV) because of the imminence of Christ’s return. Why does God keep using the nearness of Christ’s return as a motivation for proper conduct? Readiness for Christ’s return demands a continual rightness of heart. “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions” (Matthew 24:45-47 NIV). Is readiness more than a test? Yes, readiness implies rightheartedness, which is continually expected by our Lord, and will never cease in Eternity. We do not now or ever more expect to take time off from seeking the Everlasting God with our whole heart. “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You” (Psalm 73:25 NIV). 

Verse 9: “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9 NIV). 

“Don’t grumble [Greek, stenazō, grudge, groan, murmur, complain] against one another, brothers and sisters” (James 5:9 NIV) is addressed to disciples, who have the ability to disobey or comply with our fundamental code of conduct — love one another. “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35 NIV). Why is the Judge “standing at the door” (James 5:9 NIV)? Because, once we are absent from our immediate earthly circumstances, we are instantly present [2Corinthians 5:8] before the Judge “with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13 KJV). 

Verse 10: “Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (James 5:10 NIV). 

“An example of patience” (James 5:10 NIV) is a case in point that God has the right to use any one of us as an example of how to do or not do anything. Judas Iscariot betrayed our Lord, while Barnabas placed the proceeds for a sale of property at the feet of the apostles. Zacchaeus restored fourfold what he had stolen, while Achan was stoned to death for stealing clothing, gold, and silver. Mary, the sister of Martha, anointed Jesus feet with an expensive perfume worth a year’s wages to prepare for Jesus’ burial, while Balaam sold His counsel to Balak to ensnare Israel. The good and the ill, probably none were anticipating their actions to be forever memorialized in Scripture. The prophets “spoke in the name of the Lord” (James 5:10 NIV). How often did we wish our words or actions were forgotten? When we speak in the name of the Lord, we are claiming to represent God. By our very existence, we are supposed to represent and reflect God already; but here, God’s spokespersons were and are to carefully mirror Him accurately. He is watching and does assist us with His Spirit, so we will not be ashamed of our words and actions later. “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14 KJV). 

Verse 11: “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” (James 5:11 NIV). 

“We count as blessed [Greek, makarizō, happy] those who have persevered [Greek, hupomenō, endured]” (James 5:11 NIV). Earlier, we were told by James, “The testing of your faith produces perseverance [Greek, hupomonē, patience]” (James 1:3 NIV). Happiness comes only from enduring the testing or trial of your faith, because it produces the Spirit bred fruit of patience. But, patience has one more secret. You must have faith, in order to be tested; and, faith only comes from God, and that comes through His Word. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17 KJV). The story of the patience of Job or “Job’s perseverance” (James 5:11 NIV) is legendary. You may not desire the opportunity to be tested on the scale of Job’s testing, but he — like us — was only doing his job — like we also should. Take heart! Our Heavenly Father “knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14 NIV); and, “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1Corinthians 10:13 NIV). God wants us to pass the test to glorify Himself, for He is worthy. “What the Lord finally brought about” (James 5:11 NIV) from Job’s testing was glory for Himself, shaming the devil, giving us an example for suffering and patience, and restoring Job better than before. “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part” (Job 42:10, 12 NIV). “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11 NIV) may seem like far too much suffering for Job, but that only shows how little we comprehend of the compassion and mercy of God. In the NIV, “compassion” occurs 55 times in the OT alone — nearly all referring to God, as having “compassion.” “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV).

Verse 12: “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” (James 5:12 NIV). 

Have you ever heard of religious people in a courtroom, who would not swear on the Bible to “tell  the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God” because they took literally James 5:12, “do not swear”? I think they usually would say they “affirm” to tell the truth. And, in this present age (2022), the court system in the USA probably no longer mentions God’s name in court anymore nor would they require placing your hand on a Bible. But, the injunction, “do not swear — not by heaven or by earth or by anything else” (James 5:12 NIV) needs clarification. In OT Scripture, the people of God considered it their solemn duty to fulfill any oath pledged to God, as we should now. “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said” (Numbers 30:2 NIV). But, swearing “by heaven or by earth or by anything else” (James 5:12 NIV) is expressly forbidden. Why? Such swearing is not a pledge to the Lord to keep your word, but it is the exact opposite — an attempt to get around the necessity to tell or keep the truth. It is a twisting of the truth, such as when the Serpent questioned God’s integrity in forbidding the eating of the fruit “in the middle of the Garden” (Genesis 3:3 NIV). Instead, James instructs, a “simple Yes or No” (5:12 NIV) is sufficient. Jesus said the same. “All you need to say is simply Yes or No; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37 NIV). James added, “Otherwise you will be condemned” (James 5:12 NIV). Why? Because you would be lying. Just keep your word, as unto God. 

The Prayer of Faith (5:13-20) 

Verse 13: “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise” (James 5:13 NIV). 

Why does God allow “trouble” (James 5:13 NIV) to come upon His people? To remind us to pray. But, if we are walking in step with His Spirit, are we not already thinking and communing with God about all things? True, but  James is here issuing us a command — “let them pray” (5:13 NIV) — which we should not fail to obey. Just with our obedience to pray, we can claim prosperity and success to come from our troubles. “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8 NIV). “Is anyone happy?” (James 5:13 NIV), hopefully, that means us, since we are described by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, as “blessed” or happy (Matthew 5:3-11). Now, what are we to do? “Let them sing songs of praise” (James 5:13 NIV). This is not simply a suggestion, but another command. You are not musical? Maybe not, but God created us all with the capacity to appreciate a well played or sung song. “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19 KJV). Heaven will be awash with such praise forever. “Praise our God, all ye His servants, and ye that fear Him, both small and great” (Revelation 19:5 KJV). 

Verse 14: “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14 NIV). 

This is the sick call for Christ’s Church. Verses 3 and 4 give us three commands, in the form of “Let them,” which are not simply suggestions, but Greek imperatives. God has His own program of healthcare, not that He can’t, won’t, or may not use whatever man has. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act” (Proverbs 3:27 NIV). Paul counseled Timothy, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1Timothy 5:23 NIV). But, that advice did not stop Paul from praying for the removal of a probable physical “thorn in my flesh” (2Corinthians 12:7 NIV). “Is any among you sick?” (James 5:14 NIV).  “Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord” (5:14 NIV). This implies corrective action to be taken, if common procedures — rest, hydration, visit to the pharmacy, doctor visit — are ineffective. The elders are both to “pray over them” (5:14 NIV) and “anoint them with oil” (5:14 NIV). Most will not make that effort, without first attempting a more common cure. “Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5 NIV). Who should object to prayer and anointment with oil for healing, especially if medical science can do no more? 

Verse 15: “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven” (James 5:15 NIV). 

Still talking about healing, the “prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well” (James 5:15 NIV). A guiding principle of the Kingdom of God is, “According to your faith let it be done to you” (Matthew 9:29 NIV). Jesus preached hope. “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, Move from here to there, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 NIV). If we have little or no hope of healing from man, then should it be thought strange to seek healing from God? “But for you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves” (Malachi 4:2 NIV). “If they have sinned, they will be forgiven” (James 5:15 NIV). It is understood that God is not obligated to hear the prayer of anyone in active rebellion against Him. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18 KJV). So, confession of sin must precede God answering the Prayer of Faith. So, “if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” (James 5:15 KJV)

Verse 16: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16 NIV). 

Continuing this theme of prayer for healing, “confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16 NIV). Unlike the Catholic Auricular Confession to human priests, this is a required confession of sin directly to the injured party. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24 NIV). Our motive for confessing our sins is because we are truly sorry for our sins, not just saying so for the purpose of healing, for God cannot be mocked. “For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin” (Psalm 38:18 KJV). God always must be confessed to, as well as to any person against whom the sin was committed. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21 NIV). Unless we are unwilling to never again commit that offense, we are not truly sorry. “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints” (Ephesians 5:3 KJV). “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16 NIV). We are not righteous because of what we have accomplished, but we are righteous because of what God has accomplished in and through us. “Powerful and effective” (5:16 NIV) prayer comes, when we are submitted to God’s righteousness. When our prayers and supplications argue for God to demonstrate His righteousness in answering our prayer, then we are more concerned with God receiving the glory than our receiving the credit, or even the fulfillment of the prayer request. His righteousness is simply the rightness of the positions He takes and the actions He undertakes. “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1Corinthians 1:30 KJV). 

Verse 17: “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years” (James 5:17 NIV). 

Elijah is proof that God answers the prayer of a “human being, even as we are” (James 5:17 NIV). Jesus assured us of the truth of the three and a half year drought in Israel. “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land” (Luke 4:25 NIV). Understanding the hydraulic cycle, somewhere else than Israel, it rained. But, the miracle is that it didn’t rain in Israel for three and a half years, and all because Elijah “prayed earnestly that it would not rain” (James 5:17 NIV).  

Verse 18: “Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:18 NIV). 

But, God miraculously answered prayer again, this time to bring rain. God was magnified, when Elijah prayed. “And Elijah said to Ahab, Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain. So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. Go and look toward the sea, he told his servant. And he went up and looked. There is nothing there, he said. Seven times Elijah said, Go back. The seventh time the servant reported, A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea. So Elijah said, Go and tell Ahab, Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you” (1Kings 18:41-44 NIV). 

Verse 19: “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back,” (James 5:19 NIV). 

James is addressing his “brothers and sisters” (James 5:19 NIV). “If one of you should wander from the truth” (5:19 NIV) indicates a backsliding or apostasy. “And My people are bent to backsliding from Me” (Hosea 11:7 KJV). “And someone should bring that person back” (James 5:19 NIV) indicates a restoration. “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for Mine anger is turned away from him” (Hosea 14:4 KJV).

Verse 20: “Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20 NIV). 

God converts and saves, but He uses His people to gather the converts. “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel [Greek, anagkazō, force, constrain] them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23 KJV). To “compel” is to force, which is a rather strong word, when dealing with a willing decision to return and follow the Lord. Notice in the next two citations, God’s intervention to bring about right hearted decisions that produce right hearted actions. God will not violate the sanctity of His image imprinted upon humanity, even to gain a convert for Himself. He does not violate our free will in our decision making, but He alone knows how to secure our willingness. First, “I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws” (Ezekiel 36:27 NIV). Second, “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13 NIV). The results will be to “save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20 NIV). Spiritual death is the catastrophe avoided, and the covering of a “multitude of sins” (5:20 NIV) is by the “blood of Jesus, his Son, [which] purifies us from all sin” (1John 1:7 NIV). James closes this epistle addressed to the “twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1 NIV) with a very OT idea of forgiveness, i.e., to “cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20 NIV). “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Psalm 32:1 NIV).  

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