James 5




Warning to Rich Oppressors (5:1-6)

1-3 In this section, James mainly addresses wealthy people who oppress the poor. Those Christians who are well off should pay special heed to these verses.

Here James speaks like a prophet. He says that misery is about to come upon the rich people who oppress the poor. Then James says that the wealth and the clothing of the rich is already ruined. The coming destruction of the rich is so certain that James speaks of it as if it had already happened.12 The corroded wealth of the rich will testify against them on the final day of judgment. Instead of using their riches to serve Christ and others, these rich people have stored up their riches for themselves. They have done this in the last days, says James. The last days are the days of Jesus Christ, that is, the period between Christ’s first coming (His birth) and His second coming. The world is passing away; soon the rich will not be able to use their hoarded wealth. They will lose not only their wealth, but also their souls (see Matthew 6:19-21; Mark 8:3637; Luke 6:24; 16:19-31).

In 70 A.D., not many years after this letter was written, the Roman army utterly destroyed the city of Jerusalem. All the Jews of that city perished, together with their wealth. Thus James’ “prophecy” came true, and quicker than anyone thought!

4 James accuses the rich of having cheated their workers. Such injustice cries up to heaven. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.13 And God hears. God will avenge all injustice.

5 The rich have lived in luxury and self-indulgence. Before men kill animals for food, they fatten them. In the same way, the rich have been fattening themselves for the day of slaughter. The “day of slaughter” is the day of judgment, which will be coming soon (see Luke 12:15-21).

6 The rich and powerful, because of their greed, have killed innocent men. They have killed prophets and apostles (Matthew 23:37). James himself was killed in 62 A.D. But the greatest crime of the rich was to kill Jesus Christ (Acts 7:52). The innocent men that James mentions here can refer to many innocent men (the poor, the prophets, etc.) who were not opposing the rich, or it can refer to Jesus alone. Jesus did not oppose the rich. Even when they conspired to put Him to death, Jesus did not oppose them (see 1 Peter 2:23). On the day of judgment, God Himself will oppose all rich oppressors.

Patience in Suffering (5:7-12)

7-8 In this section, James again talks to believers. He writes: Be patient … and stand firm. Great tribulation was about to come, not only on the wealthy Jews, but also on the Christians of James’ time. Not only was Jerusalem soon to be destroyed; but even before that, the believers in Jerusalem would be facing severe persecution. Furthermore, the second coming of Christ was not far away. Therefore, let them not give up their faith; let them not fall away (see Mark 13:13; Hebrews 3:6,14; 10:36).

We cannot make ourselves firm and patient by our own strength. But God, through His Holy Spirit, is ready to help us. Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). God Himself will make us strong, firm and steadfast (1 Peter 5:10).

A farmer waits patiently for the rain. In Israel the rains fall mainly in the autumn and the spring. The autumn rain is called the “early rain,” and the spring rain is called the “late rain.” After the autumn rain, the farmer is able to plow his fields. After the spring rain, the harvest is ready to be cut. Just as the farmer waits patiently for the rain, so must believers wait patiently for the second coming ofJesus. Ifa farmer can wait patiently for an ordinary harvest, can we not wait patiently for the inheritance stored up for us in heaven?

9 Here again James warns Christians not to speak against each other. Don’t grumble against each other, he writes.

When trials and persecution come upon us, how quick we are to blame each other for our troubles! Just as the ancient Jews grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the desert, so we too grumble against others—especially against our leaders (Exodus 16:1-3; 17:1-4). Let this not be!

Trials come upon us according to God’s will, so that our faith might be tested (James 1:2-3). God is watching how we stand up under these trials. If under trial we grumble against others, we are actually grumbling against God (Exodus 16:8). He will judge us. Let us beware, lest He punish us as He punished the ancient Jews in the desert (Numbers 11:1; 14:1-4, 26-29). The Judge (Christ) is standing at the door (Revelation 3:20). He hears our grumbling. Christ is ready to return to earth as Judge; and He will judge not only non-believers, but believers also (1 Peter 4:17).

10-11 Those who persevere to the end are considered blessed (see James 1:4). James gives the Old Testament example of Job, who was an important man in his time. God tested Job by allowing terrible afflictions to come upon him. Job lost everything—his land, his house, his wealth, his children, his honor. Then he lost his health. But even in the face of such severe trials, Job never grumbled against God. And finally, in the end, God greatly blessed Job, and his final situation was better than his first. All this the Lord brought about; it was His plan and purpose from the beginning (Job 1:1-22; 2:1-10; 42:12-17).

God allows suffering and tribulation to come upon us for our good. In the end, because of His great mercy and love, He will always turn our sorrow and pain into joy and blessing (Psalm 103:8; Isaiah 61:13,7). Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds … he will restore us, that we may live in his presence (Hosea 6:1-3).

12 … do not swear. James is here talking about swearing in ordinary conversations. We must speak plainly and honestly. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no. Whatever we say, it should be the truth. An honest person never needs to swear in order to prove that what he says is true. Such swearing is useless. Worse than that, when we swear unnecessarily, we use the Lord’s name in vain (see Matthew 5:34-37). Let us beware; the Lord will judge us for every vain and careless word we speak (Matthew 12:36).

James does not mean that we should never swear an oath under any circumstances. In law courts in every country, it is customary to swear before giving testimony; this is not a sin. In important matters, it is suitable to swear an oath (Hebrews 6:1617). The Apostle Paul many times called on the Lord to be a witness to what he was saying (2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20; Philippians 1:8). James is not talking here about such situations. Rather, he is talking about the unnecessary and vain swearing that goes on in ordinary conversation.

The Prayer of Faith (5:13-20)

13 We must pray in every situation (Phil-ippians 4:6). In this verse, James says that we should sing songs of praise when we are happy. That’s true; but we should also sing songs of praise when we are in trouble! (see Acts 16:23-25).

14 Those who are sick should call the elders of the church to pray for their healing. The elders are the leaders in any local church (see 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5-6 and comments). They are to anoint14 [the sick person] with oil. In New Testament times, oil was used as a medicine (see Mark 6:13; Luke 10:34). In this verse, James is referring to oil mainly as a medicine.15 Therefore, we can see from this that in ordinary circumstances the sick need both medicine and prayer. Both medical treatment and prayer must be done in the name of the Lord. “In the name of the Lord” is not just some sort of saying or mantra. It means that we are praying and giving medicine as Christ’s ambassadors, according to His will and for His glory, and with full faith in His healing power.

15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. That is, the prayer of faith will heal the person’s physical sickness. All healing power comes from Christ.16 Christ can heal people through medicine alone, through prayer alone, or through both together. The farmer waters the seed, but God makes it grow (1 Corinthians 3:7). In the same way, the doctor and nurse give medicine, but Christ heals. James is not talking in this verse about the special healing gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:9). That gift is given to only a few members of the church. But every Christian can pray the prayer of faith. Not only the elders must pray for the sick; the sick person himself along with his family must pray for his healing (verse 13). If the elders, however, agree together and pray in faith, Jesus will answer their prayer (Matthew 18:19-20; 21:22).

If he (the sick person) has sinned, he will be forgiven. Many diseases are not directly caused by sin (John 9:1-3). But some diseases do arise as the direct result of sin; and it is this kind of disease that James has in mind in this verse. The person with such a disease needs not only physical healing for his body but also spiritual healing for his soul. Through the prayer offered in faith, the sick person’s sins will be forgiven and his soul healed. When He was on earth, Christ had the power both to heal the body and also to forgive sins (Psalm 103:2-3; Mark 2:3-12). And, through faith, all believers in Christ can receive that same power.

James does not mean to say in this verse that every sick person we pray for will be physically healed. That is obviously impossible, because all men must die sometime. But even though a sick person’s body is not healed, if he repents and believes in Jesus, his sins will be forgiven and his soul will be saved. Salvation is the most important kind of “healing.” It is complete healing, and it lasts forever.

16 All Christians agree that fellowship is important. We have house fellowships, we have prayer meetings, we have retreats, we have church services. And all these are important—indeed, essential.

But true fellowship involves more than attending meetings. To have true fellowship means that we confess [our] sins to each other. It means that we know each other, and love each other. It means that we trust each other, and pray for each other. Every one of us has sins; every one of us has something to confess. We must not hide things from one another.

Therefore, let us confess our sins to each other, and then let us pray for each other. When we do this, we shall all receive spiritual healing. And, at the same time, our fellowship will grow all the more close and joyful.

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Who is the righteous man? We are the “righteous man.” Through faith in Christ, we have been declared righteous in God’s sight. Our prayers, then, are powerful and effective. Therefore, let us pray continually (1 Thes-salonians 5:17).

17-18 The Old Testament prophet Elijah was a man just like us. His prayers were certainly powerful and effective! He prayed, and no rain fell on Israel for three and a half years. Then he prayed again, and the rain came. Elijah is an example for us (1 Kings 17:1; 18:1,41-45).

19-20 James here addresses Christian brothers. If a brother should wander from the truth, he is in danger of death (verse 20). Therefore, let us always try to bring him back. Only God can save, but He uses us to turn a sinning brother from the error of his way. If the sinning brother turns back from his error—that is, if he repents—all of his sins will be “covered over,” forgiven, erased. Only through repentance can our sins be “covered over,” or forgiven; there is no other way.


1 Hebrew was the main language of the Jews. It was almost the same as Aramaic, which was the language spoken by most common people of the Middle East, including Jesus.

2 Greek was the language of Greece, an important country in southern Europe. In New Testament times most educated people in the countries around the Mediterranean Sea spoke Greek. The New Testament was originally written in Greek.

3 It is not necessary to stop being a Jew in order to become a Christian. Christ Himself was a Jew. It is only necessary that a Jew stop putting his trust in the law and in his own works; he must put his trust in Christ alone.

4 There are also special supernatural gifts of wisdom and knowledge, which are gifts of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12:8 and comment). However, James is not talking about these special gifts of the Spirit in this verse. He is talking about wisdom in a general sense.

5 He must not take pride in himself, but rather in God. He has not obtained his high (spiritual) position because of his own worthiness; he has received it by God’s grace alone.

6 Trials, in this sense, are not only bad things that happen to us; they can also be pleasant things. Such pleasant things can be called “trials” because they test our faith and obedience just as much as painful trials do. In this verse, then, the word trial means “test of faith.”

7 It is important to remember throughout this discussion of faith that faith itself does not save us. We are saved by grace; it is God who saves us (see Ephesians 2:8-9 and comment).

8 Love and obedience always go together; to obey is to love, and to love is to obey (see John 14:15). In the same way, faith and deeds always go together; you can’t have one without the other.

9 In these verses, the word cursing and curse (verse 9) refer not only to cursing itself but also to critical talk in general.

10 There are things, of course, about which we must not talk. (We must not talk about the faults of others, for example.) But our silence must never be for the purpose of deceiving other people.

11 It is not certain what the exact translation of these words should be; different versions of the Bible give different translations. It is not certain whether the spirit mentioned here is the Holy Spirit or man’s spirit. Whichever translation is chosen, the general meaning of the passage seems to be that God looks on us with jealous longing, and when we begin to love the world more than Him, He becomes very upset with us.

12 Paul has also written of future things as if they had already happened (see Romans 8:30 and comment).

13 In place of the words Lord Almighty, some translations of the Bible say “Lord of hosts.” The meaning is the same. The “hosts” are armies of angels.

14 In the Greek text of this verse, the word anoint which James uses refers to the application of medicine. It does not refer to sacramental anointing; for that, a different Greek word is used.

15 However, oil can also mean the Holy Spirit; oil is a sign of the Holy Spirit. Both meanings of oil are possible here, and they both fit together. Because even when we use medicine to heal a person, it is actually the Holy Spirit who does the healing.

16 Christ heals through the Holy Spirit.