The two paragraphs in this study both begin with the words “Now listen”. James addresses two areas of life in which Christians often live just as the world does, and he wants us to take note.
4:13-17 – Presumptuous planners should remember that God is God and they are not
The first paragraph addresses merchants, who make their self-confident business plans, as in verse 13. The problem with these words is not the fact that they are making plans per se, but the arrogance and boasting that lies behind it. They think of themselves as the centre of their plans, able to bring about whatever they wish. Specifically, they have forgotten three things, all of which touch on our humanity – we are not God.
- They have forgotten their own limited knowledge – they don’t even know what will happen tomorrow, so how can they be so confident?
- They have forgotten their own mortality – they are only here for 80 years or so, so there may not even be a tomorrow.
- They have forgotten their own impotence – God is sovereign and they are not.
Verse 17 presses the point home. He’s not saying that something is only wrong once you know it to be so. He is saying that these people are Christians who know God and therefore they have no excuse for leaving God out of their thinking. For many of us, it is especially in the workplace that we have a tendency to do just that.
5:1-6 – Rich people should repent of wrongly using and acquiring their wealth
The second half addresses “you rich”. Whilst being rich is not a sin, we can sin in the way we acquire our wealth, fall in love with our wealth or use our wealth. The force of James’s denunciation has led the majority of commentators to suggest that James is addressing rich non-Christians (for the encouragement of the poor, oppressed Christians who are reading the letter – see for instance 2:6); that seems likely and certainly has plenty of Biblical precedent, but Motyer’s comment perhaps has some weight: “Sadly the only compelling argument against understanding verses 1-6 as a challenging call to believers would be this – if we could say that believers could not possibly behave like this.” Many of us should consider ourselves rich, and certainly we ought to recognize how easily we are tempted to fall into the sin James speaks of and take heed, therefore.
Four sins are addressed. The first and third are about how money is used; the second and fourth about how it is acquired.
- Hoarding (2-3). We are in the last days, in which the next certain event is judgment; on that day the stuff of this world in which we place so much value will be destroyed, and the rotted waste of our “surplus” then will be evidence against us that we have stored up more than we needed. That’s not to condemn any saving for the future, but the concern to store up for ourselves treasure on earth rather than in heaven.
- Exploitation (4). They have got rich at the expense of failing to treat their workers as they should – and on that day of judgment God will punish such wrong doing.
- Indulgence (5). We are again reminded that we are in the last days, for “the day of slaughter” speaks of the plight of God’s enemies on judgment day. To simply care to indulge all your pleasures at such a time, while knowing others are headed for the slaughter house, is callous in the extreme.
- Oppression (6). They have taken those who have done them no wrong through the courts to extract a little more wealth; these victims may not have defended themselves, which implicitly warns that there is one who will.
- Who is James addressing in 4:13-17?
- What is wrong in the attitude behind what they say in v.13?
- How is it boasting or arrogant?
- How does James undermine such arrogance?
- Is James saying that making plans is wrong?
- How then should we make plans for the future?
- James is speaking to merchants. Do you think this godless way of thinking is a particular danger in the workplace? How do you particularly need to apply this teaching in your own life?
- Who is James addressing in 5:1-6?
- Do you think he is speaking to rich people in the church? Or all rich people? Or rich people not in the church? Why?
- If he addressing non-Christian rich people (who presumably would not read these words), why does James write this?
- We are in a different position from James’ first readers, and should be warned by James’ words about our own attitude to wealth.
- What wrong attitudes and abuses does James warn us of here?
- How might we be guilty of them?
- How might we guard against them?
- What has particularly challenged you from this study?