Lesson Twelve – The Rich and the Proud

The Rich and the Proud 

Lesson Text:  James 4:13-5:12 

A.  Word Study:

  1. 4:16.  The English words “boast” (NIV), and “rejoice” (KJV) are translated from the root of the Greek word “kauche.”  It means to glory or boast.  See Word Study, Lesson Nine, A, 5.  Paul used this word as a “technical word” in the Corinthian letters.  He built it up to represent something more meaningful than the normal use of the word.  I Cor. 1:31.
  2. 4:16.  “Brag” (NIV) and “boastings” (KJV) are from “alazoneia.”  It denotes quackery; hence, “arrogant display, or boastings.”  The Revised Standard translators used the word “vauntings.”  See I John 2:16.
  3. 4:16.  All “kauche” of this kind is evil.  “Evil” is translated from “poneros.”  It denotes “evil that causes labor, pain, and sorrow.
  4. 5:8.  “Stand firm” (NIV) and “stablish your hearts” (KJV) were translated from the Greek phrase “sterizo tas kardia.”   Sterizo means to fix, make fast, to set – to confirm.  Kardia, in this context, represents mankind’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and emotional elements.
  5. 5:9.  Grudge (KJV) and grumble (NIV) were translated from the Greek word “stenazo.”  It means “to groan” from within.  It is an unexpressed feeling of sorrow.  See Mark 7:34 – translated “sighed” in KJV.  Also see Heb. 13:17 where “stenazo” is translated “grief” (KJV) and “burden” (NIV).
  6. 5:11. Pitiful (KJV) and compassion (NIV) is from “polusplanchnos.”  This is a combination of two words: “Poles” means “much,” plus “splanchnon” the heart or affections; therefore, “full of pity.”
  7. 5:11.  Mercy (NIV) and tender mercy (KJV) is from “oiktirmon.”  It means having compassion for the ills of others.  See Luke 6:36.
  8. 5:12.  “Swear” has been translated from “omnuo.”  It is used of “affirming or denying by an oath.”  See Matt. 5:34; 26:74; Mark 6:23 and Luke 1:73.

B.  Introduction.  It was suggested in the introduction of the previous lesson the thought in 4:7-12 could apply to several different topics in James.  In fact, it could be an appropriate exhortation for most Christians at one time or another in our daily experiences.  In the previous lesson it was applied to Christians who had failed to learn and apply Jesus’ teaching about how to seek and find satisfaction for their innate needs.  The point is, there are blocks of scripture that can be read and understood without the context of the scriptures before and following this block, or thought.  Of course, all scriptures should be read in context with how they function to support the author’s aim for writing the letter.  Yet, the thought can “stand alone.”  It can be understood without the context of the document.  For instance, the scripture in 4:11, 12 can be understood as a “stand alone” text in discussions about church fellowship.  Even so, in this document it appears to be used to close out what James introduced in 4:1-3.

The text for this lesson includes four separate thoughts that can be considered “stand alone” thoughts.  Still, they support James’ intent for writing this document to the churches.  Otherwise, the four blocks of scripture need only to be studied in this context; “You are a mist that appears for a little while and vanishes.” Jas. 4:14.  All the thoughts in James contain principles that have “eternal relevance;” consequently, Jesus had us in mind as He gave these teachings to the Holy Spirit for James.  He addressed the following issues in the text for this lesson.

4:13-17.        People who boast and brag about what they are about to do.

5:1-6.             “You rich people.”

5:7-11.          “Blessed are those who have persevered.”

5:12.              “Do not swear.”

C.  Study of Text. 

1.  James 4:13-17.   James introduced this and the next thought with “now listen.”  The Greek words are ag’eh – “come on” and nun – immediate.  This phrase might be used by a people who consider themselves more informed about reality than the person they are addressing.  A paraphrase of verse thirteen would be: “Brothers listen to how you talk.  You sound as if you are in control of time and world events when you boost and brag about what you are dreaming of doing.”

God has given mankind a mind with the capacity to plan.  We have been endowed with imagination; therefore, we can see the end at the beginning of our plan.  We have been given the right to choose; therefore, we can choose a plan to accumulate wealth.  We can choose when and where we want to execute the project.  All of these capacities have been given to mankind by God.  Everything about us can be properly understood under the banner of “how and why” God created us.  Therefore, the proper attitude about how we plan to use our capabilities and endowments is; “If it is the Lord’s will.”

God created us to conform to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-30).  He created us in His own image, but in two distinct parts (Gen. 1:26; 2:7; Jas. 3:9).  One part is called our spirit and it is composed of our minds, hearts and consciences.  It came from God (Heb. 12:9).  Our spirit is designed in God’s likeness (Jas. 3:9).  Our spirits, our present “selves,” will return to God (Eccl. 12:7).  The other part is our bodies which includes our brains.  Our brains are the resident of our spirits.  Bodies have been created in two varieties – male and female (Gen. 1:27; II Cor. 6:18).  Before God created Adam, He created a universe compatible for the design of Adam’s body (Gen. 1:1-26).  He set the earth in an orbit around the sun; consequently, time became a factor for mankind.  Faithful Christians live our daily lives with all the foregoing in our “world views.”

Mankind did not design or create one particle.  Students of what God designed and created are making great strides in the field of science.   The people who have mastered this understanding are recognized as wise men and women.  This they are; however, this is wisdom about what God created.  It is not the wisdom of God from above the Apostle Paul spoke about in his letter to the Corinthian church of God (I Cor. 2:11; 3:19; Jas. 3:17, 18).  People cannot know God by their own wisdom (I Cor. 1:21).

“World view” is a term used in sociology.  It is used in the context of a general discussion of life.  All mature people possess what is called a “world view.”  They may not be aware of its impact on how they plan and view their lives.  Their world view plays a big role in their personal answer to James’ question; “What is your life?”  All people have reflected on this question at one time or another.  Some peoples’ world view has been developed by people who did not know Jesus Christ.   He revealed God and life; consequently, they do not have an answer for James’ question (John 14:5-12).   He spoke about the life of our spirits – not our bodies (Jas. 2:26).

James addressed some Christians who did not have a proper spiritual view for a functional part of their world view.  They were not practicing “godliness.”  Godliness means Christians are aware of God’s presence at all times and we seek to do what is pleasing to Him (Jas. 1:20).  Paul applied godliness to the topic of “financial gain.”  Please see I Tim. 6:5-10.  This is a good commentary for the first two thoughts in the text of this lesson.  The recipients of James’ letter had been taught all of the foregoing.  This is why James could open this discussion with, “Oh come now, you know better than to talk like you do.”  Their faith had become dead (Jas. 2:17).  Some were no longer praying, “If it is the Lord’s will.”

Thus James warned, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”  Jas. 4:17.  In other words when we violate our conscience, we violate our faith; therefore, we sin (Rom. 2:15; 14:23).  Sinners who do not repent of violating their own list of good and evil will surely go to hell.  Christians, who do not produce deeds from their faith, have a dead faith.  Their faith is not being “credited as righteousness.”  Jas. 2:22, 23.  They do not have peace with God now and they will not be allowed to remain with God even though their spirits will return to God (Rom. 5:1; Jas. 2:12, 13).

After Adam and Eve broke covenant with God, they were driven out of the presence of God and the tree of life (Gen. 2:9, 16, 17; 3:24).  The Apostle Paul summed up mankind’s condition from that time until this hour in I Cor. 15:22.  “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive.”  God’s grace through the cross of Jesus has provided life for our spirits “in Christ.”  Fellowship with God is life (Col. 3:3).  However, our “soul lives” are lived under the banner of; “You are a mist that appears for a little while and the then vanishes.”  Jas. 4:14.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is the “earnest of our inheritance.”  Eph. 1:13, 14.  Our bodies will be made alive in the likeness of Jesus’ glorious body if the Spirit of Christ is with us when each of us “put off the tent of this body.”  See Rom. 8:10, 11; II Pet. 1:13, 14; I John 3:2, 3.  This is the boast of a Christian who possesses proven faith.  It will be our boast when Jesus returns (I Cor. 1:31; II Cor. 2:14).  All other boasting is evil where godliness is missing (I Tim. 3:14-16). 

The following are thought questions:

a.   How should the way James introduced this block of scripture be understood?

b.   What is wrong with boasting and bragging about what we plan to do?

c.  Explain Christians’ lives in relation to James statement, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes?”

d.  What does it reveal about a person who never adds “If it is the Lord’s will,” when he or she sets forth their plans for a project?

e.    Explain Jas. 4:17 in terms of mankind attaining the knowledge of good and evil “in Adam” and the function our consciences.

2.  James 5:1-6.  “You rich people.”

Since James introduced this scripture in the same way he did the foregoing, this suggests he is addressing members of the church.  This is assuming the foregoing scripture was addressed to Christians.  The line “you ought to say, if it is the Lords will” suggests they were Christians.  The role of “rich people” greatly concerned James.  He understood it influenced what was happening in the churches at the time he wrote this letter.  Please consider the following scriptures:

1:9-11.  Some rich people were transferred to the kingdom of God and functioned as a member of the body of Christ.  They had humbled themselves to Jesus’ Lordship to have fellowship with their “brother of humble circumstance.”

2:1-4.  Some rich people did attend the assemblies of the church.  This could have been the same people James mentioned in 1:9-11.  In this block, the problem was with the “brothers of humble circumstance,” not necessarily the rich.  Of course, if the rich people were the same “rich” in 2:6, 7, then both parties had a problem.

2:5.  God has revealed His love for all people but He only plans to reward those who are “rich in faith” and have learned to love Him.

2:14-16.  Since “rich” is a relative term; therefore, the brother or sister who is without clothes and food would classify and refer to those who had these things as the “rich.”

We may asked; “What is wrong with being rich?”  James answered this question in the following scriptures.

5:1.  He thought their riches would give them trouble in the future.  Was he referring to Judgment Day?  If so, the answer is yes!  Unless, of course, they would repent (Luke 16:19-24).  Perhaps, the misery he spoke of was already at their door before they died (Acts 8:18-24).   Jesus told a young rich man to sell his possessions and give to the poor (Matt. 19:20-24).  His riches were giving him trouble.

This is not Jesus’ instructions for every rich man.  Some rich people have not become dependent on their riches for the satisfaction of their innate needs; therefore, they can be good stewards over their wealth (I Tim. 6:17-19).  They can help people in need, and at the same time, secure their inheritance in heaven (Luke 16:8, 9).  Jesus may have been telling the rich young man to recognize what Paul told the Colossians; “greed is idolatry.”  Col. 3:5.  What, or who, we have faith in for the satisfaction of our innate needs becomes our gods – or God.

5:2, 3.  This is the description of rich people who do not understand the material world belongs to God.  He created it for our bodies.  Our bodies were created for our spirits.  Our spirits have become who we are – our “selves.”  Our own possessions are waiting for us in heaven (Luke 16:10-13).  Jesus has prepared a place for God’s children who are good stewards of material things (John 14:1-4).

5:4-6.    Wealth is a problem for people who think of it as a treasure; however, there is another problem.  Rich people employ people.  James “personalized” the payroll accounts in this text.  These accounts speak out loud and clear to God right from the rich man’s dinner table.  Peter wrote about “good and considerate” masters and also “harsh” masters (I Pet. 2:18).  Harsh masters’ payroll ledger may follow the rich ones to his or her judgment (I Tim. 5:24, 25).

The following are thought questions:

a.    Do you think James is still addressing members of the church in this text?  If your answer is “no” then why did he include this diatride (bitter discourse) in his letter to Christians?  The issue is, “How does this paragraph function in this document?”  How does it help promote the main theme of the letter?

b.    Rich is a relative term, but James helps us understand the kind of people he referred to as “rich people” in this block of scripture. While making use of his terms please attempt to make a statement about the level of their richness; their power over others; their goals for themselves.

c.     Do you think Christians who have hoarded riches up to the time of their physical death could hope to inherit God’s kingdom and receive a crown of life?  See Matt. 19:23, 24; I Tim. 6:17-19.

d.    How does Jesus’ principle of stewardship clash with a “hoarder of wealth?”  See Luke 16:10-12.

e.   What is the difference in the behavior of a rich man or woman who is a good steward and those who make wealth their treasure?

f.     When did James suggest the misery of being a rich hoarder would begin?

g.    Describe the people, other than the rich, James included in this block of scripture.

3.    James 5:7-11.  “Be patient, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.” 

James is, perhaps, starting to close his letter with this block of scripture.  His tone changed from his calling the “stiff neck” Christians to repentance, to be “patient, brothers.”  On the other hand, he may have simply re-focused his letter from the “rich people” in the foregoing text to their underpaid servants.  Some of these servants may have been Christians James wanted to encourage.  Peter entreated ill-treated Christian servants to bear their harsh treatment; “For it is commendable if a man bears up under pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.”  I Pet. 2:19.  This is godliness.  This is a faith testing exercise.  Christians work for Christ (I Cor. 7:22).  We are all slaves to God’s righteousness (Rom. 6:19-22).

The next study in this book, Part II, will be a study of Peter’s letters.  Note how he started his first letter with the issue James addressed in this block of scripture.  Please read I Pet. 1:3-9 for a commentary on this block.  The letters written by James and Peter could make pagans wonder how “Christians” interpreted these writers to say things like; “Of first importance, we must build a comfortable stylish building in which to meet; otherwise, people won’t join up with us.”   Of next most important, we must have padded seats and of course climate control.  The question is; are we talking about going to heaven or setting up heaven on earth?

The scriptures actually tell us:  Of first importance for developing sons and daughters for God out of pagan people is the gospel of the cross (I Cor. 15:3-5).  First must come the hearing and understanding the gospel to produce faith in God’s program for mankind and His grace “in Christ” so the program can happen.  Repentance, which includes the acceptance of the new covenant, must happen in the mind of the one who has faith in this covenant.  Obedience in baptism is the final process of the new birth.  The next thing of first importance is the joy of faith testing.  Why? Because this is how children of God develop.  There are no “short cuts,” as parents are quick to tell the children we love (Heb. 12:4-14).  “We love you and that is why we discipline you” is the refrain of loving parents.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16.  The Son sent a message to the churches He purchased with His own blood for the Father.  He sent His message by the Holy Spirit to the writers of the New Testament saying: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4.

James may be ready to close his letter because he has come back to where he started.  His letter has been about “patience’s work.”  It is the same program as God’s work in Christ.  However, patience’s work is an “inside out” work.  “As you know, we consider 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.”  Jas. 5:11

The following are thought questions:

a.  Why might we think James may be starting to close his letter in 5:7-11?

b.  How did he use what some members of the church knew about “farmers?”

c. To whom did James relate the statement, “We consider blessed are those who have persevered?”

d.  Explain why James might have inserted the clause; “The Judge is standing at the door!”

4.  James 5:12.  “Above all, my brothers, do not swear – not by heaven or by earth or by anything else.  Let your ‘Yes’ be yes, and your ‘No’ be no, or you will be condemned.”

Swear has been translated from “omnuo.”  It is used of “affirming or denying by an oath,” according to Vines’ Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words.  The following is an excerpt from my book, “Sermon on the Mount,” Part III, Lesson Four.  It can be viewed on my website,  www.whydidgodcreateyou.com

“Lying is a weakness of character and it gets its influence from the “evil one” as we see in our lesson text Matthew 5:37.  James speaks to this same subject.  He warned that anything other than “yes” or “no” will condemn us (Jas. 5:12).  He also said, “Let your yes be yes,” that is, if the answer is yes, then nothing more needs to be said to convince anyone the answer is positive.  The same thing applies to “no.”  Christians need not attempt to strengthen what we say by swearing by our own strength since, in most cases, we do not possess the power to determine the outcome.  Neither do we have power over God’s strength; therefore, we cannot swear by Him that a promise will be fulfilled on our behalf.  We can humble ourselves to His will and He will give help accordingly (Jas. 4:13-17).  One who has humility has come to understand one’s true self – the good and the bad, the ugly and the beauty of our own selves.

Although we give a positive yes or a negative no, there is a possibility that we can be wrong.  There really is no use to say more than yes or no.  The Apostle Paul was accused of applying both yes and no to the promise he had made to visit the Corinthian church (II Cor. 1:17).  He took this charge very seriously because he understood they were defaming his character.  He also understood the way people perceive a Christian’s character has much to do with this person’s power to preach and teach God’s word (II Cor. 1:18-22).

All Christians must possess integrity.  The word “integrity” comes from integration.  A person who uses “yes” and “no” in the same application has a disintegrated character.”  End of excerpt.

This scripture can be understood as “patience’s work” in the development of a mature and complete man.  It stands in opposition to the double-minded man (Jas. 1:8).  Patience’s work is to develop a son of God.  This was “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”  I Cor. 2:7.

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