9 February 2017

James 5:1-6

“Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 103

The Methodist Church's Bible Month this year focuses on the letter of James. It takes place in June, although churches and circuits may choose a different time if that is more convenient. For more information (including training and resources), go to


Whereas James 4:13-17 dealt with the wealthywithinthe church, today's passage turns to the wealthyoutsideof the church, and particularly to the rich who exploit the poor. James' critique echoes that of the prophets (Isaiah 5:8-10; Ezekiel 16:49-52), as well as Jesus' own teaching (Matthew 6:19-20). For James, to exploit the poor is to snub the creator and to open oneself up to the coming judgement.

James' critique is not of rich people as such, but of those who store up wealth for themselves while exploiting those who work for them. Hence, the labourers cry out for justice against their employers who keep back wages (verse 4). Those James refers to were probably day-labourers, dependent on landowners for their payment at the end of each day. By keeping back their wages for another time, the landowners cause their workers to suffer.

James' critique of storing up wealth and living in luxury also echo Jesus' parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21). Pursuing wealth for its own sake, and living an ungenerous life, leaves one exposed to the judgement of God. God calls for lives of love and generosity, not exploitation and greed. The riches one hoards will be held as evidence on the day of judgement (verse 3), and God always hears the cries of the poor and the exploited (verse 4).

Verse 6 speaks of the wealthy condemning and murdering the "righteous one". The "righteous one" here stands for those oppressed unjustly by landowners, and the murder may be a hyperbolic way of referring to the ways in which the rich exploit the poor. Given that Jesus is described as the 'righteous one' elsewhere in Scripture (Acts 3:14; 7:52), it is hard to avoid thinking of Jesus as an example of one who suffered and yet responded with grace.

To Ponder

  • In what ways do the wealthy exploit the poor today?
  • Why do you think it's important for James to remind his readers of God's coming judgement?
  • How might this passage challenge the Church in Britain today? 

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the Discipleship Development Officer for the Methodist Church and an Associate Lecturer at Cliff College. He lives in Derbyshire with his wife Ali and their two sons.