Home » Various Sermons » James 4.11-5.6: Poor Presumptions

James 4.11-5.6: Poor Presumptions

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.” – James 4.11-5.6

James in this portion begins to speak on the various different presumptions we can make.  On our presumptions on what tomorrow brings, or the wealthy’s idea that their money can get them whatever they want, or even our presumptions of each other.  All these things go against what Yahweh has called out to do.  That is to meekly follow his Torah, to not speak about others, but instead to seek to be doers of his will.  As James begins to wrap his letter up, he still calls our attention to the various themes which he has mentioned and built upon time and time again in his epistle.

We are to be Doer of the Word, not mere speakers, and the things which do speak which ought to be careful of what comes out.

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” – James 4.11-12

As James begins this portion of the letter, James turns to fact that some of the people in his audience had begun to judge another and the Law, that is the Torah.  This the third time in James’ epistle where he turns to actions of our speech, “Do not speak evil,” we are not slander one another as that accomplishes nothing , for when we gossip or speak behind one another’s back that only hurts, never helps[1].  Jame once again picks up Jesus and his similar words in Matthew 7.1-5[2]

“”Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

James may also indeed be alluding to Leviticus 19.16 “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.”  The readers of his letter had begun to pick and prod at what other believers were doing and thus becoming “Judgers” so to speak of them[3].  Moreover evidently some of his people had started “To judge the law” that is to decide what adherence to the Torah meant, and then they expected others to follow their interpretation, but the sad reality is that these people were in fact not following the Torah at all[4].

For after all how can one be a doer of the Torah if all he is doing is misinterpreting and pulling others to this same misinterpretation?  James instead insists that by doing these two things, by our misuse of tongue and by misunderstanding of the Torah we fail to see what we really ought to be doing.  We aren’t supposed to be judges, but instead we are to be doers of Yahweh’s Instructions.

James then points to who the origin of the Law is, namely Yahweh himself and in a way he also alludes to several other Old Testament passages[5]. Such as Deuteronomy 32.39 “”‘See now that I [Yahweh], even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” Or 1 Samuel 2.6 “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” By becoming judges we begin to “infringe” on a right that belongs to God himself, after all he is the one who created the law[6].

Moreover we are reminded of James’ earlier words that the Word of God saves and we are reminded once again that the Torah were Yahweh’s words and as he can save he too has the option of destruction, God alone can judge[7].

A hint of caution should be thrown up though.  This portion of James isn’t telling us that we should avoid  the kinds of judgments a church body at times must make, (that is the removing from the body those in full disobedience), or for that matter is he telling us not call one another out on sin[8].  Instead, what he is talking about is judging in the wrong light.  That is James is calling us to avoid seeing someone doing something wrong per say and rebuking them in the wrong matter[9].  Perhaps because we’re envious we declare to the body their sin, or perhaps we perceive them doing so heinous a sin we declare to the body, without doing things in the proper order.

When calling people out on sin it is supposed to be done out of love because we’re worried about them and it is supposed to be done privately until the sin warrant such a thing as consulting the entire body.

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” – James 3.13-17

Now James moves into the second part of this portion (that is James 4.13-5.6), and this first he begins to warn his audience about the how uncertain tomorrow really is.  He is continuing his attack so to speak about “presumptions,” though at this point he focuses on “the businessmen of his day[10].”  James begins verse thirteen with “Come now, you…” and this same Greek phrase will once again be seen in the beginning of the next chapter, though directed specifically toward the rich[11].  James here begins again with another one of his various illustrations which he has used quite effectively in this letter.

This time James shows who some Businessman who rather confident and smug about the plans he has made, after all he knows where he is going and what he is doing and how long it will take, all in the view of one thing, to make money[12].  And in a very real way he is painted a very real picture of the way people were at that time, painted a very real “motive” for why the reader would travel[13].  Yet the sad part of all this is that the reader has forgotten a very important part, that is God, as the previous group forgot portions of Yahweh’s Torah, this Get Rich quick group has forgotten that everything depends on God’s will[14].

For as James quickly continues “You do not know what tomorrow brings.”  Here again James reflects a common wisdom motifs of the uncertainly of tomorrow and the fragileness of life[15] as Proverbs 27.1 reminds us “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” or Job 7.7-9 “”Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good.  The eye of him who sees me will behold me no more; while your eyes are on me, I shall be gone.  As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up;” And once more James’ words are close to his brother’s parable in Luke 12.15-21

“And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’  And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’   But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’   So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.””

James instead commends us to do the opposite of what these people are doing instead of making plans for tomorrow we are instead to focus on God.  James in a sense calls us back to the major themes which have appeared that is we are to trust God and this is to be shown by our speech and our actions[16].  Thus as we say “if the Lord wills it” we are saying we truly believe that and so therefore our actions are transformed by the will of God and not instead by our will.

Instead those actions which James tells us we ought to have he tells his readers that they have the opposite of this, that is that they are boasting and they are sinning.  By not including God in our plans we are boasting on our own ability, sometimes we might not be doing anything wrong per say, but when making plans we cannot leave God out of the picture[17].  This “condemnation against pretense” is rather similar to other biblical passages[18].

Notice for example 1 John 2.16-17 “For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

As James finishes this portion he again recalls to us, that we, not anyone else, are responsible for the actions which we choose to take[19].

“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.  Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.” – James 5.1-3

At this point James moves from the presumptuous trader to that of the Rich, and here he begins like an Old Testament prophet by encouraging the faithful to remain so, for what he says will come upon the rich[20].  The rich here aren’t part of the believing community, instead they are in fact quite outside it[21].  James tells the rich that their gold and fancy clothing are worthless and they don’t mean a thing, everything they had ever wanted is now becoming meaningless[22].  There wasn’t a point to any of it.  Here James isn’t being kind or nice; he is indeed showing his anger over the riches horrible treatment of the poor and talks of what is truly awaiting them, which as mention is the loss of everything[23].

The rich thought that they had it made, but in truth all that they have means nothing and in the end it is worthless.  Basically what the Rich thought they had, doesn’t mean a thing to God, and in God’s eyes their riches are just piles of junk that will only destroy itself and its owners[24].  Therefore there isn’t any reason to want to be like them or more importantly to act like them, instead it would be better to avoid that very thing.

“Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.  You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.  You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.” – James 5.4-6

James points out three things which the Rich has done wrongly they have swindled their workers, they have brought the righteous to court, and they remained living in “self indulgence[25].”  While the Righteous on the other hand has called out to God (who has heard them), and the righteous though persecuted has instead of reacting with violence has chosen to rely on God[26].  Interesting enough in Jewish wisdom motif to keep one wages was tantamount to killing them[27], Sirach 34.26-7 ESV mentions that “To take away a neighbors’ living is to murder him; to deprive an employee of his wages is to shed blood.”

While the Rich might have had it made in man’s eyes, the truth of the matter is that they had failed in God’s eyes.  Instead of the doing what they ought to with their wealth they merely used on themselves and still desired more, even denying what was due to others.  But the truth of the matter is that God has heard the cries of the oppressed and is with them.  Although the rich might have it made right now, in the end they will have to face God and as James pointed out already there they find that they have nothing but rags.

There they will find themselves in quite a bit of trouble.

In Conclusion:

James has pointed out that our various presumptions mean nothing.  It does us no good to rely on ourselves, to rely on tomorrow, or even to rely on the words of others.  Instead the only thing which we must fully rely on is God and his word.  We need to trust God and place him in our plans, instead leaving him out except when for when it is convenient.  Moreover we must remember to place our trust in the right things, instead of relying on the world and her riches we need to rely on God and his true riches.


[1] Hartin 780 (previously Durken (the editor), read below in Oesterley for reason for change).

[2] Hartin 780

[3] Moo 198

[4] Oesterley 461-2 (Note in previous times I’ve cited this as Nicott mistakenly meaning Nicoll, the editor but in trying to make citations more accurate I’m switching all together to Oesterley the actual author of the James section).

[5] Leahy 375

[6] Moo 199

[7] Richardson 196

[8] Moo 199

[9] Moo 199

[10] Richardson 198

[11] Johnson 294

[12] Moo 202

[13] Leahy 375

[14] Richardson 198

[15] Moo 204

[16] Richardson 200

[17] Leahy 375

[18] Richardson 202

[19] Hartin 780

[20] Hartin 781

[21] Moo 211

[22] Leahy 375

[23] Richardson 204

[24] Richardson 209

[25] Hartin 781

[26] Hartin 781

[27] Leahy 375

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