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Judgment on the Wicked [5-21-23]

May 21, 2023

James 5 {Selected Verses}

“Judgment on the Wicked”

There’s a personal element to James 5. As we saw last week, our relationship with Jesus Christ builds grit into our lives. He is our power to persevere. More directly, because our names have been written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life, we know that no matter what happens in our lives, we will be okay, because Jesus has secured our eternity. Here’s a word that captures this personal element:


There is also a cultural application. These verses have something to say about our lives in the public square. Part of the reality of our Christian lives is that we are strangers living in a strange land. We cannot ignore the cultural implications of these verses.

One of the things I’ve struggled with in James 5 is the question of to whom these verses are directed.

Clearly, James has in mind a group of Christians in a local assembly. This letter is meant to be read out loud. No doubt, there were many copies to be disseminated to various churches. Were there unbelievers in these assemblies? Were people playing along at being believers? Were some on the fence about Jesus? Were some, especially the rich addressed by James, curious onlookers?

Jesus gave direction in his Parable of the Sower:

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

  • Matthew 13:18-23

With this parable in mind, I think James is not naïve to the fact there might be some in the church who are being choked out by weeds. He’s not under the illusion that there might possibly be fakers in the assembly. Plus, he has a secondary purpose of addressing unbelievers who might be paying attention to what is going on in the church.

So here we are. A variety of audiences…one strong word.

While, as we saw last week, James has a word for believers persevering through life’s trials, tumults, and turmoil, we do not hear an encouraging

word in these first six verses. James attacks the rich and powerful.

Here, again, James 5:1-6:

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 and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

It’s staggering how damning a judgment this passage heaps on the wealthy rich. Some of them profess Christian faith and claim to live a Christian life, but their real God is money and power.

So James is calling on the wealthy elite to check the true state of their heart by how they are dealing with their wealth. Here, in chapter five, he gives the most blistering…most condemning…most scathing diatribe and denunciation in his letter. He eviscerates those who have been given the benefit of wealth, but have corrupted it and themselves in the way they have handled it. As Deuteronomy 8:18 says, “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” They have corrupted what God gives for good. There is a beautiful affirmation in Proverbs 10:22:

“The Blessing of the Lord makes rich,

and he adds no sorrow with it.”

In other words, God gives and blesses. We are the ones who corrupt His

good gifts.

James sounds like an Old testament prophet. Listen to Isaiah 3:13-15:

The Lord has taken his place to contend; he stands to judge peoples. The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: “It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?” declares the Lord God of hosts.

People of wealth, position, and power abuse those they consider beneath them. This is a horrible thing. It’s not why God gives people money, position, and power. But human nature is so corruptible…so wicked…that some delight, it seems, in ruling over and ruining others. For your own purposes, and your own ends, you have consumed everything in sight, God


We see this today in, among others, the ruling class. Make no mistake. The ruling class of a society is the social class who set and decide the political and economic agenda of society. Whether elected officials or political appointees, these are people who exert power or authority over others. That’s who James has in mind. He’s talking about those who abuse wealth and position and power for their own benefit.

I love how J.R.R. Tolkien captured it, when he wrote:

“My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy {philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control, not whiskered men with bombs}. The most improper job of any man is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”

If you didn’t see some of this playing out during the pandemic, then you weren’t paying attention. Playgrounds were roped off. People were detained for going to the beach. Schools were unnecessarily shut down, a fact that politicians and education bureaucrats are putting some sort of Orwellian revisionist spin on today. The damage done to children’s education has been measurable. The elderly and terminal hospital patients were denied the comfort of human touch. Thousands of businesses have either been lost or are struggling to remain open. Funeral services were tightly controlled while the powers-that-be declared huge protests and marches in the 2020 summer of discontent were a-okay. To deny these

realities is to ignore the Biblical understanding of fallen human nature.

I love what C.S. Lewis wrote:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

These are the modern versions of the kinds of people to whom James

writes. How many people, in how many places, were hectored and harassed, threatened and intimidated into getting a shot of dubious value? If you want to talk about living on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence, look at Big Pharma and the politicians and lobbyists who

carried their water.

While the structures and dynamics today are different from James’ day, human nature stays the same.

As journalist Glenn Greenwald observes:

“I don’t mind health authorities got so much wrong. COVID was a novel pandemic. What is inexcusable is they banned dissent by pressuring Big Tech to remove any posts questioning their false decrees.”

Remember, if anyone questioned the decrees from on high, they were accused of wanting to kill grandma or the physically vulnerable.

So many people conformed. Fear is one heck of a drug.

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing as justices dismissed a pending appeal over a public health order, observed, about decisions which were made during the pandemic:

“One lesson might be this: Fear and the desire for safety are powerful forces. They can lead to a clamor for action – almost any action – as long as someone does something to address a perceived threat.”

{I wrote this message two weeks before Gorsuch’s statement came out. He must be tapping into my computer!}

While the situations change, the fallen human nature described in James 5 remains the same. Which is why verse seven is such a comfort:

Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.

Why be ruled by fear? Why let the warped pursuits of the weeping and howling rich ensnare you? Why aspire to the lofty attainments of the elites?

Be patient…Jesus is coming…your name has been written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life. That’s all that matters. That’s the most important thing. Don’t be manipulated through fear. As James reminds us in verse eight, “You also, be patient. Establish your heart, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Flee from a life of wanton pleasure. As the old hymn reminds us, “Riches I need not, nor man’s empty praise.”

We’ll end with this promise from Jesus {Luke 23:39-43}:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

In light of the Grace and Glory of Jesus Christ, what do we do? Knowing we will see him in paradise, how shall we live our lives?

We hold everything loosely in our hands. We thank God for the sufficiency He gives us for today. We fear neither persons nor things. And turning our hearts toward God, we use all things, to the best of our ability, for His glory.

Let’s Pray:


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