James Chapter 5
"Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you" (v.1)
The reference to rich men weeping again suggests a link with the beatitudes: "Woe unto you that are rich...that laugh now, for ye shall mourn and weep...when all men shall speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets" (Lk.6:24-26). The mourning and weeping was what they were advised to do as a mark of their repentance in 4:9- perhaps this was therefore to be as a result of their no longer being rich, i.e. sharing their wealth with their desperately poor brethren. The beatitudes were saying that the rich would mourn and weep at the judgment; James is advising them to do so now, i.e. to judge or condemn themselves by their self-examination in this life, so that they would not experience the weeping and gnashing of teeth then (cp. 1 Cor.11:31). The weeping and howling were to be when "your miseries...shall come upon you"- i.e. in AD70. Thus the 'coming' of Christ then was also like the judgment seat at the second coming; the misery of the AD70 judgments and subsequent Jewish persecution was similar to that to be seen at the second coming. There should also be a parallel with the true contrition which we ought to have after repentant self-examination.
There is an allusion here to Zeph.1:11,12: "Howl, ye inhabitants of Maktesh (i.e. the market area near the temple- see N.I.V.)...I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will He do evil. Therefore your goods shall become a booty". The Jews Zephaniah addressed were facing the coming day of the Lord at the hand of Babylon; the materialism and subsequent money-making from the temple worshippers that they were guilty of, was being repeated in a more subtle form by their counterparts in the Jewish ecclesia in the days before AD70. Zephaniah warned "The great day of the Lord is near, and hasteth greatly" (Zeph.1:14), hoping to motivate them to repent. Similarly James : "The coming of the Lord draweth nigh" (5:8). Ripping off the temple worshippers was parallelled by the financial abuses of the flock by the elders, to be mentioned in v.4. The idea of howling in Israel as a result of the impending day of the Lord due to their sins is common in the Old Testament prophets: Is.13:6; Jer.25:34; 47:2; Ez.21:12; Joel 1:5,8,11,13;
Mic.1:8; Zech.11:3. Many of these refer to the priests or the prophet howling. Thus James is saying that as well as howling in repentance, these ecclesial elders as counterparts of the priests and prophets under the Mosaic system should be howling out warning to the flock concerning the coming day of judgment.
"Miseries" can also imply spiritual lowness; the rareness of the Greek word and the other allusions to Rom.7 in James suggest that we are intended to see a connection with Rom.7:24: "O wretched (same word as "miseries") man that I am!"- an exclamation concerning the intense evil of his natural mind that was called forth by Paul's self examination, maybe implying that if they judged (condemned) themselves now in their self examination, they would avoid the misery and self-realization they were to have in the coming holocaust.
"Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth eaten" (v.2).
The similarities between them and the priests is continued by their garments being described as moth eaten; which exactly fits the context of Heb.8:13, which describes the old covenant as a decaying garment about to vanish away in AD70. Thus the Jewish ecclesial elders were so closely associated with the Law due to their desire to justify their materialism (which the riches and garments must also refer to) that they were to be destroyed along with it. That these rich men were in the ecclesia is confirmed by the reference back to the rich brother in goodly apparel being given a prominent place in the ecclesial meeting place (2:2).
Note the present tenses: "are corrupted...are moth eaten". The unlikelihood that they walked around in literally moth eaten clothes or that their gold was literally corrupted indicates that James meant that they were like this in the sight of God. This provides an interesting key to Mt.6:19-21, to which there is a clear allusion: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt..but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven...for their will your heart be also". Thus James read the moth and rust corrupting as being in God's sight- if a man's heart is set on earthly things, God looks ahead to the distant day when those possessions have decayed, perhaps after the person's death, and as they are then, so God considers them to be in this present life. The emphasis in Mt.6 is on where the heart is- which precisely agrees with the context of James. Our mind is able to see our material possessions in a similar light to how God does.
"Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days" (v.3).
Their riches were specifically "gold and silver"- which we have identified as the main thing which these brethren were desiring (see notes on 4:3). The idea of corruption of financial wealth is repeated in 2 Cor.8:15, where Paul likens the Corinthians' giving of their financial blessings in order to make an equality among the brotherhood, to the manna not being left to corrupt by the morning, but instead being gathered and shared out (Ex.16:18,19). Those who refused to obey this command found their manna was corrupted by morning- teaching that unless we share our manna or money (as 2 Cor.8:15 interprets it) before the morning of the Lord's coming, we will incur His wrath. This fits beautifully with the situation in James; in our notes on v.1 we saw that there was probably the suggestion that they share their riches with the poorer brethren, so that the curses on the rich and happy in the beatitudes did not come upon them.
The eating of the flesh with fire connects the literal and symbolic use of fire to destroy the Jewish heavens and earth (2 Pet.3:7). Note the equation of the believers with their riches- as rust ate gold and silver, so fire would eat their flesh. Their life ("flesh") did consist in the abundance of the things which they possessed (Lk.12:15). The fire also represents the Gehenna fire of the rejected at judgment; its connection with the rust of their riches perhaps indicates that the punishment of the rejected at judgment is at the hands of those things which caused their rejection. Alternatively, this language may be similar in idea to "delivering to satan for the destruction of the flesh" in 1 Cor.5:5; the satan, or evil desires, in this case being their love of riches.
The Greek for "rust" occurs also in 3:8 translated "poison", concerning the nature of the tongue and the evil heart it is associated with. Thus they are being reminded that their gross materialism was rooted in their evil desires, and it is this fact that "shall be a witness (judicially) against you". Again
this is the language of judgment, as if they were to be soon at the Lord's judgment seat. The idea of eating flesh at judgment occurs again in Rev.17:16 and 19:18- prophecies which must have an initial application to the AD70 destruction of Israel. They describe the military forces responsible for the AD70 punishments and subsequent persecutions as eating the flesh; here in James the evil desires behind their riches do the eating, implying that it was because of these that the judgment came, again stressing the ultimate importance of the heart's spiritual condition. Remember that the judgments on Jerusalem in AD70 had repercussions for natural and spiritual Israel throughout the Roman world.
Heaping up treasure
The heaping of treasure together is another allusion to the early chapters of Romans: "Despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance (cp. 2 Pet.3:15 concerning the delay in judgment upon Jerusalem in order to allow natural and spiritual Israel time to repent), but after thy hardness and impenitent heart (notice the emphasis on this) treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath" in AD70 (Rom.2:4,5). The treasures they had heaped up were therefore directly proportionate to the amount of wrath they would receive- perhaps because their wealth was proportionate to the amount of defrauding and subsequent lack of love shown to their brethren (5:4). The Heavens and earth (natural and spiritual Israel?) were "kept in store" (2 Pet.3:7)- the same Greek phrase for "treasuring up" and heaping treasure together- for judgment by fire in AD70. The fact this fire was to come on individuals (2 Thess.1:8) invites us to interpret the heavens and earth as referring to the individual people that comprised the Jewish system; and we can conclude that this included both apostate, largely Judaist-influenced Christians, as well as the natural Jews.
This Greek phrase for laying up treasure also occurs in Lk.12:21 concerning the 'greater barns' man laying up treasure for himself. Note that Lk.12:15, also in this context, has already been alluded to in James 5:3 (see above). The rich man was a farmer- as were some of the rich brethren amongst James' readership (5:4); he thought he knew the future, as the same class in James' letter thought they did (4:13), and the suddenness of his destruction corresponds with the rich in the ecclesia thinking that spiritually they were in peace and safety, and then the sudden destruction of AD70 coming (1 Thess.5:2,3) at "the day of the Lord"- note the many links between 1 Thess.4:15 - 5:9 and the Olivet prophecy concerning the same destruction. Again, James opens up a parable with an interpretation many of us otherwise would not have reached. The emphasis on their time being "the last days" is doubtless because they thought they knew the future- as indicated in 4:13-15 by their lack of saying 'If the Lord will', presumably because they thought the Lord's coming was far distant. Therefore along with their prototype in the rich farmer parable, they thought that they could go on building up their own Kingdom on earth.
"Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth" (v.4).
We have frequently made reference to this verse previously, showing how this was being done by the rich farm owners in the ecclesia, under the pretext that the poor brethren who were their employees were spiritually unworthy; and it is to this that 2:6 concerning despising the poor refers. This situation could well have occurred within a small household ecclesia, thus putting much more pressure on the labourer brethren (See Digression 10, 'The Size Of The Early Church').
There is a reference here to Mal.3:5, which is in the context of describing the day of the Lord's sudden coming to the temple in fire in AD70 (v.1-3), and primarily refers to the judgements on the corrupt priesthood: "I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against..false swearers, and against those that oppress (mg. 'defraud', cp. James 5:4) the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless (James 1:27), and that turn aside the stranger from his right (James 2:2cp. 2:6 implies unexpected visiting brethren were refused material help), and fear not Me..return unto Me...But ye said, Wherein shall we return?..It is vain to serve God...we call the proud happy (cp. glorying in their proud boastings)"- Mal.3:5,7,14,15. Again, the eldership of the Jewish ecclesias is being likened to the priesthood under the Old Covenant (see notes on 4:8), and the priests' stealing of the offerings matched the elders financially abusing the poor of the flock within the ecclesias. The materialism and subsequent laxness of Israel's shepherds has uncanny similarities with criticisms which could be levelled at their latter day equivalent.
We have seen in our notes on "consume" in 4:3 and 5:3 that the weakness of these brethren was for hard cash- hence it was "the hire" that was kept back. Passages warning about the dangers of loving money (e.g. 1 Tim.6:10) can now be interpreted with reference to this class of believers. The cry of these brethren coming up to God connects with Elihu's inspired accusation of Job causing the cry of the poor to rise to God (Job 34:28), thus making Job a type of the rich Jews of the first century ecclesia who had to learn the true ways of God through their sufferings (see Digression 12 for more on this).
Cain and Abel
A cry entering God's ears recalls he effect of the slaughter of Abel by Cain (Gen.4:10), who as the first human liar and murderer was a prototype of the Jewish devil (Jn.8:44). His persecution and slaughter of Abel represented the oppression of the poor Christians by these Judaist-influenced brethren. Cain's killing of Abel pointed forward to that of Christ by the Jews, and thus James is saying that by enduring the abuses of these so-called elders in the ecclesia, the poor brethren were fellowshiping the sufferings of Christ on the cross at the hands of the Jewish elders of His 'ecclesia'. Each of our sufferings too can be examined to show echoes of the cross. It appears that Cain's hate of Abel was based on spiritual pride- Gen.4:3 speaks of their review by God "at the end of the day" (AVmg.), and Gen.4:7 suggests that then a choice was made between them by God as to who should be priest: "If thou doest well, shalt thou not have the excellency?...and unto thee shall be his desire" AVmg.). This type of hurt pride is easily discernible in the actions of the Jewish elders towards the more spiritual believers, and in the persecution of Jesus by the Jews. Thus the description of the brethren as condemning and killing the just in v.6 applies both to Christ on the cross and to the spiritual condemnation and lack of love ("killing", in terms of the sermon on the mount) which was being shown towards the poor brethren by their reprobate elders. Note how Rom.12:14 speaks of brethren persecuting each other within the ecclesia.
Israel in Egypt
God's hearing of a sincere cry of affliction also looks back to Israel in bondage to Egypt, whose cry was then answered by Angelic intervention. Similarly the use of the title "Lord of Sabaoth" is the equivalent of the "Lord of hosts" with all its Angelic implications. This emphasis is doubtless due to the fact that Angels brought the punishment of natural and spiritual Israel in the AD70 period (Mt.22:7 cp. Rev.19:14; Dan.4:35). The echo of Israel's experience in Egypt is surely intended: "The children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage" (Ex.2:23). This would associate the rich Jewish believers with the Egyptians in their persecution of God's people. And as natural Israel were delivered at Passover, so these suffering poor believers would be at the second coming, which the Passover deliverance typified.
"Reaped down" is a totally different Greek word to that used in "them which have reaped". The latter means to harvest in the agricultural sense, whilst the former means more 'to gather together', thus linking with the idea of heaping treasure together in the previous verse. The hard work of the labouring brethren had brought riches to the rich elders, yet still they defrauded them of their wages, showing the degree of their wide-eyed lust for money.
"Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth (the land- of Israel?), and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter" (v.5).
Note the certainty of James' accusations- "Ye have" occurs four times in as many verses. This shows the certainty of inspiration, either through James having seen how they had lived in Israel before their scattering, the inspired reports of the 'messengers of the churches', or a direct satellite-vision of their present situation given to James. Their living in pleasure on the earth may refer back to the affluent man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, who represented the Jewish priesthood (Lk.16:19). Compare this with the same class being represented by the rich farmer in the greater barns parable. The mocking of the requests of poor Lazarus would refer to the rich Jewish eldership despising the welfare requests of the poor believers.
The use of the phrase "on the earth" may be reminding them that they were amassing pleasure on earth as opposed to Heaven, as v.3 had also made clear. Alternatively, the past tenses here may refer to James' knowledge of how they had lived "on the earth" or land of Israel. The words for "pleasure" and "wanton" imply glorious feasting; "ye have nourished your hearts" therefore equates their minds with their bodies. This is a theme of James- that our way of thinking and our physical actions and sensations are indivisible. Their glorious feasting was really feeding the evil desires of their hearts which had led them to hold the feasts. Yet in practice they were fattening themselves in readiness for the slaughter to provide meat for another feast- that of God's wrath (cp. the description of the day of the Lord's judgment as a feast with slaughtered beasts in Is.34:6). The Greek for "nourished" can also mean 'to stiffen', digging at their refusal to let their hearts be changed by the word. "A day of slaughter" suggests reference to Ez.34:2-4, which condemns the pastors of Israel for killing the spiritually fat of the flock but not spiritually feeding the others; and also to the "day of slaughter" of those in Jer.12:1-3 whose hearts were far from God because of their prosperity, although they had a show of Godliness. There is probably another link to Jer.25:34, where the shepherds of the flock were to be killed in the AD70 slaughter (Jer.25:38=AD70; 25:32=Mt.24=AD70).
"Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you" (v.6).
We have shown in our comments on v.4 that "the just" can refer to both Christ and the oppressed underclass of believers. Their sumptuous feasts of v.5 were at the expense of killing fatted animals- who represented the spiritually fat, ideal sacrifices of Christ and the poor brethren. The idea of killing being equated with lack of love is popular in James- e.g. 4:2; 2:11, based on Matt.5:22.
There seems to be a contrast here with 4:6, where God is said to resist (same word) the prayer of the brethren. Maybe the maximum show of God's displeasure with them was only in not answering their prayers for material things and money. Thus an apparent lack of major signs of displeasure from God should not lull any of us into thinking that this means we are totally acceptable in God's sight.
"The just one" is a title of the Lord Jesus (Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14) whom they crucified afresh, and "He doth not resist you" indicates that one particular "just one" is being referred to. However, "the just" can also refer to those justified by their faith, which is how it is used in early Romans (1:17; 2:13), a part of Scripture which James' readers seem to have been familiar with in view of the number of references made to it. By being justified by their faith these believers were not relying on the Mosaic law- for which they seem to have been condemned by their elders. Yet they did not resist the abuses made of them, but followed Christ's example on the cross. Thus we have the impression of this group of brethren being condemned by pompous, materialistic elders claiming to have some new revelation from God, who used this as an excuse to withhold their wages and publicly humiliate them at the communion service (2:2); and in the face of all this, they did not actively resist but took the sad state of the ecclesia to God in prayer- cp. the faithful servants sorrowfully telling their Lord about the abuses of one of their number by the much-forgiven ecclesial elder (Mt.18:31). The cry of those servants and their fellow brethren whom James is referring to "entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth"- and He heard.
"Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain" (v.7).
This final section of the letter appears to be addressed to the whole ecclesia, with a bias towards those who were being persecuted by the rich brethren. Its theme is an appeal for positive co-operation in order to help each other repent and thus be ready for the imminent coming of the Lord. It is therefore intensely relevant to the Lord's people of today. Note that James appears to have expected the second coming in his time: "Unto the coming of the Lord".
"Patient" means literally to be 'long-spirited', again showing the fundamental importance of the control of the mind. It can also imply to suffer patiently, as if encouraging the abused brethren to continue to use their spiritual minds to spiritually endure the trials the others were giving them. Their patience is equated with that of God, as a husbandman waiting for spiritual fruit to develop. This shows James' urging of them to continue their non-resistance to these brethren so that they would bear spiritual fruit, and maybe also the suggestion that they were to be patient with the misguided elders until they too bore spiritual fruit. James 5 goes on to speak of the patience of the prophets in continuing to speak the word- as if to encourage these brethren to keep using the word to help the others to bear spiritual fruit- cp. notes on 3:18.
"The coming of the Lord" is parallelled with receiving the early and latter rain, which must be referring back to Joel 2:23 and Dt.11:13,14 concerning the blessings of the Kingdom which would be experienced once Israel repented. Note that there is a dearth of direct Biblical evidence to support the idea that the early and latter rains refer to the outpourings of the Spirit in the first century and the Kingdom- although humanly speaking the idea fits nicely. Biblically they seem to refer to the physical blessings of the land as a result of Israel's obedience. Thus again there is the inference that James looked for the literal second coming and establishment of the Kingdom being in AD70, conditional on Israel's repentance. The precious spiritual fruit of the ecclesia would only be fully harvested by the Lord then- maybe indicating that the attitude of mind we develop now will be fully manifested in terms of spiritual fruit by our reaction to that great moment of absolute truth at the judgment. "Precious fruit" carries the specific idea of great financial value in Greek- as if to encourage them that the spiritual fruit being developed by their poverty was the true riches, thus again connecting with the allusion in v.3 to the Lord's words about treasure in Heaven rather than on earth.
The long patience of God for spiritual development until the coming of the Lord is clearly parallel with 2 Pet.3:7-15, which says that the apparent delay in the Lord's coming was in order to give them the opportunity of developing spiritual fruit. "As workers together with God" for their spiritual growth and subsequent acceptance at judgement, they were to be patient under the trials God was bringing- as God too was patient in watching their gradual development of fruit. The husbandman receiving the rains connects with Dt.11:13,14 describing a repentant, obedient to the word Israel being given the rains- again showing the Jewish audience of the letter, and stressing the need for the whole ecclesia to repent.
"Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh" (v.8).
Again, James throws down an ultimate challenge- to show the same supreme patience to our stumbling spiritual development and blatant faults which God shows to us, to both the trials which help us develop and also to our weak brethren.
"Stablish" means both to set fast/ confirm, and also to turn resolutely- which neatly makes it relevant to both groups in the readership, the one who needed to continue to develop their already spiritual mind, and the other who needed to resolutely turn their hearts around in repentance. The word occurs relatively frequently in Thessalonians, also in the context of preparing for the Lord's coming- showing that the main way of preparing for the second coming is by a conscious development of our way of thinking, which can only be achieved through true commitment to the word. Very often the Greek word for "stablish" is used about God stablishing our heart- showing that God will work on our hearts in accord with our personal effort. 1 Thess.3:12,13 even suggests that this stablishing or confirming of the mind which we have personally developed will be done for us at the judgment seat, where self-doubt as to whether we have had a truly spiritual mind will loom large: "Abound in love one toward another...to the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God...at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ". Notice this stablishing is dependent on loving each other now- very relevant in the James context.
The coming of the Lord was drawing nearer on behalf of their patience. The exhortation to patience was not just because they needed to patiently endure in their spirituality, but also because James was probably aware that the second coming of the Lord which he expected in the first century was quite likely to be delayed, due to the lack of Israel's repentance. Both James and the parallel Peter (2 Pet.3:11,15) are saying: 'Be patient for the second coming and continue your spiritual patience so that it will come quicker and you won't have to be patient for so long'.
Thus Peter's parallel to this v.8 is "The end of all things is at hands: be ye therefore sober (self-controlled- by having a stablished mind), and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves" (1 Pet.4:7,8). They were to continue their effective love to those brethren who so abused them, praying earnestly for the second coming. This would only be achieved by their continued attention to stablishing their thinking, so that it was consistently controlled by the word rather than just being partially controlled- which was the root cause of the semi-faith and lukewarm commitment to true spirituality that had been the downfall of the other brethren.
"Draweth nigh" literally means 'is made near'- the more spiritually aware, especially those who had heard of Peter's reasoning in 2 Pet.3, would have seen in this the implication that a stablishing of the mind would draw near the Lord's coming. The same Greek phrase occurs in 4:8 "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you"- and we have seen that this refers to praying to God acceptably from a heart influenced by the word. Such prayer would hasten the second coming- a basic principle taught in the Lord's prayer, seeing there is no point in praying "Thy Kingdom come" unless we believe those prayers will result in the days being shortened to that day.
"Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door" (v.9).
In view of the gross abuses going on, it must have been a sore temptation for the poor brethren to grudge against their elders- not least when they turned them away empty handed at pay day (v.4). James is pleading with them to keep up their excellent attitude of not resisting (v.6)- because at any moment the true judge would come. And note too that if they did resist by grudging, they also would be condemned at the Lord's coming- for taking the judgment of these renegade servants of the Lord into their own hands. How much less have we any right to judge our fellow servants of today! James' reasoning implied that the verdict of condemnation pronounced on them by the other brethren (v.6) was not valid- but they would only be condemned if they grudged against such treatment.
The Greek for "grudge" is normally used concerning the groaning of sincere prayer, often in silence, brought about by suffering- e.g. Mk.7:34; Acts 7:34; Rom.8:23,26; 2 Cor.5:2,4- although it also carries the idea of complaining. Thus instead of making their complaints to each other, they were to quietly make them to God- and the Lord Jesus, with "groanings (same word as "grudge") which cannot be uttered" (Rom.8:26) would make powerful intercession for them.
Peter's equivalent for them being condemned is in his warning that Sodom and Gomorrha were "condemned with an overthrow", making them an ensample unto those that after should live unGodly" (2 Pet.2:6). If this is a valid connection, James is saying that vicious bitterness against brethren who are wrongly abusing you, leading you to condemn them, is the same magnitude of sin as living the reprobate life of the Sodomites. Similarly "the judge standeth before the door" is clearly matched by 1 Pet.4:4,5, which says that some - the same group of Judaizers within the ecclesia?- "think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you (this is the sort of accusation often made by the Judaist infiltrators- cp. their smear campaign on Paul): who shall give account to him that is ready (cp. "before the door") to judge the quick and the dead". Thus a life of "excess of riot" is the same as giving way to bitterness in the heart that leads to condemnation of the brethren.
This connection between 5:9 and 1 Pet.4:5 parallels the coming of the Lord in judgment with the resurrection- the judging of living and dead. Thus James and Peter did not think of the Lord's coming in any sense other than how we think of the second coming- to raise and judge the dead, and establish the Kingdom on earth (see notes on 5:7). Thus Paul, probably writing to the same group of Jewish believers: "Wherefore we receiving (i.e. being so near to receiving it we are practically receiving it now) a Kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear" (Heb.12:28)- i.e. in the development of truly spiritual characteristics in our heart. Such acute awareness of the imminence of the Lord's coming should surely be matched by us, as we live on the very edge of time and human experience as we know it, when "the end of all things is at hand" (1 Pet.4:7).
This likening of the second coming to Christ standing at the door must surely connect with Rev.3:20: "I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him". Having a formal meal ("sup") with the believer must connect with the Lord's parable of the marriage supper representing the Kingdom. These letters having been written before AD70, Christ is maybe saying that if only there was a true response to His word on an individual basis ("If any man..."), then he would fully come in the glory of His Kingdom in AD70. The principle of interpretting Scripture by Scripture- in this case Rev.3:20 by James 5:9- surely has violence done to it if the Lord's standing, knocking at the door is not understood with some reference to the second coming.
"Take, my brethren, the prophets, which have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction and of patience" (v.10).
We have suggested in our notes on v.7 that the example of the prophets patiently speaking forth the word of God amidst opposition from others in their ecclesia, was an example of the patience the wrongly denigrated brethren needed in continuing to gently rebuke the erring brethren with the word; and to continue patiently letting the word dwell in their minds so that they did not let bitterness develop. This appears to be another allusion to the beatitudes- this time to Mt.5:11,12: "Blessed are ye, when men (even in the ecclesia, in their case) shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely...rejoice, and be exceeding glad (cp. James 1:2)..for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you". This enduring physical suffering not only associated them with Christ, but also with a whole band of men who had faithfully spoken forth the word in the past. The fact the prophets had suffered for speaking forth the word to an apostate Israel indicates that the persecution of the brethren was due to their Biblically hitting the rest of the ecclesia below the belt. The Greek for "suffering affliction" really means 'hardship', referring to the obvious domestic hardship brought about by the holding back of the wages by the criticized brethren.
We have suggested that the eldership in the Jewish ecclesias probably had the gift of prophecy, and even if they did not, these to whom James was writing certainly thought they did. Thus James is pointing out from much Biblical precedent that being a prophet was associated with experiencing hardship as a result of persecution and unfair treatment by those who claimed to be brethren (so the Matt.5:12 allusion intimates); and also with being patient with many opposers. Such reasoning would have been very telling on these elders. It is hard to see why the reminder should be given that the prophets spoke in the name of the Lord. Maybe it was because the poor brethren's Scriptural protests were being ridiculed as not being spoken in the name of the Lord. In this case James would be encouraging them that by reason of their being persecuted for their message, they were proving their association with those who were truly inspired to speak in the Lord's name. Speaking forth the word is often associated with carrying the name of God; not only in the sense that prophets spoke God's word in the Lord's name, but that the word develops the attributes of the Name (Ex.34:4-7) in a man's character, thus leading him to carry God's Name if he shows forth the truth, mercy and patience of the Lord. By their correct response to the word these believers were similar to the prophets in that they spoke in the name of the Lord. See Digression 5, 'The Name, The Word and The Glory' for more about the word giving men the name of God.
A pitiful Lord
"Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy" (v.11).
The concluding theme of this letter is that despite their faults, all the ecclesia should pray for God's forgiveness for the others, especially bearing in mind the physical affliction that had been brought on some of them because of the grossness of their sins (see notes on 4:12). Job was a prophet (Job 29:4), one of those referred to in the preceding verse, and his example seems to be behind much of what James says in this chapter. "Happy" being the same word translated "Blessed" in the beatitudes encourages us to see an allusion here back to Matt.5:10-12, which v.10 has already referred to: blessed are those who endure tribulation for speaking the word. The Jews ("we") counted the prophets as blessed people because of their sufferings (Mt.23:29; Acts 13:15,27). Indeed, the Greek for "count" means 'to beautify', and is from the word for "happy/ blessed". The suffering which Job endured was not just physical but more especially from the mental trauma created in him by the criticisms of him by his friends with their (false?) claims to be inspired prophets, saying that his sufferings were due to gross spiritual weakness. This was probably the elders' reason for not supporting the poor brethren- they would have reasoned that their hardships were a sign of God's displeasure because of their lack of spirituality.
We have discussed the problem of Job being credited with "patience" despite his mistakes in Digression 6; his patience seem to have been in continuing to speak forth the true word of God, and in having the humility at the end to accept his failures. That Job did have failures is indicated by James saying that in "the end of the Lord" He showed great mercy and pity, which would imply forgiveness. The same word is used in Heb.10:28 concerning the man dying without mercy, i.e. forgiveness, under the Law as a punishment for sin.
"Very pitiful" is very intense in Greek- elsewhere it is translated "bowels", "inward affection". Thus the position of Job touched the Lord's heart in a way few other human experiences are said to in the word. We have shown (in Digression 6) Job to have been a man who allowed himself to be too far influenced by the Judaist-type philosophy of the friends, the 'elders' of his ecclesia, and yet to have kept doggedly reflecting on and believing God's basic principles so that he eventually came to an appreciation of human nature and God's greatness which few others have done. The poor brethren in the Jewish ecclesias were in a similar position- being worn down by the spiritually cocksure reasoning of their elders, feeling increasingly spiritually desperate because of their words, as Job did, and therefore needing every encouragement to patiently continue rather than give way in bitterness, so that they might come to the same end as Job. The tremendous pity which God showed for Job would also be shown to them if they fully fellowshiped his example by their patient endurance.
Above all things...
"But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation" (v.12).
This may well be referring to Job again, in his over-dogmatism brought about by the intensity of his sufferings; e.g. his cursing of the day he was born, and his swearing that he will never confess to being a sinner or admit that his sufferings were justified because of his sinfulness (see Job 27:5 and context). This was the type of statement which he repented of at the end. Similarly, James wants the brethren not to let the emotionally charged nature of their situation lead them to make any other response apart from a humble response governed by the word. Hence v.13 and 14 go on to say that the response to affliction, sickness or falling away should always be expressed in the form of prayer, rather than in self-generated oaths. The stress of "above all things" is hard to understand until the passage in the sermon on the mount which this verse is based on is properly appreciated. Mt.5:33 quotes Lev.19:12 concerning swearing, which warns that oaths by the Lord's name should not be made lightly but had to be fulfilled, otherwise the name of the Lord would be blasphemed. Therefore the Lord quotes this as saying "Thou shalt not forswear thyself (i.e. swear falsely), but shalt perform (His emphasis being on that word) unto the Lord thine oaths" (i.e. oaths made in His name).
But because Christ so appreciated the extreme proneness to failure which we have by nature, He correctly declared that whatever men claimed they would do 'by the Lord's name' was likely to be "of the evil one", i.e. the devil of their own heart (Mt.5:37), and therefore plans to do the Lord's work should be expressed in straightforward, unassuming language. Even with the best intention in the world, the Lord knew that oaths could so easily go unperformed. Christ concluded His advice with His reason for it: "For whatsoever is more than these cometh of the evil one" (AVmg.). The phrasing of James 5:12 is similar, and matches this with "Lest ye fall into condemnation"- which connects with the theme of the whole letter, that "above all things" the believer must not give way to his innate evil desires because doing so will lead to rejection at the judgment. And again, he singles out the expression of those desires through the tongue ("swear not") as being the most likely form of failure. The Greek word used for 'falling' here does not carry the idea of falling headlong, as in "Fall from your own steadfastness" in 2 Pet.3:17, but rather of a more gradual stepping down from their high spiritual position- as if to say that whether they dramatically fell by renouncing their faith or apparently just stepped down a little by responding to the trials given by these false brethren, the result was the same- condemnation at the judgment which James believed was so imminent. "Condemnation" is also translated "hypocrisy"- i.e. they could step down into a semi-spirituality, which was tantamount to being condemned.
"Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms" (v.13).
The previous verse has been emphasizing the importance of not letting our words run away with us- and therefore James now tells us to channel all our words through prayer, rather than indulge in the circular talking of Job and the friends which was the exact opposite of "Yea,yea...nay,nay". "Afflicted" is the same word translated "affliction" in v.10 concerning Job's hardships.
"Merry" really means 'To be cheered up' after hardship, and is only used elsewhere in the record of Paul's shipwreck concerning the company being of "good cheer" after Paul's stirring exhortation on the deck- surely one of the most dynamic and powerful appeals for faith ever heard (Acts 27:22,36). It may be that some of them had found legitimate release from their sufferings, perhaps by contributions from other ecclesias. Alternatively, James may be talking hypothetically: 'Even if any of you find relief, then express your joy in the words of the psalms rather than giving reign to your own natural inclinations to make a rash oath to God in gratitude'. Those who had been 'cheered up' may refer to the rich brethren- instead of expressing their joy in rowdy parties dressed up with spiritual excuses (Jude 12; 1 Cor.11:21; James 2:2), they should express it in the words of psalms. "Sing" here is also translated "making melody" in Eph.5:19, where Paul speaks of doing so in the heart by singing "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs".
It is perhaps significant that Paul advises them to do this as an antidote to being drunk (Eph.5:18)- and if James is speaking about the need to sing psalms instead of indulging in drunken revelry at the communion service, then he would be saying the same thing as Paul. Drunkenness at the breaking of bread must have been a regular occurrence at Corinth at least, from how Paul writes (e.g. "Another is drunken...when(ever) ye come together...this is not to eat the Lord's supper, therefore- 1 Cor.11:20,21). Singing psalms would have been done at the breaking of bread service to imitate the singing of the Hallel Psalms (113-118) at the last supper (Mt.26:30); and the reference to Psalm singing in 1 Cor.14:26 also seems to be in the communion service context. Thus it may be that v.13-16 are describing what should have been happening at the memorial feast- there should have been prayer rather than complaining by the suffering, psalm singing rather than drunkenness by the joyful, the time given over to conversation- which would have been considerable, if the service was based on that of the Jewish Sabbath or Passover- should have been spent confessing faults rather than bragging, condemning and spreading false doctrine (Jude 10-12 cp. 2 Pet.2:18,19), and this should have given way to loving prayer for those who had been struck sick because of committing such sins.
"Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they ("it", Gk.) shall be forgiven him" (v.14,15).
There are two different words translated "sick" here. The first implies more 'weariness of mind', as if spiritual weakness is being referred to. The references to "save a soul from death and...hide a multitude of sins" in v.20 is in the same context of spiritual sickness. In any case, it is unlikely that James would be saying that any physical sickness could be cured, bearing in mind Paul's thorn in the flesh. "The sick" in v.15 however does refer to physical sickness, although "raise him up" is also used concerning a spiritual revival (Rom.13:11 cp. Eph.5:14). This confusion between physical and spiritual sickness is understandable once it is appreciated that physical sickness was brought upon weak members of the first century ecclesia in order to lead them to repentance (see notes on 4:12). Therefore v.16 tells them to confess their faults to each other so that they could pray for forgiveness and subsequent healing for their brethren.
"The elders of the church" may be those of the Jerusalem ecclesia, as that is whom "the elders" often refers to in the New Testament. However, it is just as likely that they refer to the Spirit-gifted eldership of the individual ecclesias to whom this letter was sent- their anointing with oil shows their control of the use of the Spirit. This pouring out of oil not only recalls the use of the Spirit to heal the physically sick by the disciples (Mk.6:13), but also the outpouring of the Spirit in the gift of forgiveness in Acts 2:37,38 (see Digression 12). In this case James would be emphasizing the need to respect the eldership because of their possession of the Spirit, which made them God's representatives regardless of their personal spirituality. Compare this with David's respect for apostate, Spirit-gifted Saul, and the respect Israel had to give their reprobate judges (Ps.82:1-5). Notice that it was possible for "the prayer of faith" by these elders to "save the sick" despite their unspirituality. Similarly Paul warned an identical group at Corinth that although they had faith to move mountains through the Spirit- e.g. curing the sick- their lack of love would deprive them of salvation personally (1 Cor.13:2). Spiritual success in any form- be it in preaching or the triumph of faith in a particular problem- can so easily tempt us to feel that therefore in all other areas our life must be acceptable with God. But not necessarily so.
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (v.16).
Note the parallel effect of the prayer of a friendly brother and that of the eldership in v.14,15- again indicating that in ultimate terms an elder had no spiritual power that was not possessed by any brother who had a humble faith.
The Job allusions continue, this time to his prayer for the forgiveness of his friends (Job 42:8). Job himself was ill at the time he prayed for the friends- his "captivity" was ended "when he prayed for his friends" (Job 42:10). That James too was counselling the sick to pray for the sick is implied by "pray one for another, that ye may be healed". The sickness being brought on as a result of their sins in holding false, Judaist doctrine confirms that James read Job, under inspiration, as a type of those influenced by Judaist thinking (see Digression 6). Based on Job's example, James is probably advising them to concentrate on forgiving and loving one another, as this would lead to their personal repentance and thus their cure too. This would imply that the fundamental sin that was causing their sickness was their gross lack of love and spiritual concern for each other.
As these sick brethren were to call for the elders of the ecclesia to pray for them, it may be that the rich, spiritually proud brethren whom James has been reprimanding in his letter may not have been the true eldership, although they fancied themselves as such. However, it appears that the problem of spiritual and subsequent physical sickness was widespread in all groups of the ecclesia, including the eldership. There seems, at first glance, two types of prayer spoken of in v.15 and 16; a calling of the elders to pray for the sick person, and the afflicted ones confessing their sins to each other in order to effect a cure. Yet in view of what we know of the corruption of the eldership, it would seem better to treat these two descriptions as parallel- the elder who had been struck seriously sick was to call the others to him, and at the pathetic bedside of the once arrogant rich farmer they, too, were to confess their sins, so that not only would he be cured, but their less serious sicknesses would also be lifted.
The Lord's prayer
To be successful this kind of prayer had to be "effectual". The Greek 'energeo' gives the idea of dynamic expenditure of energy. Such effort in prayer for the spiritual welfare of others can only come from a truly selfless spirit. The prayer of our Lord for us and the disciples in Gethsemane springs to mind. The connection is strengthened by "fervent" being the same word translated "earnestly" in Lk.22:44 concerning the Lord's praying more earnestly with huge tears. This would suggest that James understood Christ's prayer in Gethsemane not just to have been for personal strength but also for our forgiveness and salvation. Thus in Lk.22:46 He could encourage the sleepy disciples to rise and pray also- i.e. as well as him praying for them- that they did not fall into temptation. Note how "watch" in Mt.26:38 is elsewhere used about spiritual watching rather than being on the look out for people approaching. Heb.5:6,7 lends support by saying that Christ's agonizing prayer in the garden that God would save Him from death was fulfilling the type of Melchizedek, who prayed to God for other people, not just himself. The only way of reconciling all this is to see Christ's prayer for salvation from death as being motivated by His desire for our salvation from death. No wonder James refers to this as the supreme example of showing spiritual love for our brethren in our prayer life.
"Availeth" means literally to 'in-work'- as if prayer for others will help us personally by our offering it. This idea seems to be picked up in the next verse.
Of like passions
"Elias was a man subject to (Strong: 'similarly affected by') like passions as we are (James found it hard too), and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months" (v.17).
Elijah's prayer exemplifies how intensely we should pray for the spiritual benefit of others, and how that in itself helped him spiritually. In view of the exalted status of Elijah in Jewish theology, James stresses how he was of "like passions" to us (cp. Acts 14:15)- i.e. he too, because of his inherent human nature, did not find intense prayer easy. Elijah's fervent prayer was that it might not rain, and in the context of James his prayer was for the spiritual good of Ahab and apostate Israel. In the same way as apostles like Paul and Peter could pray for physical sickness to come upon men to lead them to repentance, so Elijah prayed for the famine to come upon Israel to make them realize their sin. James is saying that if the sick brethren and indeed the whole ecclesia prayed for forgiveness with the same intensity that the apostles and Elijah had prayed for such physical problems to come upon the spiritually weak, then those problems could be lifted. But it was only those who were sensitive to the true spirit of the word, in this case in the Elijah record, who would have grasped this.
The intensity of Elijah's prayer needs some thought to appreciate, as superficially it appears that it is hardly recorded that he prayed for the drought. However, it must have been as a result of his prayer that he could say "there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word". This is because of a principle outlined by Eliphaz in Job 22:27,28; he said that one of the blessings of living in good conscience with God was that one's prayers were powerful, and therefore "Thou shalt make thy prayer unto (God), and He shall hear thee...thou shalt also decree a thing (i.e. in prayer), and it shall be established unto thee". Thus the power of prayer is such that effectively requests became decrees, so sure can we be of their being answered. So many of the great prayers of Scripture are not littered with "If it be Thy will"- instead, because those who prayed were saturated with knowledge of God's will through their familiarity with the word which contains God's will (Jn.1:13 cp. 1 Pet.1:23), they could pray whatever they willed, and could be confident of being heard because the word was in them. And our Lord had said that nothing less was possible for His people now- Jn.15:7. Therefore if a man of our passions like Elijah could pray so powerfully for the weak in his ecclesia, the same was possible for that of the first century.
Triumph on Carmel
"And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit" (v.18).
Again we are left to imagine when, where and how Elijah made this prayer, seeing that it is unrecorded. After his glorious triumph of faith on Carmel in the sight of all Israel, there appeared at last to be a significant repentance: "When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, Yahweh, He is the God", and promptly proceeded to massacre the priests of Baal. No doubt finding the four barrels of water to put on the sacrifice as the ritual required had involved considerable effort- making them reflect on the God whom they knew in their hearts provided rain. Elijah then went up to the solitude of the crags of Carmel, "cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees (in fervent prayer), and said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea" for rain. This command was repeated seven times. Being a man of like passions as us, it took seven repeated prayers, a widow continually coming and not taking no for an answer, for there to be even an indication of a response. Thus Elijah's 'praying again' was for a lifting of the physical curse on the land because of their repentance. Note his running before Ahab's chariot as the rain started to come down, symbolic of his belief that by his repentance Ahab was the righteous king that he had come to herald (1 Kings 18:39,33,42-46). This same calibre of head-between-the-knees, up-in-the-mountain prayer, consistently repeated, would lead to the lifting of the sickness placed on the first century ecclesia.
The heaven giving rain is associated with the earth bringing forth her fruit- miraculously, seeing that it is unlikely that anything had been planted in the previous 3« years of total drought. Similarly God would act over and above their personal ability to develop spiritual fruit in them, given this basic prerequisite of total faith in prayer, based on the word truly dwelling in them as it did in Elijah. Similar victories of faith and repentance are just as possible for us, especially during the three and a half year period of tribulation which may well come upon us in the last days. James' specific, inspired mention of the three and a half year period of drought must be significant, as the duration of the drought is not mentioned in the Old Testament record. It is possible to historically demonstrate that there was a three and a half year period of especial difficulty in the land and among the Jews empire-wide before the final cataclysm of AD70; during this period the Jewish ecclesias would have had special opportunity to repent. The situation of AD70 is more than likely to be replicated in our last days. The way to ensure that we will stand up to that test is by each showing unlimited love and concern for the true spiritual welfare of our brother. The final two verses sum this up, and thereby the whole theme of the epistle.
"Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (v.19,20).
Erring from the truth in the terms of James' letter is not only limited to doctrinal deviance in the sense of 'first principles', but in showing a lack of love of each other and of the word, having a selfish materialism rather than a truly spiritual mind, and having a heart uninfluenced by the word, resulting in uncontrolled words and a lack of true compassion towards the Lord's brethren. In the context of the previous verses, James is giving extra incentive to pray for each other's repentance and forgiveness- such prayer as well as personal discussion and example really can "convert him". This shows that to some degree our prayers can influence the spiritual state of another brother over and above his personal level of spirituality- given certain prerequisites. If this is not so, and we each totally determine our own spiritual destiny regardless of the effort of others, then these closing exhortations of James 5 are without purpose.
Converting the sinner
"Convert" here means literally 'to revert'. It is used in the New Testament particularly of the conversion of the Jews- i.e. a reverting of their hearts to the true spirit of their father Abraham (cp. Lk.1:17). Interestingly, Is.6:10 and Acts 28:27 talk of the Jews refusing to be sensitive to the word preached in the first century, and therefore not being healed- both physically and spiritually. This background of the word 'convert' nicely fits the context of James in its associating the ecclesia with the apostate Jewish world by which they were influenced, and warning that unless they were more sensitive to the word they would not be healed. By the same token those who did speak forth the word to try to convert their brethren were being classified along with Christ and the apostles, who also spoke the word to try to convert the Jews.
"If...one convert him, let him know..." sounds as if the brethren were not consciously trying to win converts- yet James encourages them that their conscious 'preaching' of the word to their wayward brethren and praying for them were all to the same effect as preaching, seeing that these brethren were spiritually dead anyway. By re-awakening them to a truly spiritual life they were saving their soul from death. The 'soul' here may mean the body or life, in the sense that ultimately acceptance at the judgment seat would mean that their "soul" or life would not die; however, it is more likely that the soul here refers to the spiritual record of the believer (see Digression 3). The language of preaching- i.e. conversion and saving souls- is being used here about the upbuilding of brethren. The same style is found in Dan.12:3: "They that be wise (Heb. 'teachers', i.e. prudent guides) shall shine as the (stars)...and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars". 1 Thess.1:8 similarly speaks of the word of the Lord sounding out from the Thessalonian ecclesia- in the sense that all the ecclesias near and far were inspired by their evident faith. Thus it was their spiritual example to others that was their sounding out of the word. Another example is Phil.2:15 speaking of the ecclesia witnessing as lights in the world to "a crooked and perverse nation". A closer examination of this passage shows that this was through their holding forth the true word of life to the Judaizers amongst them. The specific nation referred to cannot be the Roman world in general, but rather the Jews. This suggestion is clinched by the fact that Paul is here quoting Dt.32:5, which is describing the apostate among the ecclesia in the wilderness as "a perverse and crooked generation". Thus Paul like James is using the language of preaching, to describe how they should work through the word and prayer to build up the apostate amongst the new Israel during their wilderness walk to the Kingdom. Likewise Acts 20:7 speaks of Paul "preaching unto" the Troas ecclesia in his breaking of bread exhortation. The language of preaching being used in upbuilding existing believers may help explain why Paul sometimes speaks to believers as if he is imparting basic doctrine to them; thus "Behold, I shew you a mystery: We shall not all sleep" (1 Cor.15:51) was written to believers. Writing to the same ecclesia a while later there is more of the same: "As though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor.5:20).
The end of all things
The exact parallel of these verses in James is found in 1Pet.4:7,8: "The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer (for each other, we may imply from the James parallel). And above all things have fervent charity (cp. fervent prayer, James 5:16- through which true love can be expressed) among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins". This parallel shows that fervent prayer for each other spiritually is the way fervent love is shown. Converting the erring brother will "hide a multitude of sins", alluding to Prov.10:12: "Love covereth all sins". True love is therefore shown by loving rebuke, rather than turning a blind eye. Truly "the end of all things is at hand" for us, as never before. There is a special need in our last days to show these qualities of true love to each other.
We have to seriously ask ourselves personally whether we have that degree of selfless concern for the spiritual welfare of each other that we would climb mountains to find the solace conducive to prayer; to have our face between our knees in the intensity of our pleading with God, for the sake of our brother's spiritual growth. Elijah and the brethren of the first century did this for men who were far gone in their declension; how much more motivated should we be for our far less errant brethren? Many of us do not have the fear of sin, both in ourselves and in our brethren, which leads us to such intensity of effort either for others or for ourselves in our own weaknesses. Surely each of us needs to assimilate more the idea of striving for God's glory in the conquest of the flesh. But this is the high challenge of the letter of James- to drive ourselves onwards to an altogether higher and fuller spirituality, which by its very nature concerns itself with the triumph of others in the day of judgment to the same extent as we care for our own.
There is a strong hint throughout the New Testament that the quicker the believers develop spiritually, the sooner the Lord's coming will happen (notably 2 Pet.3:11,12,15). It also seems likely that Christ's coming is to some degree dependent on the repentance or spiritual condition of Israel. At least, this is how it seems God wishes us to perceive things.
It therefore follows that the New Testament letters should emphasize and encourage spiritual development so that the second coming would occur. The letters of Hebrews, James and Peter being addressed specifically to the Jews (James 1:1 "The twelve tribes which are scattered abroad"- a strange phrase to use to Gentiles), it is fitting that they should emphasize the need for each Jewish Christian to develop a spiritual character, so that the day of Christ would be hastened, and that the judgements would not fall on the believers, and less heavily on the natural Jews. The relevance of such exhortation to the present generation, apparently living on the brink of the second coming, is therefore acute: "Be ye also patient: stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door" (5:8,9). "Denying...worldly lusts (of James 1:14 etc.) we should live soberly, righteously, and Godly in this present world (the whole theme of James); looking for...the glorious appearing of the great God and our saviour Jesus Christ" (Tit.2:12,13).